The one positive I will say that comes out of the international breaks that punctuate each season, is that when an Arsenal match day comes around, you learn to appreciate it more. That’s how I’m feeling today, with the Watford game just hours away, knowing that soon I’ll get the excited feeling of an Arsenal game to get worked up about.
The short trip across from Hertfordshire – even less than the 18 miles that the press are talking about because the team will probably leave from London Colney (which is more like 8 miles if they take the Watford/Radlett Road route) – means that there isn’t exactly a lot of travel time to worry about. But it still represents an interesting game. A team just promoted from the Premier League are, I think, at this time of the season just about to fall out of the initial honeymoon period. The first few games are about acclimatising to the league and by all accounts whilst the managers will say it’s important to pick up points early on, the prospect of fighting desperately for points to stay in the league hasn’t quite sunk in. Yet once you start getting to the ten points mark, if you’ve not picked up many points you start to feel a little bit of pressure and confidence is affected as a result.
Yet Watford find themselves with points already in the bag, having collected 10 with a mixture of two wins, four draws and only two defeats. That form, built on the foundation of a solid and well-drilled defence, has seen the Hornets to a league’s best seven goals conceded (the same as us). However, the six goals that Watford have scored also tells a story: this team do not like to go too ‘gung-ho’ in their approach. So anybody expecting another classic game like the one against Leicester a month ago, will probably be sorely disappointed, because Watford will be playing to frustrate this evening.
I’ve prepared myself for it mentally, actually, because you hear comments like Troy Deeney on TalkSh*te about how they will ‘rough em up a bit’ and you wonder whether the game this evening is one that will get a few of us annoyed. Flores has his team drilled so they know what they are doing and they will sit deep and try to encourage Arsenal to pass across their defensive line. They will have Capoue sitting as the screening character and will look to Ighalo and Deeney to provide respite when in attack. I believe Anya and Abdi have a bit of pace, but if Bellerin and Monreal are indeed the starters for today, I’d expect us to be able to marshall those Watford wingers well enough.
I don’t think we’ll be drawing Watford out too much today, so I suspect what we’ll need is plenty of craft and precision passing to get behind a deep-lying defence. That’s where the form of Ozil comes in handy, but with Theo it is also important – assuming he plays – that we have enough players timing their runs well enough. I read somewhere on Twitter yesterday that Arsenal might shuffle the pack a bit possibly with Giroud and The Ox, but I’d be surprised. I would have thought Ramsey would have been a better option to drift in field centrally given the tight and confined spaces that the players are most likely to operate in, so I expect to see almost an identical side lining up against Watford to the one that played against United.
We’re going to have most of the possession and it will most likely be right in front of Watford at the beginning of the Arsenal attacking third of the pitch. Patience will be the key because Watford won’t commit men forward and we therefore won’t be able to draw them out and hit them on the counter. Having said that, and early goal could completely change the dynamic of the game, because it would force Watford to come out and we’d be able to pick them off with the pace of Alexis and Theo.
The role of Santi might be interesting today too and it wouldn’t surprise me if he spends more time in a more advanced position than right at the side of Coquelin in the centre of the pitch. If Watford are sitting deep and we need those players with an eye for a pass, Santi can support Mesut in delivering those balls so perhaps we’ll see more of a partnership between those two today, as they stay closer together as a duo?
The fitness of Koscienly will be another consideration for Arsene to take, but whether it is Gabriel or Mertsacker or both who play instead of Kos, I think we can all agree we’re quite satisfied with that defensive five in the team when you include Cech. It’s the front line that intrigues me and I’d be looking for those players who can beat a man as much as possible. Perhaps that means there is a slight hope for the Ox in starting, but I’d be surprised to see Giroud. He’s shown he’s better than Theo in confined spaces with his flick-on’s to teammates (although admittedly Theo was impressive against United and I think is getting better every week), but Theo’s form will surely dictate that he’ll be given the nod. That doesn’t mean I don’t think we’ll see cameo’s from Olivier and Oxlade-Chamberlain at some point during proceedings, but the starting XI is starting to look a little more settled and I expect it to stay that way for a while yet.
We may have Bayern on the horizon, but pretty much all of the Arsenal fans I speaks to say that we want to have a proper go at the league and any league title attempt will be built on the foundations of a good run at this period in the season. We simply have to beat Watford if we want to start making moves on the trophy this season. We’ve got Everton at home after this game, then Swansea away and then the Spuds at home before we travel to West Brom. If we can pick up maximum – or as close to possible – points in all of those games, I think we’ll go in to the December busy period as league leaders, which I think we need to do whilst City have their injury problems because they’re sure to put a run together too. If not now, then when their injured stars return.
Come on Arsenal, let’s start showing people we’re serious about this league title.