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Watford v Arsenal: Match preview
Arsene Wenger has always portrayed himself as a man who is not fond of looking back on key moments in his career, insisting his sole focus is always Arsenal’s next game.
However, it would be no surprise if the prospect of facing Watford this weekend sends a shiver down his spine as he recalls the previous meeting between the sides in January.
The atmosphere at the Emirates turned thick with venom just 13 minutes in as the Hornets surged into a 2-0 lead through goals from Younes Kaboul and Troy Deeney.
Alex Iwobi’s second-half strike was not enough to prevent an eventual 2-1 defeat or, more significantly, quell the tangible sense of fury directed towards Wenger on that chilly late-winter afternoon.
Worse, of course, was to follow for Arsenal and their most successful manager of all time.
The loss to Watford sparked a disastrous run of eight defeats in 16 games in all competitions, played out against a backdrop of intense fan protests and the destabilising impact of Wenger’s ‘will-he, won’t-he’ contract saga.
Arsenal went on to miss out on Champions League qualification for the first time in his reign, although he did manage to claim a remarkable seventh FA Cup win against the odds before eventually signing a new deal.
But the damaging legacy of that brutal run of losses – and his failure to mount a genuine title challenge for the best part of a decade – means he remains only ever one defeat away from a crisis.
All the old wounds will immediately be reopened if Arsenal come unstuck at Vicarage Road and Wenger should be wary that the current Watford side appears to be far superior to last season’s vintage.
Marco Silva has made an impressive start following his summer arrival from Hull City, steering the Hornets to eighth place in the table prior to this weekend’s fixtures.
Last month’s 6-0 defeat by a rampant Manchester City is the only blot on the Portuguese’s league record to date and his new-look side have developed a particular penchant for late goals.
Liverpool were their victims on the opening weekend of the season as Miguel Britos’ last-gasp strike secured a thrilling 3-3 draw and this happy knack was on display again in their two most recent outings.
Richarlison, an £11 million summer capture from Fluminense, rescued a 2-2 draw at West Brom deep into injury time before the international break, having grabbed a similarly dramatic winner at Swansea City seven days earlier.
The one minor concern for Silva is that he is yet to taste victory at Vicarage Road in four attempts in all competitions.
Perhaps the visit of Arsenal – no goals and just one point from three away games to date – could provide the perfect opportunity?
Unfortunately for Watford, the recent history of this fixture suggests otherwise.
Arsenal have won on each of their last five trips to Hertfordshire, scoring 15 goals in the process, and the Hornets have not tasted victory over the Gunners on their own patch since November 1987.
Wenger will also take comfort from his side’s resurgence since their chastening 4-0 defeat at Liverpool in August.
The Frenchman has overseen six wins in the past seven matches in all competitions, with the only ‘blip’ being a goalless away draw with champions Chelsea.
Arsenal delivered the kind of gritty, resolute display at Stamford Bridge that has been all too rare in games against their top-six rivals in the late-Wenger era.
But the challenge now for Wenger is to ensure his charges replicate that level of performance at Vicarage Road.
If he succeeds, Arsenal’s quality should shine through and pave the way for a victory that would keep them in touch with early pace-setters Manchester City and Manchester United.
Anything less, though, could open the door for Watford – and potentially plunge Wenger back into crisis management mode again.
Watford v Arsenal: Team news
Arsenal have defensive worries ahead of the game, with Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers ruled out and doubts over Laurent Koscielny and Sead Kolasinac.
Mustafi suffered a hamstring problem in Germany's 4-1 win over Azerbaijan and will be sidelined for four to six weeks, while Chambers has not recovered from a hip injury.
Koscielny continues to struggle with a long-standing Achilles complaint and Kolasinac was substituted at half-time in Bosnia's 2-1 win over Estonia with a reported hip problem.
Wenger will make a late decision over whether to include Alexis Sanchez, who only arrived back in London on Thursday after Chile's failure to qualify for the World Cup.
However, there was better news in the shape of a potential return for Danny Welbeck (groin), while Mesut Ozil (knee) should be fit enough to feature in the matchday squad.
For Watford, Andre Carillo will be assessed after featuring for Colombia in their 1-1 draw with Peru on Wednesday.
Isaac Success will be out for eight weeks with a knee problem, while Sebastian Prodl (hamstring) is a doubt and Kaboul (hamstring) remains out.
Nathaniel Chalobah, Craig Cathcart and Tommie Hoban are all still sidelined with long-term knee injuries.
Watford v Arsenal: Head to head
The all-time record between the sides is, perhaps surprisingly, fairly even.
Even more remarkably, just one of their 26 meetings has resulted in a draw, with Arsenal winning 14 and Watford taking the spoils in the other 11.
Previous five meetings:
|31/01/17||Premier League||Arsenal 1-2 Watford||Iwobi; Kaboul, Deeney|
|27/08/16||Premier League||Watford 1-3 Arsenal||Pereyra; Cazorla, Sanchez, Ozil|
|02/04/16||Premier League||Arsenal 4-0 Watford||Sanchez, Iwobi, Bellerin, Walcott|
|13/03/16||FA Cup||Arsenal 1-2 Watford||Welbeck; Ighalo, Guedioura|
|17/10/15||Premier League||Watford 0-3 Arsenal||Sanchez, Giroud, Ramsey|
Watford v Arsenal: Key statistics
- In their last meeting, back in January at the Emirates, Watford earned their first league win against Arsenal since April 1988 and ended a run of seven straight league defeats against them.
- Arsene Wenger has won eight of his 10 matches versus Watford in all competitions as Arsenal manager (L2).
- Watford have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 10 matches against Arsenal in all competitions.
- Arsenal haven’t failed to score in their opening four away league games of a season since 1936-37.
- Watford have made their best-ever start to a Premier League season after seven games (12 points).
- Since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, Arsenal have scored more headed goals in the Premier League than any other side (34), with Olivier Giroud netting 14 of them (41%).
- Petr Cech has kept four consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League for the first time since February 2015.
- Troy Deeney is without a goal in his last 13 league games, his longest goal-drought ever in the Premier League and his worst in league football since October 2011 (32 in total).
- Alexis Sanchez has scored three and assisted three in his four Premier League games against Watford.
- However, Sanchez has failed to score in his last five Premier League appearances; his longest goal-drought in the competition since a goalless run of 11 games between October 2015 and March 2016.
Watford v Arsenal: Match odds
All odds correct with William Hill at the time of writing
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