Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Watford, FA Cup Sixth Round

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, March 13
9:30 a.m. EDT, 13:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Andre Marriner
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Matthew Wilkes
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 12 Arsenal wins, 9 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • All-Time in FA Cup: 4 Arsenal wins, 1 Watford win
  • Arsenal's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Sunderland, 3-1
    • Fourth Round: Beat Burnley, 2-1
    • Fifth Round: Drew Hull City, 0-0; won replay 4-0
  • Watford's Path Here
    • Third Round: Beat Newcastle United, 1-0
    • Fourth Round: Beat Nottingham Forest, 1-0
    • Fifth Round: Beat Leeds United, 1-0
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-W-L-L-D
  • Watford's League Form: D-L-W-D-L-L
Well, this is a weird fixture. Arsenal's odds of winning the league are now at a paltry 2.7% and they are effectively fourth in the table, their comfort zone, thanks to Manchester City's game in hand. The Gunners are eight points out of first place with nine league games to play. If Arsenal win all nine of their remaining matches, they would still need Leicester to win no more than six of theirs. The Foxes' odds of winning the title clock in just under 70%, as they are five points clear of Tottenham.

As such, should Arsenal go all-in for a third consecutive FA Cup title, even if it might mean they can't run the table in the league? Would that be enough to placate the masses who haven't seen Arsenal win a league title in going on a dozen years? No, I don't think it would be. At the same time, you can't throw away a winnable competition to try to take your 3% odds at winning the league.

To put it in some perspective, Borussia Dortmund have better odds (9.4%) of overtaking Bayern Munich's five point gap in the Bundesliga than Arsenal have at winning the Premier League, and that's even after Dortmund lost a chance to make up ground last weekend as they played their rivals to a 0-0 draw at home.

Wide scope questions aside, Arsenal can only focus on one match at a time and that means Watford on Sunday, at home, and another trip to Wembley if they win. Worry about the league later. Worry about the other bogey teams still in the FA Cup once you've beaten Watford. Worry about the Champions League... well, I wouldn't. I think we'd all call that a lost cause, a detrimental extra fixture to their odds at winning either domestic competition.

You can't look past each individual game. What would be the point of winning the replay against Hull if it just meant capitulating at home to Watford? We'll talk about the league again next week.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (thigh,) Cech (calf,) Koscielny (calf,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Rosicky (thigh,) Cazorla (knee,) Wilshere (ankle)
Doubts: Gabriel (hamstring,) Mertesacker (concussion)

Before getting into the bad news with Aaron Ramsey, there's good news from the three injuries Arsenal suffered on Tuesday: Gabriel and Per Mertesacker are both fit for the weekend, even though the former left with a hamstring injury (which would usually be three weeks) and the latter suffered, to quote Arsene Wenger, a "little" concussion. This is very welcome news, considering Arsenal have no other center backs available, as Laurent Koscielny is expected to still be too short for Sunday with his calf injury.

The bad news regarding Aaron Ramsey is that his thigh injury might keep him out six weeks, since he came off the bench cold (to replace Gabriel along with some rejiggering of the back line) and already carrying a knock. This could have pretty heavy ramifications for Arsenal's silverware hopes, since they're already pretty light in midfield; it'll still be a while before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, or Tomas Rosicky are available again.

The fixture congestion will not get any easier this week, as Arsenal play Sunday in the early afternoon, then travel to Barcelona for a Wednesday night disaster, then have to fly back on Thursday, travel to Liverpool on Friday, and face Everton at Goodison Park in the early Saturday fixture next weekend. At least here in the United States we will have changed our clocks forward, so all of these games start an hour later than normal, which means more sleep for us.

Nacho Monreal picked up a calf problem in the win over Hull too, because being a defender for Arsenal is an occupational hazard. There's been no word about his injury and he finished the match, so my guess is he's fine. Kieran Gibbs has started consecutive matches at left back for the first time in what feels like 600 years, so I guess we'll see who starts there Sunday.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi, Campbell, Welbeck, Giroud.

Watford Squad News

Out: Jurado (calf,) Ekstrand (something,) Gilmartin (knee,) Hoban (hip)
Doubts: Britos (hamstring,) Cathcart (calf)

Watford will still be without midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado, who has been out since February 6 with a calf injury; he could be back by next week. Elsewhere, defender Joel Ekstrand is likely to still be out with an injury I have seen referred to as a thigh problem, a hamstring problem, and a knee problem in different sources. In fact, the Daily Mail's preview of Watford's last match included both hamstring and knee as the injury in the same article.

