Arsenal resume their Premier League campaign with a trip to Watford as Unai Emery looks to set the record straight in tricky away games.
There is a source of confusion among the Watford fan base that stemmed from the surprise sacking of manager Javi Gracia during the international break. The fact remains that Gracia was unable to inspire his team, who lost six of their last ten league games and are without a clean sheet since February, inevitably leading to the axe. Quique Sanchez Flores has been brought back for a second stint at the club.
Watford’s problems have been in front of goal, where the Hornets have scored just twice in over 360 minutes of football. Add Flores’ defence first approach and Watford may not be looking for immediate success on the attacking side. They face Arsenal in Flores’ first game upon returning to the club, and it will be a tough ask considering the quality the Gunners have upfront.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery should take the positives from their last game against Tottenham, as his side came back from two goals down to draw 2-2. A brilliant second-half performance from Arsenal is likely to have prompted the manager to tinker with his lineup for the Watford game.
It has not been a bad start to the season for the Gunners, as they have collected 7 points from their four games. But, doubts remain over Arsenal’s ability to win away from home, despite their opening day victory over Newcastle. Emery, like his predecessor Arsene Wenger in his final two seasons, has struggled on the road and he will be looking to set the record straight by collecting three points against Watford.
There are a few injuries here and there, but Emery will have a quality squad to choose from. He will be wary of the threat Watford poses physically and in the air, something they have used to hurt the Gunners in the past. How Emery lines up his side remains a big question, but we will see further as to what approach he might take.
Team News & Tactics
Flores is known as a defensive coach and keeping that in mind, he might field a rather conservative lineup against Arsenal. He does have a few injury problems to contend with. Craig Cathcart is ruled out with a thigh injury picked up during the international break. Troy Deeney is also out of the picture, as he is ruled out at least until October.
Etienne Capoue has handed Flores a boost, returning from injury and the Frenchman is likely to come back straight into the side in central midfield. He will partner Abdoulaye Doucoure there, as Flores is expected to field a nominal four-man midfield unit. Flores could also recall to Jose Holebas and Gerard Deulofeu to the lineup.
Danny Welbeck will have to contend with a place on the bench as Andre Gray will prevent his inclusion in the side. However, Flores will look to retain much of the players from the last game, meaning the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Will Hughes will get a run out from the flanks.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Foster; Janmaat, Dawson, Kabasele, Holebas; Sarr, Doucoure, Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Gray
The injury to Alexandre Lacazette, which rules the French striker until October has rocked the Gunners. It would prevent Emery to field his preferred front three until next month. The Spanish manager is still expected to maintain a 4-3-3 for the Watford game, with Reiss Nelson, the likely contender to replace Lacazette. This could allow Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to start in a central position.
Defensively, Arsenal have been handed a boost as Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin have returned to full training. They will not take part in the Watford game, meaning Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac are likely starters in the full-back positions. David Luiz and Sokratis will continue their central defensive partnership for the visitors.
Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira are both considered doubtful for the game, which could pave the way for Joe Willock to return to the lineup. Matteo Guendouzi, who is touted as the new midfield leader is a sure starter, with Dani Ceballos completing the trio. Mesut Ozil’s availability will surely give Emery a selection headache, although it is unlikely the spainard will select the German for this away match.
However, if Xhaka and Torreira are deemed fit, Emery could bring either one of them in the side. If the manager is specifically looking for the midfielder to be defensive then Torreira stands a chance, considering Xhaka has been in bad form during recent games. In that case, Willock will likely drop back to the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Torreira, Ceballos; Pepe, Aubameyang, Nelson
- Watford have lost five of their six Premier League home games against Arsenal, coming from behind to win the other 2-1 in October 2017.
- Arsenal have won their last three Premier League meetings with Watford, keeping a clean sheet each time.
- Watford were the only side not to score against the Gunners in the Premier League last season.
- None of the 12 top-flight meetings between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road have finished level – Watford won five of the first six such games (L1), while Arsenal have won five of the most recent six (L1).
- Arsenal have conceded nine penalty goals in the Premier League since the start of last season – only Brighton & Hove Albion have conceded more (10).
1. Arsenal to win @ 2.00
1. Arsenal Clean Sheet – YES @ 3.50
Player to Watch
Aubameyang and Lacazette have been getting the goals for Arsenal this season, but its the young Frenchman Guendouzi who is bringing about the dynamism from midfield. His colossal display against Tottenham a fortnight ago caught the eye and there is a firm belief he is the next prominent midfield leader for Arsenal. To reach that level, Guendouzi would need consistency by his side.
A top quality performance against Watford would instill the belief in Guendouzi that he could become the man Arsenal have been craving for. At the moment, there is no chance Emery will drop Guendouzi and it remains to be seen how the young midfielder performs against Watford. Hence, all eyes will be on him when Arsenal take the field at Vicrage Road.
Watford 1-3 Arsenal
Changing managers often sparks a change in the mentality and approach of players at the club. Quique Sanchez Flores, back for his second spell at Watford, is known for his defence first approach and should help organize things better at the back, but that might not be enough on Sunday against Arsenal.
On paper, Arsenal dominate in terms of quality, but Watford have sprung some surprises against the Gunners in recent years. However, the form that Unai Emery’s side are in currently will undoubtedly put the tie in Arsenal’s favour, and that frontline, even without Lacazette looks extremely dangerous for Watford to handle. Expect Arsenal to win this clash at Vicrage road with a good margin.