Only a well-manicured hedgerow separates Arsenal and Watford’s training ground in leafy Hertfordshire, and the two go head to head at Vicarage Road this Saturday with both teams looking for their first league win. Both sides were handed a tricky start to the season, with the Hornets travelling to Southampton on the opening day and hosting Chelsea last week. Arsenal opened their season against Liverpool at home before a trip to champions Leicester City. Walter Mazzarri’s men have settled well into their new three-at-the-back system and have proved a tough outfit to breakdown so far. Last year’s clash at the Vicarage Road resulted in a 3-0 Arsenal win, but all three goals came in the second half and the home side were very much in the contest throughout.
Arsenal are yet to hit their stride, and are searching for the right balance. The Gunners find themselves five points behind early season pace setters Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. Those sides have harder fixtures around the corner, so there is no need to panic just yet with 36 games remaining. However, they have little margin for error and need to create some forward momentum with the right result at Watford this weekend.
Watford gained a creditable point away at Southampton before letting a lead slip late on at home to Chelsea. They were dumped out of the EFL Cup by Gillingham in midweek, but their focus is purely on Premier League survival. Arsenal were in familiar kamikaze mood on the opening day against Liverpool, going down 4-3 at home, but steadied themselves to earn a decent 0-0 draw at Leicester last weekend. That was an improved defensive performance, but they’ll be keen to show a bit more cutting edge here.
Predicted Line Ups
Watford Predicted Starting XI Arsenal Predicted Starting XI
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Daryl Janmaat, Younes Kaboul and Roberto Pereyra could all be handed Watford debuts by Mazzari. They have no suspensions, while Isaac Success and Brice Dja Djedje remain sidelined with injury. Arsenal are welcoming Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud back into the fold following European Championship exertions. Koscielny returned against Leicester, and Özil is likely to join him in the spine of Arsenal’s team. Danny Welbeck, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel are long-term absentees.
Arsenal’s first two matches against Liverpool and Leicester were end-to-end affairs, but this one is likely to settle into a familiar pattern. Watford will look to sit deep and defend in numbers, so expect Arsenal to dominate possession. Watford had 36% of the ball against Southampton and 38% against Chelsea. The result will largely depend on how much Arsenal can produce in the final third. The return of Ozil will help this tremendously; Arsenal immediately looked a more cohesive outfit when he was introduced against Leicester. Much is said about his vision and weight of pass, but it’s the German’s appreciation of space that makes him so crucial. He is simply the best in the world at making himself available between the lines, meaning Arsenal’s midfielders can make more incisive passes rather than going sideways.
Watford have shown they can soak up pressure well, and in Troy Deeney have Odion Ighalo they have both aerial threat and counter attacking potency. Arsenal dealt with Leicester’s direct, counter-attacking exceptionally last week however, and if they can repeat that defensive display they should have enough about them to grind down a stubborn Watford side.