Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's host Watford in the Premier League on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
It’s less than a month since Watford defeated Arsenal at the Emirates in the FA Cup quarter-final - and therefore Qique Sanchez Flores’ tactical approach is likely to be extremely familiar. Arsenal know what to expect.
While Sanchez Flores has often used wingers this season, against Arsenal he chose to pack central midfield, using four players in that zone.
Etienne Capoue, Ben Watson, Valon Behrami and Adlène Guedioura played extremely close together to prevent Arsenal moving the ball swiftly through the centre, and only Guedioura showed much attacking intent - which he used to full advantage, hammering in a stunning drive to make it 2-0.
The main purpose of Watford’s midfield, however, was to prevent Arsenal finding Mesut Ozil between the lines.
He’s an expert at drifting laterally to find pockets of space, but even the German struggled against four players in his zone, and was continually forced to drop deep into positions where he was unable to provide his usual incisive passes. Afterwards, Sanchez Flores spoke about how Watford had ‘disconnected’ Arsenal’s key players.
Meanwhile, the deeper midfield combination of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, neither of whom are particularly penetrative with their distribution, weren’t able to lift the tempo - so Arsenal’s passing must be quicker this weekend.
The centre backs can help in this respect, because Watford’s forwards usually drop off into midfield to keep the side compact.
"Hector Bellerin was outstanding in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Vicarage Road earlier in the season, but absent for the FA Cup defeat, and could be the difference on Saturday"
Watford’s lack of width encouraged Arsenal’s full backs into attack - but it also meant Watford had space to counter-attack into. The Hornets had a few promising moments on the break in the second half, including Guedioura’s memorable goal, and the speed of their transitions was extremely impressive.
Indeed, their attacking threat was the typical combination from an underdog: counter-attacks and set-pieces. Their opener had arrived when Troy Deeney flicked a long throw to Odion Ighalo, who turned and fired home impressively - and that’s a particularly noticeable part of Watford’s attacking play.
Deeney is naturally a striker, hence his No 9 shirt, but this season he’s been deployed in a deeper role, linking midfield and attack.
While he’s comfortable in possession, the most notable feature of Deeney’s game is his quality in the air - he’s won more aerial duals than any other Premier League player this season, which means Watford, and Ighalo in particular, are extremely dangerous when Heurelho Gomes kicks the ball downfield.
At the back, Watford will defend deep. Two of Craig Cathcart, Miguel Britos and the towering Sebastian Prodl will play the centre-back roles, often dropping back to the edge of their own box when Arsenal have the ball in the Watford half.
Meanwhile, full backs Allan Nyom and Nathan Ake defend very narrowly when the ball is on the opposite flank, although are sometimes forced to move forward and confront the opposition full backs when Watford play such a narrow midfield.
Hector Bellerin was outstanding in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Vicarage Road earlier in the season, but absent for the FA Cup defeat, and could be the difference on Saturday.
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