Internationals Done, Arsenal Head to Watford.
Will Wenger rotate ahead of Bayern Munich in the Champions League or do we play our best 11 and try to carry on from the beauty of the ManU match?
Or should we expect a hangover?
More of this, please:
As much as the 3-nil win over Manchester United left us with a very nice taste heading into the international break, we must now put it behind us and see if our group can re-unite after their travels and take care of business against newly promoted Watford. It’s a short trip to the western edge of London, but it’s also a great test to see if our well-traveled players can get the collective focus back onto their club season.
Early season matches against newly promoted teams are always a bit tricky. Watford finished 2nd a year ago in the Championship, compiling 89 points in doing so. As such, this is a team used to winning. Certainly they will give it a go against high-flying Arsenal, knowing that many of our players flew long distances and could be out of sorts after their international duties.
On the other hand, Watford have started this season in the Premier League, where they sit 12th on 10 points, not by scoring loads of goals but by being stingy in conceding them. Their six goals scored is lowest in the league, but so too are their seven goals conceded. Watford will be a test for Arsenal to break down and, if we play in jet-lagged fashion, or if our attackers are looking for international teammates instead of their club partners, we will struggle. Like manager Arsene Wenger said after the United match, “We can’t play like that all the time.” We probably don’t need to, but we do need to find a way to bring back the full points to keep pressure on our rivals in the tightly packed early season league table.
Watford’s spine is anchored by a pair of former Spurs, Heurelio Gomes in goal and Ettiene Capoue at the rear of the midfield. At the other end, we need to beware of the top scorer in all of English football–at least in this calendar year. No, it’s not Kun Aguero, it’s Odion Ighalo. The 26 year old Nigerian has scored 5 of Watford’s 6 goals and is on 21 since 1 January. If Laurent Koscielny is not passed fit for this one, Ighalo will present a big challenge for our likely center-backs, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista.
So, how do we line up for this one? From early reports we took on no additional bodies for the physio room despite the travels of our first-teamers. Alexis Sanchez probably traveled the furthest, played the most minutes and scored the most goals–all on a mild groin strain suffered towards the end of the United match. Might Wenger try to rest him for this one or keep him in reserve as a super sub?
It’s possible, especially given that Olivier Giroud got back in the goals with the French team and could use a boost getting a start with his club. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both netted with England. Could those three make up our front line? What about Aaron Ramsey, who took his Wales squad into the Finals of the European Championship and also scored in the following match once his country was in?
The real question is how much will Wenger wish to rest or otherwise protect key members of the squad ahead of the visit of Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday Night? The league has to be a priority, but getting something, ideally full points at home vs Bayern, is what the Champions League is all about–and very much needed after unexpected losses in our first two matches in that competition.
It’s a very tough spot for the manager as those disappointments at Dinamo Zagreb and at home vs Olympiakos were accompanied by accusations that Wenger rotated too deeply with his squad. David Ospina in goal (rather than our only major summer acquisition, Petr Cech) was the principal lightning rod, but a bigger finger could likely be pointed at how others who would like a spot in more first elevens might have done better.
The biggest finger might go toward the biggest man, Olivier Giroud. His sending off in Zagreb probably swung that match and the resulting suspension gave us limited power in attack as we tried to come back from deficits (three times!) vs Olympiakos. This match at Watford, I think, could give him a chance at redemption. So, for a change, I’m going out on a limb and predict that both he and the Ox start at Vicarage Road. Likewise, in midfield, I think we might give a rest to Mesut Ozil, favouring the Welshman, Aaron Ramsey, tucked in centrally behind the front line. This would put the two biggest buys in the history of our club, Ozil and Alexis, on the bench but ready for a half hour of play if goals are needed.
Bench: Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Arteta, Alexis, Ozil, Campbell
That’s just my guess. What say you fellow Gooners? Would you rotate for this one or must we prioritize the league over the Bayern match? Remember we have Everton next Saturday, too.
Do you guys expect Arsenal to carry on with the great play from the Man United match or struggle to find their bearings? Have at it and enjoy the return to the real football!