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Sokratis returns but Rob should be Holding on to his place for the visit of Watford

We will be looking to extend our winning streak to 5 leagues games and 7 overall when hosting Watford today. A task made harder than usual by the Bees’ surprisingly excellent form up to date: Xavi Gracia’s team are on 13 points after 6 games, losing one (to United) and drawing one (to Fulham last weekend).

Watford are inside the top 4 if you look at the table, though a win for the Gunners today will change that. However I do not expect a win, should it come about, to be easy for Unai Emery’s side. There are two reasons for that: the Spaniard is still feeling his way around (and I suspect he will continue to do so for a while) and Gracia’s men result up to date is backed by the numbers – it’s not a fluke.

Head-to-head

Arsenal have a strong overall record against Watford: eight wins in the last ten league games. That, however, comes with a caveat: we’ve lost two of the last three, one of these at home and another just last season – a painfully meek surrender with a Richarlison dive to complete it.

It’s fair to say Watford have become something of a bogey team for us in the last couple of seasons. I’m praising the Lord today’s fixture is not at Vicarage Road otherwise I would have been more worried, even on the back of two successive away triumphs in the league.

Team news update

Back in contention

Sokratis will be back in contention by the look of it, which is a timely boost indeed. Our defence started to look menacingly depleted after the Greek hobbled off last weekend, especially after the nasty news about Mavropanos resurfaced.

Thankfully the elder Greek recovered quickly, as did Sead Kolasinac apparently. I’m hoping we will see the latter involved in Europa League in midweek, while the former should be right back in the starting XI today.

Squad

Cech will most definitely continue between the sticks. His immense performance last weekend was the reason we kept our first clean sheet, while Leno has not done anything out of the ordinary in his last two games. I think we can just assume for the time being Cech’s league spot is safe.

In defence I would expect Monreal to continue, along with the reinstated Sokratis, but I’m really intrigued as to whether Emery drops either Bellerin or Mustafi. Or both. Thing is, you could make a case for both Lichtsteiner and Holding based on their recent outings.

Lichtsteiner, while not quite providing the attacking impetus of Bellerin, looked exceptionally solid closer to his own goal. Bellerin has been found wanting on that front more than once, that ridiculous Cardiff goal springs to mind first of all. And it’s not like Lichtsteiner can’t be effective up front too – he was heavily involved in the final ⅓ both against Vorskla and Brentford.

Did enough to start?

Meanwhile Holding has, to my mind, outperformed his senior partner (i.e. Mustafi) when deployed. The Englishman is a good distributor of the ball and has that calmness to defensive actions Mustafi sorely lacks. I would really like to see him given a go alongside Sokratis, though something tells me Emery will stick to Mustafi for now.

Midfield remains a hot pot and there’s absolutely no clarity on who will start. At the moment it looks like Guendouzi and Mkhitaryan have lost their respective battles to Torreira and Ozil. I’m also wondering how much the news about Aaron Ramsey’s impending departure will shape Emery’s team selection.

Will he be more willing to give time to someone who’ll be at Colney next season? The Spaniard is trigger-happy to give minutes to everyone and his bold selection decisions testify to that. Guendouzi played an awful lot and I’m still not sure he’s no longer a starter, Iwobi looks reinvigorated and dangerous and Mkhitaryan looks a better foil for our attackers than Ramsey.

Plenty for Emery to ponder regarding midfield choices, albeit I’m quite sure we won’t see Elneny start today! Up front Unai will likely go with both Lacazette and Aubameyang again, as he should. The Gabonese is admittedly not as effective from the left as he is centrally, but as long as he is notching goals (12 in the league since joining, only Salah (16) has more during that period), while making his strike partner more effective, I don’t really care he’s playing on the left.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Sokratis – Monreal – Torreira – Xhaka – Ozil – Ramsey – Aubameyang – Lacazette

Player in focus: Aaron Ramsey

What’s Ramsey’s last season going to be?

Well, who else? It seems the Welsh international’s days at Arsenal are numbered: a debate around his usefulness will certainly rage from now on until he eventually leaves to join United and kills it there (just kidding!)

I’ve seen in interesting bit of trivia today: Arsenal’s win ratio with Ramsey in the last three seasons is 56% against 54% without him (league only). He also failed to start 52 of the 120 league games – almost half, which testates to both his role in the team and injury record. In another bit of info, Ramsey has only 31 goal involvements in those three seasons – at a rate of one every 197 minutes – not exactly a goal machine we’d like him to be.

Closer to home however, and Ramsey is not exactly racking up the numbers this season either – he’s only just in top 10 midfielders for chances created, 13th for penalty box touches and really, really low in terms of shots inside the box – just 8 in total.

How will he respond today? Will he even start? Your guess is as good as mine. I’m hoping we’ll see Ramsey give his all in the final months. How possible it is in reality – with Emery shaping the team and all – I just don’t know.

The verdict

In what would otherwise be considered a relatively ordinary fixture, this one has some spicy recent history to it. A bleak surrender at Vicarage Road, cojones, Cech’s first penalty save in an eternity…

Not to forget BOTH teams have a new manager from the start of the season and Watford has actually been very good up to date. They have played two big sides, winning and losing one apiece and, but for a strange draw last weekend, would have been hard to catch today.

I’m hoping we’ll see further improvement from Arsenal. The midweek game against Brentford showed we can start strongly, while there are signs we are getting better defensively – I’m hoping Emery can capitalize on that, making the hard decisions if and when necessary (I’m looking at you, Mustafi!)

Amen to that. Here’s to another win today and I’ll be back here with a review.

Come on you Gunners.

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