By Max Jones
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“Watford is always traditionally a difficult place to go, but it’ll be another big test for us because we have to prepare for commitment. We have to prepare for intensity and we will have to play at our best to have the chance to score goals.” - Arsène Wenger
Still chasing their first three points ahead of this season’s opening international break, there’s a certain weight of expectancy on Arsenal’s shoulders this weekend.
However, if recent results against Watford are anything to go by, they should fancy their chances at Vicarage Road.
The Hornets have lost all six of their games against Arsenal in the Premier League, dating back to 1999, when Kanu’s 86th-minute winner propelled the Gunners to within just two points of league leaders Manchester United.
|Watford: Dja Djedje (foot), Success (muscle strain)
Arsenal: Gabriel (ankle), Ramsey (hamstring), Iwobi (hip), Welbeck (knee), Mertesacker (knee), Jenkinson (knee)
A win this time around won’t quite match that, with both Manchester clubs starting the season strongly, but it would be the perfect way for Arsene Wenger’s side to build on last weekend’s draw at champions Leicester City.
“I was happy,” he told Arsenal Player. “After we conceded four goals against Liverpool, the response had to be defensive. We were under shock after our first game but you go to Leicester and come home with a 0-0, it’s disappointing because you wanted to win the game.
“But it cannot be a negative because Leicester will be a very difficult team for everybody. The priority was not to lose and to find our defensive stability back.
“Of course the three points were even more important but you maybe have to take that result with a little perspective and a little distance, and see how good a result it will be. We’ll see that over a longer distance.”
Currently sitting below Arsenal on goal difference, Watford will be looking to build on last season’s ninth-placed finish under new manager Walter Mazzarri.
A well-respected figure in the game, he led Napoli to their first trophy in more than 20 years when they lifted the Coppa Italia in 2012, and is famed for his 3-1-4-2 system, which he has already introduced at Vicarage Road.
“He is a very experienced manager who knows Italy well,” Wenger said. “He organises his teams very well. Watford is always traditionally a difficult place to go, but it’ll be another big test for us because we have to prepare for commitment. We have to prepare for intensity and we have to prepare to play our game in that context as well.
“The 3-1-4-2 system means that defensively you protect more of the centre and of course, naturally, we have to use the width of the pitch well and combine very quickly to to penetrate their defensive block. We will have to play our game at our best to have the chance to score goals.”
ONE TO WATCH
It came as no surprise that Arsenal’s improved defensive performance against Leicester City coincided with the return of Laurent Koscielny.
Despite playing in France’s Euro 2016 final defeat against Portugal just four weeks earlier, the 30-year-old played the full 90 minutes last weekend with no sign of any fatigue.
Commanding at the back and comfortable in possession, Koscielny kept Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez quiet all evening, and even hinted at the start of a formidable centre-back partnership with Rob Holding, who is 10 years his junior.
“Laurent was outstanding on the day,” Wenger said. “We had uncertainty whether he could play or not because of a back problem, but overall physically, playing at centre back is a little less demanding on distances and volume.
“But of course the reading of the game and the interception level of Laurent was absolutely outstanding. I feel a bit sorry for Calum Chambers because it was between Chambers and Rob Holding. Having an experienced player next to them makes a massive difference.
“Laurent has to speak to them more but sometimes, you know, because of his pace and his reading of the game he can anticipate a little mistake of his partner because of lack of experience and that is what it is about when you are experienced.
“He guides and now he is at the age of maturity for a centre back. It is the best age, 30 to 34 maybe. He has also gained the final little bit of confidence in the Euros because he was the undisputed regular player at centre back. He was the guy that the team was built around and I am convinced that somewhere, that helped him as well to gain that little bit more authority.”
Mazzarri has wasted no time moulding Watford into his unique style.
In addition to a new formation, the Italian has brought in eight new players, including experienced defenders Camilo Zuniga and Younes Kaboul as well as exciting forward Isaac Success. In the 3-1-4-2, though, it is a familiar face who has thrived.
|Watford have lost all six of their games against Arsenal in the Premier League
Arsenal have won seven of their last eight matches against Watford in all competitions (L1)
Alexis Sanchez has scored two and assisted one more in his two previous Premier League appearances against Watford
After failing to make an impact at Tottenham Hotspur, defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue made the short trip along the M25 to get his career back on track with the newly-promoted Hornets, and now he is back to his influential best.
Deployed as one of the two advanced midfielders in Mazzarri’s system, the France international has scored in each of his opening two games and is quickly establishing himself as one of Watford’s most important players.
“I know him well,” Wenger said. “He played in Toulouse, for the French national team and he was at Tottenham as well. He has huge physical qualities, he is a big talent and has an eye for goal. He has a good shot, a good long ball as well, so we have of course got to keep him quiet.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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