There’s a notable difference when Watford is mentioned this season, as compared to last. There is a very positive vibe out of Vicarage Road, which starts with Javi Gracia. On the back of their recent run of fixtures, Watford have picked up a single point in their last two, lost their first Premier League game to Manchester United and followed it up with a road draw at Fulham. This week, it was the Carabao Cup, away (at MK Dons) to play Spurs, which saw the Hornets lose, 4-2 on penalties after a late red card when the side were ahead.
While none of this relative positive news, Gracia and the players are all saying the right thing on the back of their efforts since the start of the season. While the recent results haven’t been what supporters have expected, the feeling around Watford is extraordinary. This weekend, the Golden Boys travel to Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal, who are off the back of four consecutive league wins.
This away fixture comes off the back of news that defender, Daryl Janmaat will miss up to six weeks due to a knee injury, which caused him to miss the mid-week cup fixture. In his absence, we could see Kiko Femenia get his first Premier League start of the season on the right side. In limited action, he has looked outstanding and the Hornets could potentially be stronger moving forward. The off season saw the signing of Marc Navarro, who could also slot into the defensive position, if Femenia is moved forward with the void left by the injured, Gerard Deulofeu.
While the results don’t match the effort, Watford have been competitive to start the season, with a real “team” approach, thanks in part to the effort of Gracia. This week will be seen as another “test” for the Hornets as they come up against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, who have combined attacking returns in their last four games under new manager, Unai Emery. Watford will be without Christian Kabasele, who received a red card in the cup game, after a tackle against Dele Alli. Kabasele had been the best defender this season, partnering with Craig Cathcart in the center. Unless the ban is appealed, which has been filed, Hornets will be without his services and could call upon the likes of journeyman, Adrian Mariappa or Marc Navarro.
On the season, the Gunners have scored 10 goals in their recent winning streak, but haven’t been tight in defense, making their fantasy assets a non-factor. This bodes well for the Hornets, who continue to be free scoring, bagging 11 goals in the season. Andre Gray scored his third goal last week at Craven Cottage, while they interplay between Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra continues to be strong. Unfortunately, deliveries from Janmaat and Jose Holebas weren’t all that impressive, which meant the Hornets needed to pound it out inside the 18-yard box. The addition of Femenia on the right could improve their chances, as Will Hughes continues to slide into a central position from his right-wing position, allowing the right back to control the flank.
Defensive, Arsenal recorded their first clean sheet of the season, home to Everton last weekend. Peter Cech, was by far their standout performance, but the 36-year-old continues to look over his shoulder at Bernd Leno. On the season, Gunners have allowed 9 goals, which means Watford should be quite successful at the attacking end of the pitch. By comparison, Watford have been excellent on defense, as a unit they have conceded just 6 goals with Man United the only team to net more than one goal in a game. Just one clean sheet for Ben Foster as his defensive squad, but together this unit has been a big upgrade from what was on the pitch last season.
The concern ahead of this game has been the lack of concentration and mistakes that have led to three goals. Last week it was a momentary lapse by Kabasele, left ball watching for just a moment, allowing Alexsandar Mitrovic to get a step on the defender and net with a cheeky back heel. Against United, the Romelu Lukaku goal that was chested in was more than preventable, but there was no defender near the Belgian, leaving Foster unprotected and unable to reach the ball.
Historically, it’s been an evenly contested affair, as the Gunners defeated Watford at the end of last season, 3-0. Before that Watford posted back to back, 2-1 wins, both home and away. Based off recent performance, many would hedge their bet on Arsenal, off the back of four wins in a row, but the record doesn’t tell the entire story. This could end up being a very hotly contested fixture in gameweek 7.
Watford need to show the passion and drive we saw at the end of the Carabao Cup game and that at Craven Cottage last week. If they come out flat, slow and a step behind, Arsenal need just a goal to deflate the momentum Watford have coming into this game, even off the back of a loss midweek. I do believe history repeats itself and Watford get back to winning ways, 2-1 defeating Arsenal.