Two weeks of excruciatingly painful meaningless football are over. The latest interlull has come and went and we’re back with excruciatingly painful meaningful football. That’s right the Arsenal are back and we’re left wondering will the pickup will they left off, or revert to a form more akin to Sunday league football.
That’s the big question isn’t it? Prior to the international break, Arsenal had gone on a course-correcting run that at a minimum dulled the pain of the start of the season. But as we return we’re wondering which version of the team will show up.
Heading in to the last break, Arsenal had played 4 matches in a row without conceding a goal. We’ve picked up 10 points from 12 and scored 7 goals in a run and that has put us right back into the top 4 picture. However, before that we are all reminded of the hideous picture that was consecutive losses to Stoke and Liverpool.
Watford away, present a more difficult task then they would normally represent. Manager Marco Silva has taken on the hot seat at Watford and gotten them to play a confident and organized style of football that outside of a drubbing from City looks to make them regular spoilers to the big sides this season.
We come into Hertfordshire, with some international injuries limiting us, as Mustafi is out, Koscielny facing a late test and Sanchez likely to start on the bench due to returning so late in the week. It’s not exactly a recipe for success but it’s the cards we’re dealing with and the manager has to make the most of the situation he has to continue on this run.
Interestingly for Arsenal, Watford are more poor at home this under Silva than away. They’ve only managed 2 points from nine at home while getting an impressive 10 from 12 on the road.
Arsenal have winnable matches in their next 3 before they are faced with back to back nightmares of City and the North London Derby. Heading into those matches it’s imperative that Arsenal get as many points out of the next 9 available and it’s up to Wenger to ensure he gets the “balance” (his word not mine) of the squad right.
If Sanchez is likely to start on the bench who comes in? Danny Welbeck is back but given his propensity for injury, does Wenger risk putting him back in right away. Danny was in fine form before his groin injury and if he is fit could still be a threat. The question is do you rush him back and risk losing him for a longer period of time.
Additionally, do you put Mesut Özil back in? Özil is a double whammy of issues. He’s just back off of a lingering knee injury that kept him out of the German squad but he’s also part of the swirling contract debacle that seems to have taken his head out of being a Gunner.
Even though there were positive reports yesterday around the contract negotiations, does Wenger risk his previous harmony by starting someone with a questionable attitude? Iwobi would be the likely starter if not and while he is younger and seems more committed, I am not sure he buys you much more than an unfocused Özil.
With 6 wins out of 7 (draw to Chelsea) in all competitions, Arsenal can continue to put the horrid start behind them with another win at Watford. It won’t be easy but given the confidence in the squad, look for the Gunners to eek out a frustratingly prodding win.
TRENDS TO WATCH:
The biggest to watch out for is the run of clean sheets. 4 in row in the league is an impressive run, especially given the talent of the teams in the league. However, with some defensive issues cropping up, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues. My heart says yes, my head says not in your life time.
HOW THE MATCH COULD PLAY OUT:
I fully expect this to be one of those performances that grates on our nerves and drives us mad. We’ll have the fair share of the ball and spend an inordinate amount of time in their end with little to show for it. We will make one or two moments of genius that will unlock the Watford back line and give a big sigh of relief when we come out with a narrowly edged out victory that didn’t need to be.
THE MANAGER’S TAKE (COURTESY ARSENAL.COM)
“It’s an important period, because in the first seven or eight games some teams struggle to start, some have a difficulty to find cohesion because they have new players. But after that, when you go from seven to 15, the league table settles so overall I believe completely that it’s a very important period in the season now.”
They are a strong side. They have strong results, they’re a balanced team who are dangerous and play good football. They’re tough opponents for everybody.
“He [Marco Silva] has impressed, because I think Watford play good football. He was at Hull, where he had a very good start as well, and overall I think he has done very well.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey. Prior to the international break, Ramsey was looking like his 2013/2014 version. However, during the international break he looked like every other version of Ramsey we’ve seen. Let’s just hope it was his international colleagues that threw him off and not a sign of things to come.
Watford: Richarlison. The Brazilian doesn’t speak a word of English. But who cares he one of the key reasons Silva’s Watford look as good as they do.
INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS:
Arsenal: Mustafi (thigh strain), Chambers (hip), Cazorla (plantaris), Koscielny (achilles – late fitness test), Kolasinac (hip – late fitness test)
Watford: Success (knee), Chalobah (knee), Kaboul (hamstring), Prodl (hamstring – late fitness test), Cathcart (knee), Hoban (ACL)
AVERAGE GOALS FOR:
AVERAGE GOALS AGAINST:
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (5M, 12Y, 0R)
Assistants: Scott Ledger, Adrian Holmes
Fourth official: Graham Scott
UK: BT Sport 17.30 GMT
US: NBC 12.30 EST
Watford 1 – 2 Arsenal
MATCH FACTS (COURTESY BBC.CO.UK):
- The Gunners could fail to score in their opening four away league games of a season for the first time since 1936.
- They last went four consecutive away league games without a goal during the same season in December 1992.
- Arsenal are vying to keep five successive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since January 2006.
- Petr Cech has not enjoyed a longer run of top-flight shut-outs since going six games without conceding between April and August 2010.
- Alexis Sanchez has provided three goals and three assists in his four Premier League games against Watford. However, Sanchez has failed to score in five league appearances for the first time since an 11-match barren spell between October 2015 and March 2016.
- Watford earned their first league victory against Arsenal since April 1988 in the most recent meeting, at the Emirates Stadium in January. It ended their run of seven straight defeats in this fixture.
- The Hornets have failed to keep a clean sheet against Arsenal in 10 matches since that 1-0 away victory in 1988.
- Arsenal have won five successive matches away to Watford in all competitions, scoring 15 goals.