Preview by Numbers: Watford v. Arsenal

Vicarage Road, Watford
Saturday, August 27
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Kevin Friend
    • Assistants: Ian Hussin and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Simon Hooper
  • This Match, Last Year: Watford 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 13 Arsenal wins, 10 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-W // L-D
  • Watford's League Form: W-L-L-D // D-L
By the time you're reading this, we might have bought this guy.
FYI, I said that two weeks ago, too.
Hey, question for you. Does anyone remember what winning a competitive fixture is like? I'm asking because a certain team I like hasn't done that yet this season.

Arsenal have a whole entire point from their first two games, putting them squarely five points back of Hull City (and some other teams.) The good news is, there are 36 games remaining. The bad news is Arsenal are already three points back of the pace they set in corresponding fixtures last year (when Arsenal drew Liverpool at home and beat Leicester at the King Power Stadium.)

With an international break right around the corner and Arsenal looking like it has most of its midfield together again (sans-Aaron Ramsey,) this feels like an ideal time for Arsenal to pick up a win, against a Watford side that hasn't won yet either and is adjusting to a new manager.

If they don't get a win, it's going to be a difficult two weeks in Goonerland (also known as the uncomfortable depths of Twitter.)

Champions League Draw

Liverpool failed to qualify out of a Champions League group with both
Basel and Ludogorets just two years ago.
The drawing for the 2016 Champions League group stage was yesterday, so I would be remiss if I didn't take a couple of seconds to go through Arsenal's group, which is Group A (as in Arsenal.)

Out of pot one, where title holders Real Madrid are lumped with the reigning champions of the top seven European leagues, Arsenal drew French champion Paris Saint-Germain, who are now Zlatanless.

Out of pot three, Arsenal drew Basel, which I believe is a culinary herb and also the club from which they purchased Mohamed Elneny in January (in the process, they avoided Borussia Mönchengladbach, the club from which they purchased Granit Xhaka much more recently... although, it turns out, Xhaka came out of Basel's academy, sooooo....)

Out of pot four, Arsenal drew Лудогорец Разград, which looks like a table with a curved leg and a little robot guy, and a bucket, and there's a 3 in there... oh, it's Ludogorets Razgrad, from Buglaria. Did you know Bulgarian uses Cyrllic?

Elsewhere, Manchester City got a nicely awful group, as they drew Barcelona (Hi, Pep!), the aforementioned 'Gladbach, and Celtic (Hi, Brendan!) Tottenham rented out Wembley so they can lose to Chicharito and Bayer Leverkusen, as well as CSKA Moscow and Monaco. Leicester benefited from being in pot one to avoid all the heavy hitters, as they'll face Porto, Club Brugge, and Copenhagen. That's the benefit you get from winning the league, I guess (also, you get the benefit of a trophy and being able to call yourself champions, and all that other stuff, so I've heard, it's been a while...)

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Iwobi (thigh,) Ramsey (hamstring,) Gabriel (ankle,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee,) Jenkinson (knee,) Gnabry (match fitness)

Ram. Page.
There's good news in here, kinda! Laurent Koscielny started (and had a storming game, by the way,) and Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud both came off the bench last week, meaning our players whose training was delayed by the Euros have settled back into the squad. I would expect all three to start tomorrow. That means a drop to the bench for two players, likely Theo Walcott (I hope) and perhaps Francis Coquelin?

Jack Wilshere came off the bench as well last week as he returns from a knee injury and I was a bit surprised he came on for Granit Xhaka instead of Coquelin, the latter of whom was on a booking. This means that the holding midfield position is probably the most debatable spot in terms of who should be starting. I've put Xhaka and Santi Cazorla in there for now, but that could be dead wrong.

Also, if Theo starts, I will rampage. Ram-page (see image. That's me, if Theo starts.)

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Koscielny, Holding, Monreal, Xhaka, Cazorla, Özil, Alexis, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud.

Watford Squad News

Out: Dja Djédjé (foot)
Doubts: Success (muscle)

Isaac Success was the club's record
signing for a month and a half, before
spending more on Roberto Pereyra.
Watford have only one injury absence, as Ivorian defender Brice Dja Djédjé, purchased from Marseille this offseason, is out until after the international break with a foot injury. There's also a doubt over Nigerian forward Isaac Success, whose full name is the less zippy Isaac Success Ajayi, with a muscle problem.

Midfielder Ben Watson was sent off in the first match of the season against Southampton and served a one-match ban last week against Chelsea. He returned on Tuesday in the League Cup and should be available tomorrow. He most likely won't start, as he didn't in the league opener.

New manager Walter Mazzarri is a staunch user of the 3-5-2 formation and is not expected to make any changes from the XI that started each of the first two matches just yet. New signings Younès Kaboul and Roberto Pereyra might not be ready to slot straight in. Then, after I wrote this section earlier in the week, they signed Daryl Janmaat from Newcastle as well.

