Match day returns for The Arsenal and as usual I’ve got butterflies in all the right places, which must mean it’s a tricky away game and the pressure is on.
It’s doubly on because all of those around us and at the top of the league picked up points. United scraped a victory through a penalty against Leicester, Chelski hammered Wolves away from home, plus those Tiny Totts gave Palace a spanking. It means there’s a little more added pressure today because we really do need to pick up the points. All three points too. It’s still early in the season and there’s a lot of football to be played, but stuttering away from home is something we can do without, because we’ve had two seasons of it.
We’re also going to have to do it without one of the ‘PAL’ in attack, as Lacazette is out for the next few weeks, which gives another player a chance to shine. And I think – like I alluded to yesterday – it will be Reiss Nelson. If you’re looking at experience then you’d probably say that Emery might try to get Özil in to the attack somehow, but I suspect Emery is going to put his faith in the young Englishman and that means he needs to demonstrate the coach’s faith with another good display. He’s a player who looks like he enjoys a little ‘give and go’ and that I think might be very useful today. Useful when Watford are pressing us, but also if Watford sit a little deeper in defence.
Watford will be missing Deeney and Cathcart through injury, but the return of Capoue will be a boost for them, so it’ll be interesting to see how Flores lines up his team. In their last game away from home to Newcastle they played with a back three and wing backs, then up top relying on Gray to be supported by Pereyra and Hughes. It’s difficult to say if they’ll look different later today though because of the new manager, but even in their last home game – a 3-1 defeat to West Ham – they played in more of a 4-3-1-2 formation with Gray and Deulofeu up top in front of Cleverly.
If I was to hazard a guess I’d assume that they will try to get pacey players on to hit us on the counter. They won’t want to find any of their defenders pressing too high against our pace and so I suspect they will want to draw us in and when the ball turns over, look to break quickly. That relies on players like Gray, Deulofeu to use their pace to drove at our creaking defence. It also requires them to hit us with numbers too and I wonder if they will be as keen to do that or whether they will look for individual brilliance, perhaps even a set piece. I’ve had a look at a couple of stats sites this morning and although it’s early in the season, it talks up their threat on attacking set pieces, so that’s something we’re going to have to be acutely aware of. All the open play build up in the world means nothing if you go to sleep on corners.
As for us, I expect the team to line up similarly to our last game, with Leno, Maitland-Niles, Luiz, Sokratis and Kolasinac as the back five. In midfield I think there are plenty of people that want to see Xhaka punished by being dropped to the bench, but I don’t see that happening, because Emery puts plenty of faith in the Swiss. If that happens then we need to see less recklessness and more of the good aspects of his game, which will be mainly finding those balls in behind Watford’s back line if we turn over possession and some of our attackers get some green grass to run in to. If Watford are sitting deep then Xhaka might be taking up a position higher up the pitch and whilst I don’t have a problem with that, I do feel like it requires a little more of an engine behind him. That’s why I’d go with Torreira to cover ground. He will break up play and distribute and if we’re going to push Xhaka further forward then that would work for me.
The next question is who plays in that third midfield spot. My guess would be Guendouzi after his performance in the NLD and after an international call up to the senior French team too he’ll be buzzing. If that happens it means Ceballos misses out, but given many of us aren’t sure whether Emery really rates Torreira, there may be a midfield three that includes the Spaniard at the expense of the Uruguayan.
Personally I’d like to see what a midfield three of Ceballos, Torreira and Guendouzi looks like, because I think it has the right level of intensity, balance in terms of what each individual does, plus athleticism. Torreira breaking up play, Ceballos linking midfield to attack and Guendouzi taking the ball and distributing creatively. That feels like it could work for me but I suspect it won’t be the starting line up today.
I’ve already talked about the front three but it goes without saying that Pepe and Auba should start and with Auba playing through the middle for the next few weeks, the expectation from all of us fans is that he’s going to be our main goal threat. But I’m hoping Pepe gets off the mark today. The last thing we want is for his lack of a goal to become a ‘thing’ so getting it out of the way early would work for all parties. Let’s hope he finds his shooting boots.
And let’s hope Arsenal find three points. It is certainly needed this weekend.
Catch you all tomorrow.