There are longer term injuries for Watford in fringe players, like third string goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin, who has a dislocated knee, and former Arsenal academy product Tommie Hoban, who had hip surgery.

There are doubts over a few others, as Miguel Britos will be assessed over a hamstring knock and Craig Cathcart, the colonel from Catch-22, is 50/50 with a calf problem.

Predicted XI: Pantilimon, Nyom, Paredes, Ake, Holebas, Amrabat, Abdi, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Ighalo.

Current Form

Arsenal's 4-0 win over Hull on Tuesday spared their blushes a bit; if Arsenal had failed to win, it would have been their first six match winless run since the fall of 1998. As it stands, Arsenal's winless streak was halted at five, their first such streak in five years. So, that's four wins from Arsenal's last 13 matches now. Much better!

Watford went into Boxing Day on a four match winning streak in the league and on the 26th of December, they played Chelsea to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. The Hornets were flying high, seventh in the Premier League at the time. They proceeded to lose their next four league matches in a row and have only won twice in the league since the holiday period. Now, the Hornets sit 13th in the table. They're 13 points clear of relegation, so they have nothing to worry about there, but any pipe dreams of a European place they might have had in December have long faded. In the FA Cup, Watford have advanced through three 1-0 wins.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Watford met in the league back in October at Vicarage Road; Arsenal came out 3-0 winners, but it wasn't easy. It took Arsenal over an hour to find a breakthrough, but Alexis Sanchez fired a loose ball into the net on 62 minutes after Mesut Ozil 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, a Troy Deeney shot in the 11th minute.

The Gunners and Hornets have met in five previous FA Cup ties; Arsenal have won four of them. On February 3, 1906, Watford faced Woolwich Arsenal at Manor Ground in the second round proper; Arsenal won the match 3-0 and went to the semi-final that year, where they lost to Newcastle. Arsenal were still in Woolwich when the sides met in 1910's second round, when Arsenal again won 3-0; they would lose to Everton in the following round that year.

The sides met in Watford in the sixth round in 1980, where Arsenal won 2-1. Arsenal advanced to the semi-final with that win, where they needed three replays to beat Liverpool, only to lose the final to second division West Ham. Watford's only FA Cup win against Arsenal came in 1987 in the sixth round at Highbury; the Hornets won 3-1, then lost to Tottenham in the semi-finals, who themselves lost to Coventry City in the final.

The most recent cup meeting between Arsenal and Watford came in 2002's third round, where Arsenal won 4-2 at Vicarage Road. Arsenal went on to win the Double that year.

As a consequence of not playing many top flight seasons, Watford has not won away to Arsenal since April 15, 1988. Watford actually beat Arsenal twice that year while simultaneously being relegated; it's the only time Arsenal has ever lost both fixtures to a side that would be relegated.

The Referee

The referee is West Midlands-based Andre Marriner. You may remember Marriner from such disasters as Chelsea 6 - 0 Arsenal, in which he sent off Kieran Gibbs for looking like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal have had Marriner five times as their referee since that day and have won all five: 1-0 over Southampton at the Emirates in December of 2014, 2-0 over Everton at home last March, 1-0 at Newcastle (including a 16th minute red card to Aleksandar Mitrovic and six other yellow cards to Newcastle) in August, 2-1 over Tottenham in the League Cup in September, and 2-1 over Manchester City at the Emirates back in December.

Watford have seen Marriner on three occasions this season, drawing the first two and winning the third. They played Southampton to a 0-0 draw in August, played a 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day, and beat Newcastle 2-1 at home in late January. With Watford previously being in the Championship, you'd have to go back to September of 2009 to find the last time Marriner worked a Watford match prior to this season; that was a 3-2 loss at home to Coventry City. Henri Lansbury, on loan from Arsenal at the time, came off the bench for the Hornets that day.

Around the Sixth Round
  • Friday (night): Reading v. Crystal Palace; Madejski Stadium, Reading
  • Saturday: Everton v. Chelsea; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. West Ham United; Old Trafford, Manchester
Around the Premier League
  • Saturday (early): Norwich City v. Manchester City; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Swansea City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Southampton; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Leicester City v. Newcastle United; King Power Stadium, Leicester
Out of Action
  • Liverpool, who would have played Chelsea
  • Sunderland, who would have played Everton
  • West Bromwich Albion, who would have played Arsenal
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an optical illusion. You should follow him on Twitter @zorrocat before he vanishes! Abracadabra!