Ahh that most sacred of things: a three o’clock kick off. How I have missed thee.
I know we got one the other week against Newcastle but it didn’t feel the same because a) I was in New York and not at St James’ Park watching the game, and b) it wasn’t at The Emirates and so naturally the same ritual and excitement going to the game wasn’t the same as it is today.
Although to be fair today won’t be the same as normal because I’m not drinking in prep for the Amsterdam Marathon I’m running on 21st October, plus i’ll be embarking on a practice run of 19 miles before I set off on my journey to North London for the game. I’m going to be knackered having run 19 miles and so what I could really do without is Arsenal completely ballsing up my day by losing or drawing this afternoon. It’s not conducive to my post-run warm down to be stiff from rage because Troy Deeney has run through and in behind our back line to tap in his second of the afternoon and Watford’s third.
And that’s not beyond the realms of possibility with the way our defence has performed this season and any team with pacey players are going to cause us trouble. Deeney himself is more of a physical presence than one with pace, but Watford have players who do have pace to support him in Andre Gray and with Javi Gracia completely resting his team in midweek for the game against the Tiny Totts, their first team will be well rested and ready to cause us some problems.
And they will cause us problems today. Watford have had a great start to the season and will be full of confidence. They deserved more than a point against Fulham at Craven Cottage and they have a direct style and approach that will be designed to get at us and in behind our back line as quickly as possible today.
Watford have named a pretty solid line up all season and it looks for all the world to be a 4-4-2 like the old days, but given that’s a dirty word in modern football I’m sure somebody will tell me it’s a 2-2-2-2-1-1 or something like that. Whatever it is they’ll have Gray and Deeney up top as their ‘pace’ and ‘power’ option, but they have guile in Pereya and even Hughes has looked like an astute operator; you only have to look at his clever little reverse ball last weekend as he put Gray in for the Watford goal to see that.
But what worries me is someone like Capoue having time and space to see passes and distribute to set Gray off in the channels where inevitably we’ll have Monreal and Bellerin leaving space. We give away a lot of chances in those positions and it feels like today will be the same so what I would like to see is that we’re a little more conservative when going forward today from a full back perspective.
We won’t be though. We’ll push our full backs higher up the pitch, we’ll leave space behind and we need to accept that it’s the way Emery wants to play, despite how terrifying that is. Cech has to start in goal and of course we’ll see the two first choice full backs play. Sokratis’ return to the team is welcome and I expect he’ll play alongside Mustafi tomorrow. The next decision for Emery is who plays in midfield but that feels to me like it’ll be Xhaka and Torreira. The Uruguayan earned his place after last weekend’s showing against Everton and providing it is he that is the more deeper-lying of the midfielders and we push Xhaka a little higher up the pitch then it will feel a little less risky than it did last weekend against the Toffees.
Perhaps that’s an easier pairing to predict than the front four though. For me Auba and Laca is a given and as Ozil hasn’t played in midweek then of course I’d expect him to play. But to Ramsey or not to Ramsey, given the news that broke this week, is the question. Personally I’d probably still start him today, because despite the fact I’ve called for him to be phased out and I still believe that, dropping him today straight after the event has happened kind of makes it a ‘thing’. We’re still going to need him between now and January and so for me I’d hope that by mid November time he’s out of the team. But for now he’s needed and so I’d have Ramsey in there with Ozil wide right, Laca through the middle and Auba on the left. But what I’m really desperate to see more of is rotation, specifically between Laca and Auba. Let’s see the Gabonese international have a 10 minute spell through the middle with Laca dropping out wide, for example, because not only will it give us more flexibility but it will also ensure that defenders are being pulled apart a bit.
I don’t think Unai will be taking Watford for granted today – or at least I hope he won’t – and given that in each of the last three seasons we’ve had at least one defeat against them either at home or away, it’s not as if we haven’t had the warning signs. Arsenal have to be favourites of course, but we still need to start well and so i’d love to see us actually put in a first half performance in the league that has us saying ‘yes please’, more of that please.
Come on Arsenal, let’s have a good weekend please, can we?