MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal v Watford; Another Step Towards History
The last time a team went on to win three consecutive FA Cups was 1886. The fact that it has been such a long time since it was last achieved should escape no one. The fact that Arsenal sit on the precipice of achieving that feet in the modern era shouldn’t escape anyone either.
Arsene Wenger’s charges look to make it to Wembley for the third straight year as they take on Premier League rivals, Watford. The challenge looks difficult and we shouldn’t underestimate how good the visitors have been this season.
While Arsenal have been rightly criticized for their form of late, the reality of this moment shouldn’t be ignored. Already the winningest side in the tournament’s history, they look to solidify their place in the history books with this next step towards the Hat-Trick of FA Cups. Additionally, whatever your criticism of Wenger is, he has a chance to further etch his name in English football’s history books.
However, there is that one little issue of their opponent – Watford.
While everyone has been applauding Leicester’s unlikely run to the title, Watford have been almost as impressive with their performances this season. While it has “quieted” a bit, this is still a dangerous team with no additional distractions.
For Arsenal with the Champion’s League looming, Arsene Wenger has a tough choice. The dot com talked of the competitive nature of the manager relishing the week ahead with matchups in the FA Cup, Champion’s League and Premier League. But the question remains will Wenger prioritize history over a long-shot at the Camp Nou?
How he prioritizes the FA Cup match up will affect his squad selection. If he truly wants to get this third FA Cup, he should consider going with this strongest possible squad. That may mean seeing the likes of the impressive Alex Iwobi making way for Mesut Özil. It may also mean other heavy hitters coming in.
Again it all goes to how Wenger is going to approach the midweek tie in Barcelona. For my part I want the history. If we’re honest the tie in Camp Nou is as daunting a task as we’ve had before. While we were undone by 10 minutes of madness against Barcelona it seems a fool’s errand to think we’ll get 2 goals and keep Barcelona off the score sheet. That’s why I hope this is where Wenger puts the focus.
Regardless of who starts it was good to see Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott get their shooting boots versus Hull this week. Both had gone through a horrid spells without netting a goal and with two each to their name the hope is that they will regain the confidence they need to keep on scoring.
Regardless of team selection, Arsenal need to come out with a similar effort to the Hull match if they are to progress to the next round at Wembley. We’ve been flat of late but the Hull match showed much more fluidity and enterprise to the Arsenal squad then we’ve seen for a while.
Key Match Up:
Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo have formed a solid partnership at the top of Quique Sanchez Flores 4-4-2. They both have worked effectively with Deeney linking up play and Ighalo being “a good finisher” according to Wenger. And while they have gone through a barren spell of late, they still pose a potential threat to an Arsenal back pairing that could be suffering from knocks picked up against Hull.
Where to Worry:
While Deeney and Ighalo are going through their own scoring drought they still pose a threat to Arsenal’s back 4. But the biggest worry has to be fatigue and lingering injuries and knocks. The tie in the midweek took a toll and even with Wenger’s reassurances this is Arsenal after all and we typically don’t have luck with injuries.
In Arsenal’s 3-0 win versus Watford at Vicarage Road – Arsenal kept attacking from wide to beat Watford’s compact midfield. They stretched the gaps between the midfield and back 4 and were able to take advantage of the space they created. We’ll need to do that again as well add the quick and incisive work that was seen in the match against Hull.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Mohammed Elneny. In his debut against Burnley there were some arguing as to whether he could handle the English game. As he has gotten more games under his belt he has shown that he adds a stability to our midfield that has been missing over the last few weeks (okay months)
Watford: Odion Ighalo. The journeyman has landed and looks stable in his new club Watford. Ramping up his game, he manages on average 3.2 shots per game getting service from his partner Troy Deeney.
Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Chambers, Monreal; Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi; Campbell, Walcott, Giroud
Watford: Gomes; Nyom, Prodl, Ake, Holebas,; Capoue, Watson, Suarez, Amrabat; Ighalo, Deeney
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com:
“There’s a lot of pressure and I enjoy it, because I believe real pressure is to play games without any importance – that’s boring,” the manager said. “I believe it’s a privilege for our club to be in position like this.
“You work very hard the whole year to be in these positions when March comes. It’s now down to us to be up to it and take it in a positive way and make sure we come out very happy after each game.”
“What pleased me most was our movement, our mobility, our technical quality, our patience as well, and our discipline offensively and defensively,” Wenger said.
“It was quite convincing and we showed the needed patience to beat a team like that. There were some individual satisfactions as well from players that we know less that slowly emerge and show that they have top quality.
“We go into a very important week now that means a lot to us. We go into the third consecutive year in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and that has a big meaning. We then have Barcelona, where we have not given up. Then we go to Everton on Saturday and we still believe we have a strong chance to fight for the Premier League.
“We have three huge challenges and we know it will be down to how much we will move forward and how much we will be capable of giving. We know there will be small margins in these games and we have to be sure that every small margin goes for us.”
Arsenal: Cech (calf), Arteta (calf), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Wilshere (leg), Cazorla (knee), Rosicky (thigh), Koscielny (Achilles), Ramsey (thigh)
Watford: Britos (calf), Cathcart (calf), Marin (calf), Ekstrand (hamstring)
UK: BT Sport, 13.30 GMT
US: Fox Sports 2 and Fox Soccer 2Go, 9:30 AM EST
Arsenal 3 – 1 Watford
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC)
- Arsenal have won four of their five previous FA Cup meetings with Watford, including a 4-2 third-round win en route to lifting the trophy in 2002.
- Watford’s sole FA Cup win over the Gunners was a 3-1 quarter-final triumph in 1987.
- Watford have never beaten Arsenal since the Premier League era began.
- The Gunners won October’s Premier League meeting 3-0 at Vicarage Road
- Arsenal have won the FA Cup a record 12 times.
- If they win the cup this season they will join Wanderers (1876-78) and Blackburn (1884-86) in winning the trophy for three successive years.
- Arsenal have won 15 consecutive rounds of the FA Cup. The post-war record is 16, which the Gunners hold (2002-2004).
- Arsene Wenger’s side haven’t lost three home games in a row in all competitions since November 2002
- Watford have won each of their three FA Cup matches this season by 1-0.
- The Hornets have lost seven of their last 11 league matches (W2, D2).
- Quique Sanchez’s side have not scored in three games. Their last goal was an own goal, in their FA Cup victory over Leeds in the last round.
- Watford are appearing in their first quarter-final since 2006-07, when they eventually lost 4-1 to Manchester United in the semi-finals