Watford vs. Arsenal – a must-win game already?

It’s been a frustrating summer for us Arsenal fans, followed by a disappointing start to the season.

We’ve had to watch Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs make numerous high profile transfers before hitting the ground running, whilst until now we had only bought one player of note and found ourselves in a situation where we had to field Calum Chambers and Rob Holding in the centre of defence against Liverpool – something that cost us dearly as we were sorely embarrassed at home. The three aforementioned teams look ominously strong, and even though we are only in the third round of fixtures, the Watford game this weekend is already looking pretty significant as we cannot afford to drop more points and fall even further behind this early on.

There have been consistent calls from the fans and the media for Arsene Wenger to spend decisively and strengthen a weak-looking squad, especially after the Leicester game, and I think we are all pleased and relieved to find out on Thursday that the club is on reportedly on the brink of bringing in Deportivo la Coruna’s Spanish striker Lucas Perez and Valencia’s World Cup-winning German centre-back Shkodran Mustafi. If completed, these transfers at the very least are attempts to fill gaping holes in two spinal positions of our squad, which of course is a good sign. Even if you have only seen Mustafi play internationally for Germany, he seems like a quality player who should prove to be a capable partner for Laurent Koscielny in our back-line. There is a bit more skepticism when it comes to what Perez can bring to the team, but I am hoping that he will turn out to be a bargain. There are questions as to why these deals didn’t happen much earlier in the window, but better late than never, I guess. The addition of these two players definitely make our squad stronger than we were at the start of the season, and should hopefully get us back in the mix of title talk if we get them over the line. First and foremost, however, we need to kickstart our season and set a strong platform to build on for the rest of the season. The only way to do that is to win at Watford this weekend.

Watford have had something of a mini revolution over the summer – after bringing in an experienced manager from Italy, they’ve also made a few decent additions to their playing squad with Roberto Pereyra joining from Juventus, Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle and Younes Kaboul from Sunderland. However, like us, they have struggled to get their season up-and-running, with an unlucky defeat to Chelsea in the league being followed by an unexpected exit in the EFL Cup to Gillingham midweek. Throughout last season Watford primarily played an orthodox 4-4-2 system, but new manager Walter Mazzarri has now got them playing a 3-5-2 so far this season. He hasn’t involved the new signings too much yet, but because of their experience in the Premier League, I would expect both Janmaat and Kaboul to go straight into their starting line-up, which I think will look like this:


Cathcart – Kaboul – Britos

Janmaat – Guediora – Behrami – Capoue – Amrabat

Deeney – Igahlo

Capoue has been Watford’s unlikely star so far this season, netting two goals in two appearances. He did go off injured against Chelsea however, so if he is unfit for this weekend’s game I would expect Ben Watson to come in instead. Mazzarri’s quotes about Pereyra suggests he rates the midfielder very highly and although he is unlikely to start, I would expect to see him some point during the game, especially if Watford are needing some craft and creativity if they are chasing the game.

As for Arsenal, we’re likely to have the same squad as we did against Leicester. I was impressed with Granit Xhaka’s impressive performance against Leicester and will be surprised if he doesn’t start here, and hopefully Olivier Giroud’s return means the end of seeing Alexis Sanchez starting as our striker so he can move back to the wing. I think our line-up will likely be this:


Bellerin – Holding – Koscielny – Monreal

Elneny – Xhaka

Walcott – Ozil – Alexis


Rob Holding did well during our last game so he will probably keep his place in defence. Watford are quite a physical and direct side, so I’d rather have another physical player alongside Xhaka so, instead of Santi Cazorla, I’d have Mohamed Elneny. He’s a more complete and composed midfielder than Francis Coquelin in my mind so would give him the nod instead. On the right wing, it’s either going to be Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it could come down to a coin toss at this point because there is little between the two. Wenger will likely go with Walcott however. I’m also hoping that Ozil is fit enough to start – the difference to the team with or without him in it was evident after he came on against Leicester last weekend.

Whilst we did beat Watford home and away in the Premier League last season, let’s not forget how they also managed to knock us out of the FA Cup when we were still the holders. Sides like Watford can also seem particularly tough opponents when you are going through an uncertain period, as we found out last year. The potential signings of Mustafi and Perez would give us a lift, but our current squad is all we’ll have available for this weekend, and we need to get behind them. A good performance is always welcome, of course, but Saturday’s game is not about that – is it more about showing character and getting the three points no matter what. Our campaign needs to start as soon as possible and this first win is so important.

Soe Latt Naing

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