I don’t really know what to make of tonight’s game. There’s part of me that looks at the form we were in before the international break and think that yes, we’re on a good run and we should beat Watford, but even though that is the case there are a couple of nagging doubts I have.
Firstly that our away form hasn’t exactly been sparkling. We were poor against Liverpool. We were profligate against Stoke. We had a vastly improved performance against Chelski but we’re still yet to win away from home in the league and even in the Chelski game it felt like we should have probably have come away with more. Watford will be a different test to Stamford Bridge, but it feels to me like a game in which chances simply must be taken, because if we play like we did against Stoke you could see us having a similar result. I call them the ‘Champ Man skankings’ because back in the old days of Championship Manager (late nineties, early 2ks) you used to assemble a team of superstars and pretty much win every game, but there’d always be one match in which the game just decided that it didn’t matter how good your team were, they were going to get beat. That’s what it’s felt like at times over the years but when you watch the games again you realise that sometimes the team just doesn’t seem like it clicks and that is what happened on that Stoke game.
We also need to bear in mind that Watford are not the same animal with Marcos Silva as manager. I really rate him. He’s smart, he knows the tactical side of the game and Man City hammering aside, he’s steered Watford in to a comfortable position in the league and I think they look like an established Watford side this season more than any i’ve seen since I’ve been watching football regularly. I think he’s destined for greater things but I think he’ll steer Watford clear of relegation and so today we don’t face a team scrapping who will hope for a bad game from us and a bit of endeavour from them, we’ll line up against a well-drilled, tactically disciplined, football team who will have analysed our weaknesses quite closely.
So I expect we’ll see them aim to press Xhaka quickly when he has the ball. In the games in which we’ve played well and he’s excelled this season he’s had time and space to pick his passes. I don’t really understand why teams haven’t pressed him harder given how exposed he looked in the opening games of the season, but they haven’t and as a result, we’ve been able to dictate possession of the ball and allow the Swiss to find his passing range. If Watford give him space today I think that will make a massive impact on how the game unfolds.
For Arsene the question will need to be on who plays in his back three. You’d expect Nacho to be in there, but will we see Koscielny rushed in, given that Mustafi is out for the next month and a half? I suspect that if he’s fit Wenger doesn’t hesitate for a second because as promising as Holding is and as experienced as Big Per has been for us, I don’t think they’ve looked overly great in their most recent outing in Borisov. Perhaps we can put it down to rustiness having not had too much game time, but I think Arsene’s thought process will be dictated on how susceptible to injury Koscielny is today.
Of course the other problem we could have is if Kolasinac isn’t fit, as Arsene intimated on Thursday he might not be available. If we have Mustafi, Koscielny and Kolasinac unavailable then that really does put us in a pickle, because it means shifting Nacho to left back and forcing Arsene’s hand in to playing any available centre half we have. Defensively there are certainly plenty of questions to be answered on the team selection.
Midfield is probably going to pick itself and so it’s then a question as to whether the contract rebels get a start. Personally I’d have a think about Giroud and Lacazette and seeing if we can shift the formation to a bit of a little and large two up front with a playmaker behind, but I can’t see Arsene doing that so I think we’ll probably see Ozil and maybe Iwobi with Laca in front of them. That’s on the assumption that Alexis is a little knackered after his long trip to Chile. The guy has proven what an Energiser Bunny he is though, so it isn’t inconceivable to see him start. Welbeck is a question mark but I think Arsene doesn’t take any chances with him if i’m honest, which is the same for Jack, though he’ll obviously be treated with even more kid gloves than Welbz will.
I think Watford will aim to frustrate and be compact with the opening skirmishes, then relying on set pieces and counters. They have forward players who I would describe as ‘meaty’ and so I don’t expect watford to draw us out and hit us with lightning counter.
There was a time when playing watford would be considered easy fare for us but in recent seasons they’ve won in the FA Cup and last season they beat us in the league at The Emirates. So those players will still have victory against Arsenal fresh in their memory and they’ll know what they need to do to win. For us it is about demonstrating patience and composure on the ball but above all, it’s about taking those great chances which we will inevitably get.
Up the Arsenal.
Catch you all tomorrow.