Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Watford: The Inside Track

By Chris Harris

THE QUOTE

“We know our chance in this league is based on starting strong, staying strong and finishing strong, and playing with passion as well.” - Arsene Wenger

THE PREVIEW

Two weeks without a game. Two weeks of scouring the fixture list for matches that might just see Arsenal’s rivals drop points. 

 

The football world has waited all season for chinks to appear in Leicester City’s armour, and still it waits. The team considered a 5,000/1 shot last summer will need to lose three times - or drop eight points - to give the Gunners even a sniff of a title chance.

 

Arsene Wenger - like a lot of Arsenal fans - spent some of his international break recovering and recharging for the final sprint. It’s now or never for his team and the plan is quite simple: win eight games, and see what happens.

“To make it even more simple we have to win the next game and see what happens,” said Wenger. “That’s what we want to do.

“There will be twists and turns but what we have learnt is that everybody can drop points against everybody, so we want to focus first on our own results. Once you’ve done your job you can hope that the other results go for you.

“At the moment I believe that, with the confidence we have built up at Everton, the most important thing is just to focus on the process of doing our job and see what happens.”

Team news

Arsenal: Ramsey (hip/thigh), Cazorla (Achilles), Flamini (hamstring), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee)Watford: Prodl (illness), Behrami (illness), Ekstrand (hamstring)

The Everton game felt like a revival of sorts for Arsenal, and the seeds of that performance were sown at Barcelona a few days earlier.

The Gunners lost in the Nou Camp but their pace, fluency and work ethic rolled over to excellent effect at Goodison Park. That display will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the season.

“It was needed,” agreed Wenger. “We came out of a very difficult period where there was a big difference between the chances created and the number of goals we scored. We paid for that. At Everton we scored early so that helped the whole team to focus on the process and not play with the anxiety of scoring or not scoring.

“We came out of a very difficult week with some positive vibes. We came out of the games with some credit and more confidence as well. We want to play with that passion and style until the end of the season, in every single game.”

Success on the home straight will largely depend on home improvements - starting against Watford on Saturday. Arsenal have averaged 25 shots per goal over their last eight home games and they will need a sharper cutting edge to cut into Leicester’s lead.

“It’s very unusual because we have a big deficit between chances created and the number of goals we’ve scored,” said Wenger. “I’m convinced that if we keep the quality of the game high, as we did in the last two games, [the goals] will follow as well.

“Sometimes [missing chances] creates a level of anxiety among our fans and among our players as well. But we know our chance in this league is based on starting strong, staying strong and finishing strong, and playing with passion as well. Let’s forget the questions and focus on the process of playing our game.”

ONE TO WATCH

Not so much a player to watch, but a partnership to watch.

It took an injury to Aaron Ramsey to bring Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny together in midfield, but at Barcelona and Everton they forged a relationship that gave Arsenal muscle, mobility and a platform to attack.

 

Mohamed Elneny

Mohamed Elneny

 

 

“They have the characteristics of two team players,” said Wenger. “They are intelligent players and they are players who focus on giving good defensive stability to the team.

“Coquelin’s mobility is more in the challenge while Elneny’s is more in the movement. Both of them keep the game simple and this is an area of the game where the speed of the passing is vital. They respected that very well.

“You want to combine the stability and the first passes,” explained the manager. “You want the first pass to come out of your feet quickly when you win the ball back, and this is a part of the pitch where that is very important.

“At Everton you could see that we did that very well, and we did that very well at Barcelona. We had 22 shots on goal at Barcelona and that mainly comes when the speed of the passing is respected in the heart of the pitch.

“Our game is based on movement and technical level. The mobility of course is very important and Elneny [especially] does that very well.”

Don't miss the digital match programme for Arsenal v Watford, on sale now for just 79p and packed with exclusive interviews and interactive features.

THE OPPOSITION

It’s less than three weeks since Watford's smash-and-grab victory in the FA Cup at Emirates Stadium.

Wenger can expect more of the same from the team that trains over the fence from Arsenal’s London Colney base - a packed central midfield that seeks to cut the supply lines to Mesut Ozil and Alexis.

Opta Facts

Arsenal had won the previous six meetings with Watford before a 1-2 defeat last month in the FA Cup quarter finalThe Hornets scored with their only two shots on target in that 2-1 victory at the Emirates Stadium

Watford’s ruthlessness from set-pieces and counter-attacks made the difference last month but Arsenal had the chances to at least force a replay.

“We want to repeat the game we played against them but this time be more efficient [in front of goal],” said Wenger.

“They had three shots on goal and scored twice, so they have been very efficient and have quality strikers on the break. They are a team who are physically very strong as well, so we have to match their level of commitment and pace without letting our process be disturbed by their commitment."

Odion Ighalo scored at the Emirates - his 16th goal of a prolific season - but it’s his strike partner who particularly catches Wenger’s eye.

“I believe that the unsung hero is Troy Deeney because he is a guy who works very hard for the team, who keeps the ball well up front, who is very strong in the challenges and has a good understanding with Ighalo,” he said.

“I must also say that Watford are a team who don’t concede many goals against anybody. Maybe their defence deserves credit for what they’ve achieved until now in the Premier League.”

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