This is a big match day for our season today. Over the weekend we fell down in to sixth and if we suffer back-to-back defeats in the Premier League following the Everton debacle, then it really will start to feel like this run of so called ‘easier’ games isn’t going to go to plan.
Mainly because, as we all know, we’re terrible away from home and the Everton match did little to dissuade many of us in that regard.
Defeat tonight puts us a point away from Man United having played the same number of games, three behind Chelski – albeit with a game in hand – as well as four behind the Totts. Mathematically not uncatchable but for my money I worry more about the psychological impact of yet another away day defeat. It’s easy for the players to say the right things off the pitch. It’s easy for them to talk up how they’re working hard and that the away form this season and last has no effect on them. It’s easy for the manager to say we’re only looking forward. But when you look at the numbers and you hear from ex-pros about the psychological of professional sports, you know that it’s all ‘talk’. The away day poor form is a thing and we have to do something about it.
I pray that’s tonight.
Watford are a tough customer. Gracia will set up his team to be physical and win the battles against us. He’ll most likely want to go with a variant of 4-4-2 with Deeney as the physical presence and Gray as the pace. But they’ll look to take advantage of our weaker defence positions on either side of the wings I suspect. Maitland-Niles has a shocker against Everton and Kolasinac was hooked at half time so I think Gracia will go for Pereyra and probably Deulofeu out wide, asking both to try to get in behind of our full backs and put pressure on an erratic Arsenal defence.
If they do that it’s quite an attacking line up though so it will create pockets of space for our midfield and forward line so my hope is that at home Gracia isn’t cautious and allows us more space. Because if he does then my hope is that we get something more than we got last weekend.
As for us we’re always difficult to predict, but I hope Unai goes with a back four and we see us try to control the midfield a bit and be compact as a defensive line up. When we play with a back three it encourages our wing backs to effectively give up their defensive positions which creates space for opponents, but if we go with a four and tell that four to sit deep and tuck in, then it may stifle Watford somewhat. For that reason I’d go Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal as full backs and tell Maitland-Niles not to venture forward as much.
What I would then look to do is to get players in our team further up the pitch who can tuck in a bit deeper and provide more protection for our defence. Xhaka and Torreira are a must (assuming Xhaka is fit) and then for me you have to play Ramsey in front of them. But I’d go with Mkhitaryan on the right and then probably Özil on the left. I think Mkhi will be better defensively and Özil needs to be able to find space for one of Auba or Laca. Laca always feels like a better lone striker to me so it’s him who I think will get the nod.
Of course I’ve been wrong most of this season on both selection and formation and I’m not expecting to change the habit of the season so far. So your guess is as good as mine. What will be interesting though is to see how much Unai picks the team based on who he can then play on Thursday. Can Koscielny play tonight and then Thursday for example? We know Sokratis is back on Thursday so perhaps Koscielny plays tonight because Unai knows he has the Greek returning on Thursday night?
I hope he isn’t starting to prioritise just yet though. I’m skeptical we can get top four given our away form but I still believe we have to play a very strong team tonight. We can’t put all of our Easter eggs in the Napoli basket.
I said it this weekend and I’ll reiterate again though; we have to start this match well. We look like a forlorn team when we go behind and Vicarage Rod will be rocking with them now in a cup final, so an early goal for us might dampen the mood. But if they score first and early I fear our team retreating in to its psychological shell and that’s going to make it a long night.
I’ll be radioing for the first half but most likely watching from a pub in the second. Let’s hope that the boys do the business for us.