Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Watford

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, April 2
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Harry Lennard and Peter Kirkup
    • 4th Official: Andre Marriner
  • Reverse Fixture: Watford 0 - 3 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 0 Watford (October 14, 2006)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 12 Arsenal wins, 10 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-L-L-D-W
  • Watford's League Form: L-W-D-L-L-L
Welcome back! I have to say, it was nice not to have to stress out about Arsenal over the past two weeks, which has meant returning to write this preview has felt like a major chore.

Arsenal finally got back in the win column in their last league match, though wins for Spurs and Leicester mean that the Gunners have made up no ground in their quickly fading title chase. Leicester's odds of winning the league are now at 75.9%, Spurs are at 22%, and Arsenal are down to 1.9%. You'll notice that that adds up to 99.8%, meaning the long 0.2% odds of someone else winning the league are split between a number of clubs.

Manchester City's 1-0 derby loss to United certainly helped solidify Arsenal's Champions League aspirations; they're now at 90.9% to finish in the top four; City are at a little under 50% while United and West Ham split the remaining odds for the last Champions League place.

Even if Arsenal win all of their remaining matches, their odds of winning the league are just 60.6% because they need Leicester to drop so many points. It doesn't look good, but with the Gunners out of every other competition, there's not much else to pin hopes on.

Arsenal return from the international break with an eye on revenge as they take on a Watford team that recently booted them from the FA Cup. Win this match and then we'll get to focus on rooting for a Liverpool win over Spurs in Saturday's late game and maybe a nice win for Southampton at the King Power on Sunday. Wouldn't that be nice?

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Flamini (hamstring,) Ramsey (thigh,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Cazorla (knee,) Rosicky (match fitness,) Wilshere (match fitness)
Doubts: Cech (calf)

Petr Cech moves to the "doubts" category, as I'm currently unsure whether the number one goalkeeper will slip straight back into the starting lineup as he returns from injury. All signs had pointed to Cech being available again after the break, but without any confirmation; yesterday, Arsene Wenger called it "too early to say." David Ospina has taken about a million knocks, starting with that collision with Romelu Lukaku two weeks back, but he played all 180 minutes for Colombia in their World Cup qualifiers and would be expected to start if Cech cannot.

In amazing news, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere are both back in full training, but obviously will not be ready in time for this one. Wilshere, who has been out since just before the season started, is expected to get a run-out for the Under-21s tonight against Newcastle.

It's as you were with the rest of the injuries, so, with the exception of the question in between the sticks, I would expect Wenger to name the same lineup as the one who beat Everton. Perhaps there'll be a decision between Gabriel and Per Mertesacker at center back as well; I had forgotten that Per was on the bench against the Toffees.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Alexis, Iwobi, Ozil, Welbeck.

Watford Squad News

Out: Ekstrand (match fitness,) Hoban (hip)

Watford have fewer injury concerns now than they did when they played at the Emirates three weeks ago. At the time, there was some confusion as to what injury defender Joel Ekstrand had, but in doing a little more research, I've come to figure out why: Ekstrand seriously injured his knee last year and did ligament damage, which required surgery. In his comeback attempt, while playing for the reserves, the Swedish defender strained his hamstring. So he's currently out with the hamstring problem while he attempts to regain match fitness after knee surgery. That's it. Sounds like an Arsenal-esque injury saga.

Elsewhere, Tommie Hoban, an Arsenal academy product, remains out long-term after hip surgery.

I would expect Watford to come into this game with the same mentality and formation they used to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup. On that occasion, the back four sat deep, protected by a midfield quartet that clogged the middle, attempting to deny Arsenal's ability to create space in the final third. It worked, as I particularly recall Olivier Giroud being useless; in fact, the Frenchman did not complete a single pass within 30 yards of Watford's goal.

Predicted XI: Gomes, Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Ake, Behrami, Watson, Capoue, Guedioura, Ighalo, Deeney.

Current Form

You could say Arsenal got back on the right track with their 2-0 win over Everton just before the international break, but the overall run of form is still worrying. Since beating Leicester, Arsenal have won two of their last nine matches across all competitions and they haven't won a home game since that late Danny Welbeck winner went in, either. In fact, the Gunners have outright lost three straight at the Emirates; losing to Barcelona is one thing, but losing to Swansea and Watford in that run at home is quite another.

That's because, aside from that FA Cup tie victory, Watford have lost three straight in the league and are now 14th in the Premier League table. They're 11 points clear of 18th place Sunderland, so relegation isn't a huge concern for the Hornets right now. After a brilliant run of games in December, Watford have just two league wins in their last 13 and they've fallen seven places in the table. With the club almost certainly safe from relegation (their odds of dropping are something close to 0.04%), it would appear that all of their eggs should be in the FA Cup basket now.

Match Facts

You will recall that this is a match-up Arsenal recently lost; just three weeks ago, Watford came to the Emirates and came out with a 2-1 victory and a ticket to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals, where they will face Crystal Palace. Arsenal had 71% of the possession and 20 total shots, but they only managed to get four of those on target. Odion Ighalo and Adlene 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 did win at Vicarage Road back in October, meaning they can still complete the league double over the Hornets this season. Arsenal came out 3-0 winners in that match, 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.

Prior to the FA Cup victory, Watford's previous most recent win against Arsenal came at Highbury on April 15, 1988, by a 1-0 scoreline.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor, who has not been a tremendous nightmare for Arsenal recently as he has been in the past. Arsenal have seen Taylor three times this season and they have won all three: 1-0 over Chelsea in the Community Shield, 3-0 over Manchester United in October, and 1-0 over Newcastle in early January, back when it looked like Arsenal were in the driver's seat for winning the league. Overall, Arsenal are unbeaten in their last six with Taylor as the referee; it's seven if you count the time he came in after Chris Foy was injured in Arsenal's 3-0 win over West Ham last March. Arsenal were already leading 1-0 at the time Taylor came in, however.

Watford have also seen Taylor three times this year, but they have not won any of them. They suffered a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace at home back in September, lost 2-1 to Tottenham in late December (in which he sent off Nathan Ake for a terrible tackle around the hour mark,) and drew 0-0 with Bournemouth a month ago.

Overall, Watford are winless in their last six with Taylor in the middle. You have to go back to February 17, 2009 to find the Hornets' last win with Taylor; that came 2-0 against Swansea City in what was, at the time, an upper-mid-table Championship clash.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Aston Villa v. Chelsea; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Saturday: Bournemouth v. Manchester City; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Norwich City v. Newcastle United; Carrow Road, Norwich
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Swansea City; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. West Bromwich Albion; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Crystal Palace; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. Tottenham Hotspur; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Leicester City v. Southampton; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Everton; Old Trafford, Manchester
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and is exhausted. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to wake him up.