Well how about that for an FA Cup draw, eh? Sutton from the conference up against Arsenal from the Premier League, with a little bit more spice added to the tie with the news that the Nando’s lover himself, Craig Eastmond, plays for Sutton and will probably be starting in their side to play us in a few weeks time. Let’s just hope he doesn’t go all Roy of the Rovers stuff on us.
It’s a tie that regardless of who plays we should be looking to win and win comfortably, but whilst I could probably write a whole blog around how amazing it’ll be for Sutton players to be rocking up against Premier League opposition (can you imagine the clamber for shirts at the end of the game?), we have bigger fish to fry with Watford at home tonight.
This is a tricky one for the manager I think. The expectation is that Arsenal will win and after Watford suffered the ignominy of defeat to Milwill in the cup at the weekend, we roasted Premier League opponents Southampton with a rotated team. We’ve also had the joys of a 3-0 win away from home towards the beginning of the season, but the memory of the defeat to Watford at home in the cup last season is still fresh in my memory and no matter how much I try I just can’t shake it loose completely.
I hope that’s the same with the Arsenal players that take to the field this evening too, because we could do with players that have urgency and a little edge, as it will ensure that the right attitude is applied from the first whistle. Southampton aside, I’ve seen a few games over the last six weeks in which we’ve had to be very patient for the first goal and whilst the team has delivered with wins and some last-gasp goals securing valuable points, is like to see us put a game to bed before halftime, so my hopes for tonight is that the team gets off to a quick start.
It’s certainly not a guarantee though, especially as you’d imagine there will be more rotation from the weekend, with the manager looking to keep his squad fresh over the busy couple of months we have coming up. With Chelski away from home on Saturday too, if I was in Arsène’s shoes I’d be wondering just who should be in from the start tonight. There is of course a few arguments to be had. One is that some of the players who sauntered to victory on the south coast will have momentum and so deserve to keep their place. Another is that there are some that are coming back from injury and so could afford to be rested, like Danny Welbeck, but would you risk Welbeck in a game of such high intensity as the weekend? It’s tricky. Oddly, it would probably be better if we were playing Chelski tonight, because it would mean the rotation of players back in to the team from the normal first XI is obvious and if needed, players can be rotated back out against Watford at the weekend. But you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt, so Arsène has to decide if he gives some of the bigger names the immediate re-entry back in to the first team.
Personally I’d have a sprinkling of both tonight. Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal seems obvious. In midfield you’d expect Coquelin to come in, but after the performance of The Ox at the weekend, I’d be tempted to say to him ‘go on then fella, you’ve earned your start, so prove you could do it two in a row’.
I don’t think that will happen, mind, because we all know how much Arsène loves Ramsey and so I’m almost certain he’ll fit right back in to the side. That does pose some questions though. Notably because the Ramsey/Coquelin partnership has hardly flourished. There’s often just too much space between the two and my only hope is that we don’t get caught out by the pace of Watford’s wide men when there is a turnover in position higher up the pitch. I suppose the positive is that in Deeney they have a very capable forward who can score goals, but who isn’t blessed with the quickest pace, so if one of Mustafi or Kos is covering him on a Watford counter, you’d expect the other to be free to close down any space created by the inevitable space between our midfield duet.
As for the three in front of those two midfielders, it will almost certainly include Özil and Alexis, but where exactly the Chilean will play will be interesting. Not least because of Giroud’s form and whilst there’s no doubt that Alexis has been more effective through the middle this season, I think Arsène will opt for the big Frenchman. Watford will attempt to sit deep and contain this evening, which means trickery on the flanks is more needed than raw pace. In my mind that rules out Theo – despite the weekend hat trick – but as well as that Giroud is a strong body who can receive the ball and work with plenty of Watford shirts around him. So having Alexis out wide gives us that trickery on the left and perhaps we’ll also see Iwobi on the right. I’d love to see an extended run for Lucas Perez in the team, but Iwobi and his gangly, slaloming body seem more suited to a team that might need our forwards to wriggle in and out of tight spaces with the ball at their feet.
Watford rested a few players at the weekend, but not all, so they’ll have some rested legs. I think their game plan will be to be as compact as possible and sit Capoue and Cleverley in front of their back line. My assumption is Deeney will start and Mazzarri won’t go big or go home by playing Niang from the start, but we could see him at some stage and he’ll be a handful with some pace if he gets any minutes. My hope is that we’re a few goals to the good by the time he does though.
Liverpool are hosting Chelski tonight and whilst we can’t exactly expect any favours from the scousers, we have to get our job done before worrying about what’s going on in the North West, so I’m hopeful that the Arsenal players will pick up the points and keep us putting the pressure on that ‘orrible lot ahead of us.
I shall catch you tomorrow, hopefully with glad tidings and maybe – fingers crossed – some half-decent news from Anfield*.
*I’m well aware it’ll be entirely my fault if Chelski do over the scousers tonight, because of that comment. Sorry.