By Ed Elliot, PA
Roberto De Zerbi expects Brighton to lose key players in the summer but does not feel Moises Caicedo has added incentive to impress during Sunday’s Premier League clash with Arsenal.
Influential midfielder Caicedo expressed his desire to leave Albion amid January bids from the title-chasing Gunners but subsequently signed a new contract at the Amex Stadium after the offers were rejected.
The 21-year-old Ecuador international and Argentina’s World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, 24, continue to be heavily linked with rival clubs ahead of the transfer window opening next month.
Seagulls head coach De Zerbi has already begun planning for next season, having last week clinched the signing of Brazilian forward Joao Pedro from Watford for a reported fee of almost £30million.
The Italian is braced for some big-name departures in the coming months but wants his squad fully focused on a tricky weekend trip to Emirates Stadium and the ongoing push for Europe.
“I don’t know what will happen next season but I think if you want to improve your team, you have to decide (make plans) before the next season,” he said.
“I think we will lose some important players and we have to be ready to restart stronger than this season.”
Asked if Caicedo has extra motivation to perform in north London, De Zerbi replied “No, I think no.
“He’s playing for Brighton now and only Brighton. I have no doubts but I want only players focused in our team and our club.
“He’s playing very well. He always is one of the best players on the pitch.”
Pedro’s imminent arrival in a club-record deal was confirmed before Brighton’s Europa League quest was damaged by a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of relegation-threatened Everton.
De Zerbi believes the transfer is a statement of intent as Albion bid to build on the best league campaign in the club’s 122-year history.
“Joao Pedro is a very important signal,” he said.
“I spoke with him last month and I am really pleased to work next year with him. I think Joao Pedro can be a top player for us.
“He’s a young player and he’s a right player for us. It’s a good deal for Brighton.”
Brighton have injury concerns ahead of the trip to the capital, with Solly March and Adam Webster joining Tariq Lamptey, Adam Lallana, Jakub Moder and Jeremy Sarmiento on the sidelines, while Joel Veltman is a doubt.
Webster’s absence should result in a recall for on-loan Chelsea defender Levi Colwill.
Although England Under-21 international Colwill is expected to remain at Stamford Bridge next term, De Zerbi hopes to keep hold of him.
“I would like to work with him another two, three, four years because it’s difficult to find another left centre-back with his quality,” he said.
“He’s a good guy. This year his improvement has been fantastic and I hope he can stay with us.”
Seventh-placed Brighton will bid to dent Arsenal’s title pursuit by bouncing back from Monday’s embarrassing heavy loss to the lowly Toffees.
While De Zerbi is a big admirer of Mikel Arteta’s men, he is optimistic about registering a second away win of the season against the Gunners following November’s 3-1 Carabao Cup success.
“Arsenal are one of the best teams in the Premier League,” he said.
“They play in a clear way. I like them in terms of style of play, I love this style.
“But we are playing well and we have the quality to reach the result.
“We are fighting for the Europa League. If you are fighting for a dream, every game is tough.”