Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's host Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Watford’s efforts this season have been understandably overshadowed by Leicester’s incredible title charge, but Quique Sanchez Flores deserves enormous credit for moulding a strange assortment of players into a harmonious, organised unit.
The Spaniard has sometimes named a starting XI featuring 11 different nationalities, but everyone is clearly on the same wavelength.
"The centre-backs - two of Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prodl and Miguel Britos - are all sturdy defenders who enjoy sitting back and heading away crosses. The full-backs are naturally attack-minded despite the emphasis upon a deep, narrow defence"
Watford’s approach isn’t dissimilar from Leicester’s: they’re about deep defence and quick balls towards the front two. Only the Foxes, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland average less possession in this season’s Premier League, primarily because Watford stand off and only attempt to win possession inside their own third.
They record high numbers in terms of tackles and interceptions, however, because they pack the centre of the pitch - in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Vicarage Road earlier this season, the Gunners found joy when attacking down the flanks, particularly through the full-backs.
Sanchez Flores has generally played an ultra-compact 4-4-2 this season, with the forwards dropping back to protect the midfield diligently, although in recent weeks he’s fielded more of a 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-2-1 system. Although on paper this is a very different approach, Watford’s gameplan is essentially the same: flood the centre of the pitch without possession, then get the ball forward to the strikers as quickly as possible.
Indeed, Watford play more long balls than any other side in the Premier League. The partnership between Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney seemed excellent during the first half of the campaign, although in recent weeks the goals have dried up for both, and there was a notable lack of combination play in the narrow 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford last week.
Sanchez Flores favours combative, energetic central midfielders. Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson were a good partnership, with the former shielding the defence particularly well. Valon Behrami is an all-action battler, and another newcomer Mario Suarez seems perfect for Sanchez Flores’ aggressive style, especially as they worked together at Atletico Madrid.
The centre-backs - two of Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prodl and Miguel Britos - are all sturdy defenders who enjoy sitting back and heading away crosses. The full-backs are naturally attack-minded despite the emphasis upon a deep, narrow defence. In particular, Greek left-back Jose Holebas can be guilty of leaving too much space behind him.
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