Watford vs. Arsenal Premier League preview
We face Watford, and a certain Mr. Deeney, who notably said we lacked the balls (essentially) when he beat us 2-1 in 2017.
This comment was perhaps a bit base, since it was on national TV (BT Sport), but it was warranted. We did lack the “cojones” (to use the exact phrase) at that time, and this comment despite it being many months ago will still hold an impact here.
And let’s be frank, it will be a factor in our poor away form, and top four challenge. Just like under latter Wenger, we’re strong at home, but weak away from home.
And given how Watford has reached the FA Cup Final, them beating us would be an icing to a recently well-made and baked cake.
As aforementioned, Deeney’s “cojones” statement will feature here, especially if they beat us. It would reinforce the notion that we’re soft and weak, and can only handle teams in our own home space.
And we need the win, since Spurs beat relegated Huddersfield 4-0, and Man United defeated West Ham 2-1. Liverpool face off with Chelsea, and at the time of writing this is yet to be played. But even if the Scouser Reds beat Chelsea, we need to capitalise here. And prove a few that we do have the “balls” to win away from home.
Watford will look to rough us up, get in our faces, and essentially do as Everton did to us. Or as we did to Napoli. Emery, even though tactical changes and anticipation are his strong suits, got it wrong at Goodison Park. And he cannot afford to get in wrong here, since top four may be in the balance, even with several games to go. We cannot rely on City beating Spurs, or City beating United, or Liverpool beating Chelsea, or a favourable result for us between United and Chelsea. We have to go stuff on our own strengths – so it’s self-evident that a win is imperative.
Watford could finish seventh, and thus be the “best of the rest”. And either way they should get the Europa League as City will be in the CL next season whether they win the league or not.
So this won’t be easy. But to quote Homer Simpson in response to his daughter Lisa, our bad away form is a good “cristunity” for us. And what better to shut up the critics and haters (Deeney inclusive) should we get the win here.
We won the game at our place with them 2-0, but to be fair we lucked out a bit, since they played well. They were physical then, and managed to press us a lot, and will surely play a similar game plan. We have anticipated other sides well for the most part this season – and we need to again now.
The Everton game is done and dusted, and cannot be undone. But a major criticism of the latter Wenger period was that we didn’t seemingly learn from good or bad events. This is an opportunity to put that behind us and build. Everton dominated us in the midfield, and were physically more up for it. Watford will look to do the same.
And look at it more logically – Watford cannot outplay us technically. So the best way for them to win is exploit our weaknesses and use their strengths to do such. Everton did, and Watford will look to do similar.
Accordingly then, this is the formation I’d play if I were Emery:
I keep mentioning Jenkinson in successive previews. But I feel he gets unfairly maligned, and given Maitland-Niles isn’t a natural right-back, and that Lichtsteiner is past it, we could use him here and going forward. Mustafi can play there, but he’s hardly flavour of the month. As for Mustafi, we need his experience at the back, given Sokratis’s suspension. However, he can play well when needed, as he did at Everton. Another good game would have the usual plus and negative, but it’s something we have to swallow again.
The team news as of Sunday is that Xhaka has a groin strain, and is a doubt, though he may be fit for the Napoli game.
Since Watford will look to make things hard for us, we need to win the physical and midfield battles. Torreira hasn’t played much lately, so his inclusion is imperative. And I would play Elneny here – because we need ball retention. Guendouzi starts too, as he can carry the ball forward better than the other mids. Elneny is another player who is maligned, though he usually plays well. I feel he is most effective in a packed midfield, and thus could work here. What happened at Everton is that both he and Guendouzi were ill-prepared for the Everton pressing.
Laca starts over Auba since we’d need his deeper working more here. Though given the Napoli game, it may be prudent to change him for Auba at half-time or early in the second half.
There is no Ozil, but then Iwobi and Mkhitaryan are better suited for taking the ball to the Watford defence. They can both also drop deeper to help in the midfield, and then counter-attack well with pace.
I’d save Ramsey for Napoli, and possibly bring him on later if needed.
The midfield will be crucial, though defensively we cannot afford mishaps. Leno has been solid, though Kos and Mustafi have to be disciplined throughout.
Laca up front by himself needs quick support from the attacking mids, though he has the quick turning and physicality to handle their defence.
We need a team, and a mentality, up for the fight and battle, as we cannot afford another loss here.
Watford 1-2 Arsenal
I feel we can get the win, despite their FA Cup Final high.
We just need to match them physically, and be able to use our better technical play to beat them.