Can Arsenal build upon our drubbing of Southampton in the FA Cup or will Watford–who knocked us out of that competition last season on our home ground–prove that everything is different in the league?
It’s back to business in league competition against 14th place Watford, a team that sits 8 points above the relegation zone. With that sort of gap they may not be desperate for points against 2nd place Arsenal but surely they’ll be coming to the Emirates with a nothing-to-lose attitude. And, even though they were just knocked out of this season’s cup–losing 1-nil to a late goal at Millwall–they’ll remember fondly how they won themselves a trip to Wembley against a strong Arsenal squad some 10 months ago.
In that one, Arsenal played our best attackers–Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud–but the team could make no headway against a resolute Watford squad in the first half. After the break, Watford looked the superior side and broke the deadlock with an Odion Ighalo goal. Ighalo went close a couple of times after scoring, but it was Adlene Guedioura who doubled Watford’s lead. Late on, substitute Danny Welbeck pulled one back for the Gunners, but Watford held out in the frantic dying moments to avoid a replay and end Arsenal’s chance of winning a third consecutive cup. Going out at home to a team well below us in the table was one of the lowest moments of the season.
Unfortunately for Watford, they may be without Ighalo this time around as it appears he’s been sold to a Chinese club for a fee in the 20 million pound range. Given all the misinformation at the close of the window I’m loathe to say it’s a done deal. At that price, however, Ighalo, who was a rampant goal-scorer when Watford were in the Championship, might find other suitors. Either way, it’s very likely he’s played his last match for the club.
Of course, the Hornets have other weapons including Troy Deeney, a player often linked with a move in our direction. Another player whom Arsenal scouted, M’baye Niang, is on loan from AC Milan, and could make his Watford debut against us. Yet another new face is Mauro Zarate. The Argentine was just bought from Fiorentina but Gooners may remember him from his time as a forward at West Ham United. The turnover at the club may be unsettling, but whoever plays will surely want to impress manager Walter Mazzarri.
The Italian’s first priority will be to stop Arsenal’s attack. Former Spurs Etienne Capoue (midfield), Younes Kaboul (center back) and Heurelho Gomes (goalkeeper) will likely form part of the spine of the team designed to keep us out.
How does Arsenal go about breaking it down and beating Watford?
On the back of the big scoreline in our FA Cup match, manager Arsene Wenger may have some choices to make. Theo Walcott got a hat trick, Danny Welbeck scored two and Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain did a fine job sending balls in from a deeper midfield position. Lucas Perez made a sublime assist to start the scoring and demonstrated plenty of quality throughout the match. Could any (or all) of them get a starting spot? Given the slow starts Arsenal has made in other recent matches, mixing it up, especially in attack, might be something for Wenger to consider.
I don’t, however, believe he will, and I think we’ll see much of the same squad that started the previous league match vs Burnley. It’s a bit of risk as critics may take him to task if the league regulars cannot produce a similarly lopsided result. Nonetheless, I think it’s what Wenger will do as he generally seems keen to try and bring even more players into the ranks of the confident and ready-to-go. Here’s the line-up I think he could use which would represent 9 changes to the squad that started at Southampton.
Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Walcott, Lucas
As per usual, that’s just my best guess. What do you think? Who would you play?
With the Saturday match at Chelsea looming, getting off to a good start and securing the proper result seems even more important than usual. Against a bottom half team like Watford, nothing less than a win will do. If we could marry it to a performance that enhances our confidence ahead of the trip to Stamford Bridge, all the better. (And if Liverpool could take some points from the league leaders, it would be an even happier Tuesday night).
Go on then…