Everybody seems to be talking about Spanish swear words in the run-up against the Hornets. No one will ever forget how Troy Deeney disparagingly described Arsenal and the Watford striker could be about to inflict pain on the Gunners once more, albeit on the field rather than off it. Technically, Deeney might not be amazing, but he’s a real handful and I don’t envy Arsenal’s defence, who will have to keep him quiet.
Of course, a lack of guts is an allegation that has a lot of substance, as Wenger carefully assembled a side with a soft underbelly that was always ready to play pretty football if the opposition allowed. Getting stuck in, though, was anathema to Wenger’s sides in his latter years, although his early success in the Premier League was built on the solid foundation of George Graham’s back four with the addition of the tough-tackling Vieira and Petit in front of them.
When you compare the back three fielded by Emery against Everton, it’s easy to see how it went wrong. Only Sokratis could claim to be a hard man, while many claim that Mustafi is a weak link and Monreal is past his sell-by date. I’m not so sure all of that is true, but I think the team would benefit from playing a back four away from home.
The problem is that Maitland-Niles is not at his best when he is defending, so the question would be who should play at right back. Despite Bellerin being back in training, it seems the Spaniard will not be ready in time to play again this season.
Emery could try something different: play Granit Xhaka at right back, providing he is fully fit after his recent injury problems. A lot of people believe that the Switzerland international was an accident waiting to happen when he played at left back, but I don’t recall opposition wingers getting the better of him. Additionally, Xhaka’s passing seemed to improve when he played in that position and, aside from giving away a penalty with a clumsy challenge, he looked reasonable solid.
Another solution could be to bring ‘Corporal’ Carl Jenkinson or Stephan Lichsteiner back into the fold. However, the pair were unused substitutes against Everton, so it seems unlikely that they’ll be used.
Instead, I expect that Emery will be tempted to play a back three again, which worked at home against Napoli, but which is unlikely to be as effective against Watford away. As long as the Hornets are kept on the back foot and Kosceilny is fit again to play, perhaps Arsenal can emerge victorious.
Playing Aubameyang and Lacazette together seemed like a smart move at home against Napoli with Ozil just behind them, but away it could mean that Arsenal lack solidity. While Torreira and Ramsey did enough in the same game, can they be equally effective on the Gunners travels, given the wing-backs natural propensity to attack?
One thing’s for sure, Emery is unlikely to play Elneny and Guendouzi together in central midfield, unless his hand is forced. It certainly didn’t work against Everton and you’d imagine that lessons were learned after that defeat.
My guess is that Emery will gamble and set his team up to put Watford on the back foot. As long as he doesn’t field Ozil and Mkhitaryan together, there may be a chance that attack is the best form of defence.
After the blip against Everton, Arsenal know there can be no more slip-ups in the race for the Champions League spots, so Emery will be hoping they can find the necessary bollards in defence required to foil Deeney and co’s ram-raiding attacks.