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Post Match Review

How Arsenal managed an important win away at Watford

Arsenal recorded a vital win away from home as they beat Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road. With Chelsea losing over the weekend and United and Spurs winning, it was essential that Arsenal took all three points to keep themselves in the race for Champions League qualification. The result was also Arsenal‘s first clean sheet away from home this entire season. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal from Ben Foster’s mistake was the difference between the two sides as Troy Deeney was sent off early for the hosts. This tactical analysis looks at the key points from the game.


Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-3-1 and welcomed both Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka back into the side. They formed the double pivot in midfield. In defence, Laurent Koscielny started with Dinos Mavropanos as the Greek made his first Premier League start of the season in place of the suspended Sokratis. Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal started as the right and left-backs respectively replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolašinac. Mesut Özil was left on the bench, presumably due to Watford’s physicality and Aaron Ramsey took his place. Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were the wide players and Aubameyang led the line.

The home side initially lined up in a 3-5-2 as Troy Deeney and Andre Gray led the attack. In midfield Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré formed a dynamic partnership. Adam Masina and Kiko Femenía were the wing-backs. Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele and Daryl Janmaat were the three centre-backs.

Arsenal unable to dominate

Despite the result, Arsenal genuinely did struggle for the majority of the game and put in a very poor performance. At times it seemed as though the Gunners were a man down as they struggled to keep possession and create chances for themselves as they had just five shots on target. The return of Xhaka and Torreira to midfield led to the hope that Arsenal wouldn’t struggle in transitions as much. However, the end result was nearly the same as it has been in most away games this season as the duo could not impose themselves on the game. There were poor performances all around. This struggle to keep Watford at bay stemmed from both Watford’s pressing as well as some sub-par passing from Arsenal.

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

Arsenal defend in a 4-4-2

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

Watford pressed excellently and kept tight to their respective Arsenal players

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

Watford’s pressing was intelligent and they were happy to concede possession in deeper areas

After the red-card, Watford switched to a 4-4-1 which nullified Arsenal for the most part. In this formation, Gray had no pressing role to play, rather the English striker stayed up the pitch in the event of a counter-attack. Watford’s midfield made the difference for the home side as they implemented an intelligent man-oriented press. When Xhaka or Torreira had the ball in central midfield, Watford gave up possession but started to press them as they advanced into the final third. This pressing helped keep Ramsey quiet as well as the Welshman struggled to make an impact on the game. Arsenal didn’t help themselves by conceding possession carelessly on many occasions. At half-time, Emery brought on Ozil and later Guendouzi so that the Gunners would be able to keep possession. Unfortunately, this did little to bring control and calmness to Arsenal’s midfield

Struggles in wide areas 

Since Emery took over, the Gunners have become heavily reliant on the width provided by both the wingers and the full-backs. In the beginning of the season, Mkhitaryan and Iwobi were the first choice wingers and with Bellerín and Kolašinac as a full-back, there weren’t many issues with how attacks progressed in the wide areas. As the season as progressed, owing to injuries and loss of form, Arsenal have struggled at times to create using width, which is an issue considering how much they have reduced attacking centrally. On the pitch, certain partnerships have flourished. Iwobi and Kolašinac have developed a great understanding, looking coherent and extremely dangerous. The same can be said of Mkhitaryan and Bellerín before the Spaniard got injured.

In this game, Arsenal struggled with their combinations out wide. Monreal and Iwobi didn’t engage with each other much as the Spaniard does not overlap as much as his Bosnian teammate. Mustafi put in a decent performance but doesn’t offer nearly as much athleticism as Bellerín or even Maitland-Niles. Due to the unwillingness of the full-backs to overlap, the wide players were left isolated and were forced to drift inside. This caused the midfield to become overcrowded and Arsenal could not effectively utilise the extra-man they possessed.

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

Mkhitaryan and Iwobi drift inside. Mustafi is left isolated and unwilling to move further up the pitch with the ball

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

Mustafi’s heat-map indicating how conservative and relatively narrow he played

Premier League 2018/19: Watford vs Arsenal Tactical Analysis Statistics

The average positions indicating that both Mustafi and Monreal tucked inside and did not really get forward as much

Away struggles continue

While they may have won, Arsenal were really poor on the night. There is such a stark difference between Emery’s side playing at home and away from home which leads to the question as to what the real issue is? At home, Arsenal go forward with purpose, win 50-50 challenges and really look unbeatable at times whereas when they play away, they barely contest challenges, are easily overrun in midfield, concede possession sloppily and struggle to create chances. Whether this is a tactical issue or a mental issue, Emery needs to ensure his side are better prepared for away games if they are to finish in the top-four this year. As mentioned many times, Arsenal still have away games to Wolves and Leicester left on their schedule. Add to this the possibility of the Europa League semi-finals, Arsenal need to be far more confident and self-assured going into away games.


A win is a win and Arsenal will feel happy to come away from what would have been a difficult game at Vicarage Road with a win. Undoubtedly, Emery’s side were lucky to have had an extra man for most of the game but the performance did not reflect the same. Nevertheless, the three points keeps Arsenal in fourth place and ensures that a top four finish is in their own hands. Looking forward, the Gunners have an important away trip to Napoli before playing Crystal Palace at home. Securing their place in the Europa League semis would be a massive boost to the side and with Spurs playing City over the weekend, the Palace game represents a chance to move into third place should Tottenham lose.

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