This’ll be a quick one today as I’m off to have a pre match meal with the family in Islington before the old man and I make our way to the game. Watford at home in the old days – like six or seven years ago – would be one in which you’d be wondering ‘by how many’ rather than ‘can we win?’ before the game, but today it represents an opportunity for this young Arsenal team to build a little more momentum after some solid performances in the main and a good collection of points that have been amassed since the last international break. Next weekend will be a free one and so sending off in style before we head to Anfield for our ‘free hit’ needs to be the focus for today.
Today is certainly not a ‘free hit’ for Arsenal though. It is a must win. We were disappointing against the last London club that came to our gaff and we can’t put in the same kind of performance that we did against Crystal Palace. To be fair I don’t think it will be the same game, because Palace play very different to Watford and so the way the game pans out will surely not be the same. For example, Crystal Palace press high and cut off our passing lanes in the game a few weeks back. Watford cede possession and Ranieri is trying to turn them in to a rapid counter attacking team. So they will look to soak up pressure with us having most possession, then hit us with players like Sarr and King looking to bloody our noses like they did against Everton. And that Everton game is the perfect example of what they can do unless we are resolute and steadfast at the back. They will get chances; in every Premier League game every team gets chances, but Arsenal must minimise those chances and the probability of giving away chances through our back five. To me that means a detail on Sarr is needed as he’s their best player, the one that has the most touches in the box for Watford this season and the player who has the most trickery and guile. He’ll operate on that right hand side – Tavares/Tierney’s side and if we are pushed higher up the pitch and the ball turns over, then that back line needs to be ready for a player like Sarr to run in behind.
But that isn’t their only threat and with Sissoko in the middle of the park they have a straight line runner who has power and athleticism. We need to keep him – and Watford – in their own box and as close to it as possible, because a Sissoko who has to sit on the edge of his box because he and his team are camped there without the ball, is less of a threat than a guy picking the ball up on the halfway line and driving in to our half.
In terms of our team we need to be seeing the same as last week I reckon. Let’s keep that consistency of side, or players, all of whom did enough against Leicester to warrant another shot in the team. That means Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares at the back. Tierney is back in training but it would be harsh on Nuno to take him out, although I think today we’ll see a little more of what he’s made of defensively because Sarr will test him more than he was against Leicester and Villa. But hopefully he’s up for it and I think he deserves the chance.
In midfield it has to be Partey and Lokonga and either side of them in the wide positions you can’t look further than Saka and Emile Smith Rowe (I like it, I like it, I like, I like it, I loooooove it, looooove it). Lacazette sits behind Aubamayeng to complete the line up and if they play like the game against Villa or the first half against Leicester, with the same level of intensity, then we should pick up the points.
However, this is a young side and as we saw with Palace and Brighton away, they will get their off days. Maybe that is today, maybe it isn’t, but it is incumbent on Arteta to ensure that he has them mentally prepared and not switching off because of Watford’s form and recent results. Watford will match us with their formation today I reckon, so we will have a different set up to what Leicester and Villa did. That formation felt tailor made for us to take advantage of so it’ll be interesting to see what we do against a mirrored team line up in Watford’s. I suspect the area we’ll need to get the most joy is on those flanks and Ngakia and Rose – their full backs – need to be tested by ESR and Saka.
I’m hoping for a birthday weekend victory and so three points today will be the perfect way to sign off what has been a lovely weekend so far. Please Arsenal, don’t sour for me, eh?
Catch you all tomorrow for a post match rambling.