It’s been a long week for Watford supporters, off a late defensive collapse last Saturday that saw a 78′ goal from Alexsandar Mitrovic send the Hornets home with just a point, followed by a 4-2 loss, on penalties, Wednesday versus Spurs, played in the WRONG stadium (MK Dons). Through it all, the Hornets continue to hold their heads high and remained focus and positive ahead of their trip to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal, on the back of a four game win streak.
Last weekend, Watford started fast, netting just 90 seconds into the game, as Andre Gray scored his third goal on the season, but that was all the offense Watford had, even though they continued to creates chances through the first half. It was opportunity lost, “I think we have played really well in the first when we could score more goals and kill the game,” said Javi Gracia last weekend. Not sure Watford has that instinct going forward, as they have yet to finish any team off this season when leading.
Captain, Troy Deeney took to Twitter after Wednesday’s performance and loss to Spurs, after teams finished regulation time tied, 2-2. Going to penalties, Waford came up short and were ousted from the Carabao Cup.
This sort of “instinct” I spoke about compares to Deeney’s, “kill the game off” comment. Watford continues to let teams back in. This was a Marco Silva trait last season that appeared to have disappeared early on, but a late goal from Fulham and the late goals from Spurs have started to cause some concerns about the mentality or frailty of the defensive unit.
Arsenal hasn’t been stout defensively either, conceding 9 goals on the season, recording their first clean sheet away to Everton, last week. This could be a fairly wide open game, as the Gunners have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both in form, returning in their last four fixtures. No doubt, the Watford defense will have their hands full with the pair. Mix in the creativity of Mesut Ozil and the flexibility of Aaron Ramsey in the midfield.
Watford defender, Christian Kabasele will start at the Emirates, as his red card, administered by Lee Mason in the cup match has been rescinded. This is excellent news , as the central pairing, with Craig Cathcart will remain unchanged and should be up to marking Lacazette. Daryl Janmaat has also been ruled out, due to a meniscus, which could mean an extended run for Kiko Femenia, who’s been a surprise substitute to start the season. Femenia, I feel is a strong defensive option to challenge Aubameyang down the flank. However, there is some concern if he gets caught up field, out of position on an Arsenal counterattack.
On paper, it’s no surprise that the Gunners will come into the game with the offensive advantage, the pace and creativity of their attackers and midfielders will put the Hornets defense to task. The Gunners are third in the league with 37 shots on target, leading the league in shot accuracy (46.8%) and a goal conversion rate (15.2%), second to just Leicester City (15.7%).
Defensively, it’s where the game will be won, as Watford have played excellent on the year, conceding just 17 shots on target, third best, while Arsenal have struggled with 35. With 58 shots conceded, Watford rank fourth best this season, which could make it difficult on the Gunners to get into good shooting chances, but if there is a time who can convert, given fewer chances, it’s Arsenal.
Like all the games Watford have played this season, it will be a tight affair. With a let down in the United and Fulham game, it’s my hope the starting XI come out ready to fire after their midweek cup match. Hornets need to start with intensity and come out firing and control the game, to take ownership. Any early goal would be a bonus. In the end, defense will resign supreme and Watford will win, 2-1.