Predicted XI: Gomes, Cathcart, Prödl, Britos, Holebas, Amrabat, Behrami, Guédioura, Capoue, Ighalo, Deeney.

Current Form

Watford lost to Gillingham on Tuesday. Pictured here, for
Gillingham, is former Arsenal academy product Jay
Emmanuel-Thomas, who is own loan from QPR.
To this point, both of these clubs have failed to win a competitive fixture this season, across five total matches combined. Arsenal, of course, fell to Liverpool 4-3 during the opening weekend of the season, then traveled to Leicester last week to settle for a scoreless draw with the defending champions (who also have not yet won this season.)

Arsenal's struggles to open seasons have been well-documented in the past few years, but you have to go back to 2012 to find the last time Arsenal failed to win either of their opening two fixtures; those were both draws, with Sunderland and Stoke. A year before that, Arsenal took one point from their opening two fixtures, just as they have this year. They followed that with a six-goal loss at Old Trafford. The last time Arsenal had zero points through the first two matches? 1992. They finished 10th that year.

Watford have scored first in all three of their games this year, but have still failed to win. They've reached what could be a bit of a nadir this week as well, as they lost at home to League One's Gillingham in extra time on Tuesday in the second round of the League Cup. On the opening day of the season, Watford had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Southampton, then blew a lead against Chelsea to lose 2-1 last week.

There are eight teams remaining who have not won yet this season in league play. Three of them have already been mentioned as such in this section; the other five are Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and Bournemouth. The latter three have zero points.

Match Facts

Gabriel decapitates Hector Bellerín after his goal against
Watford at the Emirates back in April.
Arsenal won both league meetings against Watford, who were playing their first top flight season since 2006/07, last year. The Hornets did, however, knock the Gunners out of the FA Cup at the Emirates in the sixth round, dashing Arsenal's hopes for a third consecutive FA Cup title.

Both sides met at Vicarage Road last October, with Arsenal winning 3-0. It took Arsenal over an hour to find a breakthrough, but Alexis Sánchez fired a loose ball into the net on 62 minutes after Mesut Özil was fouled in the area and the floodgates opened. Olivier Giroud doubled Arsenal's lead six minutes later and Aaron Ramsey made it three just six minutes after that. Watford were left frustrated by a match in which they had played so well for over an hour, but ultimately managed just one shot on target, from Troy Deeney in the 11th minute.

In March, both sides faced off in the FA Cup sixth round. Arsenal had 71% of the possession and 20 total shots, but they only managed to get four of those on target. Odion Ighalo and Adlène Guedioura scored in the 50th and 63rd minutes, respectively, to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Danny Welbeck came off the bench to pull a goal back in the 88th, but agonizingly missed the net on a sitter just minutes later when the chance to dramatically force a replay fell to his feet.

Arsenal got some measure of revenge on Watford three weeks later, when they won the league fixture in London by a 4-0 scoreline. Alexis put the home side on top just four minutes into the match and Alex Iwobi doubled the lead by halftime. Hector Bellerín scored on a deflected shot just after halftime to put Arsenal comfortably up 3-0 and Theo Walcott later did what he does so well, scoring an inconsequential goal to make it 4-0 in the 90th.

Overall, Arsenal have a mixed-to-mediocre record against Watford; in their 18 league encounters, Arsenal have won nine of them and Watford have won eight, with one draw. Of course, those were almost all in the 1980's, leaving them not particularly relevant to this fixture anymore.

The Referee

The referee is Leicestershire-based Kevin Friend. After having a mixed record with Friend in years past, Arsenal won all three matches in which Friend was the referee last season, keeping a clean sheet in all three. Arsenal were 3-0 winners at Swansea in October, 2-0 winners at Aston Villa in December, and 2-0 winners at Bournemouth in February with Friend in the middle. Here's a boring statistic: the match at Aston Villa was the only game last year in which Friend showed no cards, out of 31 he worked. Dazzle your friends with that one at a party tonight.

Watford only saw Friend twice last season and drew both matches: 1-1 against Everton in April and 2-2 against Sunderland on the final day of the season. If you need more factoids with which to dazzle your friends this evening, you might be interested to know that both goals in that match against Everton came in first half injury time. Wowza!

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Tottenham Hotspur v. Liverpool; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Burnley; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Bournemouth; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Stoke City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Swansea City; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Sunderland; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday (late): Hull City v. Manchester United; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Sunday (early): West Bromwich Albion v. Middlesbrough; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Sunday (late): Manchester City v. West Ham United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a silent comedy film star. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat, but... wait, if he's a silent comedian, then how would Twitter work to his advantage? Funny pictures? GIFs? I guess Twitter isn't audio-based, perhaps I'm just rambling.

Leicester City 0-0 Arsenal: Sideways Passing Clinic

I suppose that a point away to the champions is not the worst fate that could have befallen us after last week's epic shitshow of a defensive "performance", but you also can't help thinking that this one might have been there for the taking if we had gone about it in the right way.

Thankfully, Laurent Koscielny came right back into the side in place of the main culprit of last week's disaster, Calum Chambers. Immediately, one could see how much more solid we were throughout. Leicester did threaten once or twice, but ultimately they were kept at bay as the Frenchmen ran around in the madcap fashion, putting out fires here, there and everywhere.

As for the midfield, we were basically all right there, too. With the main deadwood gone, there are few bad options that Arsene has to choose from in those areas.

But, and as much as I love the guy, Alexis Sanchez is a center-forward in the same sense that I happen to be the Tsar of all the Russias. A gentleman at the pub (I forget your name, sorry) pointed out that we were still playing like Olivier Giroud was up top to hold up the ball, but of all the skill sets Alexis has, that's not one of them. His movement and dribbling get lost up there, too. Square peg, round hole. You'd think that lesson would have been learned last week, but, well, *shrug emoticion*.

The first half was a bitty old thing, lots of running around with little in the way of purpose or end product. Basically, it was like Waiting for Godot on a treadmill. As usual, Arsenal had the majority of the ball, but continued to sportingly halt until the defenders could get back and set up the usual wall between themselves and the goal. I imagine we'd have been the toast of the Victorian Era. There was little in the way of invention or guile to try and break it down, either. Sideways pass, sideways pass, sideways pass, etc. I will say this though, at least Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried to take his man on now and again. He'd be a hell of a player if he were, say, 5% better.

We did have one sneaky-good chance though, right around the half-hour mark. Ask Hugo Lloris about these ones - he got beat on the same thing on the opening day. Santi Cazorla whipped in a free kick, which happened to elude everyone in its path. The keeper generally has to assume that there will be contact somewhere, so it's difficult when there isn't. Unfortunately, Kasper Schmeichel was there to paw it to safety.

Up the other end, the Foxes thought they had a shout for a penalty just before halftime, as it appeared that Jamie Vardy was scythed down by Koscielny in the area. We were originally relieved when Mark Clattenburg didn't give it, as it looked bad in real time. Replays show that our Kos won the ball with a majestically-timed tackle, though. Once again, isn't it amazing what happens when you have a grown-up in central defense?

The second half meandered along much as the first did, with the notable exceptions of Petr Cech's hilarious dragback to escape Vardy's pressing and the unfortunate one-car accident that Nampalys Mendy had. That looked like a bad one...we can only hope the Leicester man gets well soon.

It was beyond obvious that changes were needed, and on the earlier side of things as well. There were several candidates to come off, too. Granit Xhaka is clearly still adjusting to life in this league, and hadn't done much. Francis Coquelin was on a yellow, and already benefited from a spot of lenience from Clattenburg by this point. Theo Walcott's main contribution was to incessantly lose the ball and find new and interesting ways to get caught offside.

Someone will have to explain to me, then, why we didn't make any changes until the 73rd minute, and why 1) Walcott didn't come off, 2) Giroud wasn't one of the guys coming on and 3) why we risked a red by leaving Coquelin on.

I know, I know, I've managed 0 games...etc and so on.

Anyway, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere came on for Xhaka and Cazorla, and we did look a bit more incisive. Still, the fulcrum wasn't there, though. A good target man does affect everything behind him, and the lack of Giroud meant that we still didn't create all that much in terms of gilt-edged chances.

He finally did come on with 10 minutes to go, but that isn't enough time to put your stamp on things though. I should say, at least in general. Ahmed Musa came on with just a few minutes left on the clock and should have won a penalty about four nanoseconds after he came on. Clattenburg was right there and in fairness some benefit of the doubt should be given since he had a excellent game overall, but I think he got that one wrong.

We still almost didn't escape, though. Riyad Mahrez was a peripheral figure for much of the match, but he struck in the 92nd minute with an excellent run into the penalty area. Thankfully, Petr Cech was off his line decisively to block at his feet.

So, here we sit. One point in the bank after two matches, five points behind the usual suspects...oh and Hull City, too. There's no reason why we couldn't have had all six here with a little luck and, oh I don't know, a signing or two? Anyway, we have Watford and Southampton coming up next - not easy by any stretch, but sides that we should have more chances against. Six points from that and we're probably in decent shape heading into the weeks to come.

That said, I am a few days out from my annual European holiday - looks like Berlin, Dublin and Oslo this year. Have a great time while I'm gone and don't do anything I wouldn't do.

Man of the Match:  Laurent Koscielny