11 March 2016

Walcott will lay waste to Watford. You read it here first.

After a frustrating season of inconsistent football, Arsenal may have finally ound its footing by smashing Hull City in a fifth round replay. For the first time since September, we scored more than three goals against an opponent with both Giroud and Walcott, themselves suffering from poor form of late, bagging braces. The sting of seeing Mertesacker, Gabriel, and Ramsey leave through injury still lingers, though, and we'll have to regroup quickly before Sunday's clash.

There'll be no rest for the wicked as Watford arrive at the Emirates hot on the heels of having faced Leicester, Tottenham, Man U, and Chelsea in recent weeks. They've struggled to score, having managed just three goals against full-strength sides in their eight outings. This has been a season-long struggle to be honest, and it testifies to the strength of their defense (30 goals conceded, joint-fourth with none other than Arsenal) that they're hovering midtable. They're not quite safe from relegation, not just yet, and one has to wonder whether they'll be focusing on securing their Prem position over advancing in the FA Cup. After all, we're down to some heavy hitters, with Reading the only club from outside the Prem still in contention. Still, we should have determination and quality than to need to assess our opponent's position on the table.

When the two sides first met, we eventually found a 0-3 victory through three goals in twelve minutes midway through the second half. We will likely struggle to get that many against Sánchez Flores's side a second time; they'll set up to defend deep and in numbers and dare us to carve out any chances. It's a strategy that worked to very good effect against Leicester for almost an hour, suggesting that it should frustrate us in equal measures. However, Leicester were facing a mirror-image of themselves in a squad that sits back and hits on counters. We're more practised at tryign to pick apart those parked buses, and recent breakthroughs from Walcott, Giroud, and Alexis suggest that at least one of them has broken the seal and is ready to unleash a torrent of goals.

Even with Watford's defense likely to pack eight defenders into the box, I think it will be Walcott who will break through, even if his most-valuable asset is his speed. He's shown in recent weeks that he can score even against a defense that has had some time to setup. His brace against Hull and his goal against Leicester came against two very stubborn sides, and his breakthrough suggests that he is about to go on a tear. True, his season has been a disappointment on many levels, but his play against Hull—when he delivered an assist as well as two goals—should represent a turning point. Gone should be the hang-dog expressions and the dithering on the ball; in their place will be the lung-busting runs but also the intelligent movements and the well-placed passes. In short, look to Walcott as our catalyst on Sunday.

By this point in the competition, managers are naming full-strength sides, and I'd expect Arsène to do the same even with a second-leg Champions League trip to the Camp Nou on Wednesday. Progress there is far less likely than in the FA Cup, and we are after all the cup-holders. It may be too late do do a double in this season; then again, maybe not. We can and should at least do what's necessary to defend the title we do own...

LAST 3
Watford 0-3 Arsenal (17.10.2016)
Watford 1-2 Arsenal (26.12.2007)
Arsenal 3-0 Watford (14.10.2006)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first met on 27 November 1982, a 2-4 win to Watford.
Arsenal have scored at least two goals in the last five meetings between the two.
Arsenal have not lost an FA Cup match in 16 outings.

INJURIES
Ramsey, Čech, Koscielny, Cazorla, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain,  and Rosický have all been ruled out. Coquelin returns from a one-match suspension from the Tottenham match.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Ospina; Monreal, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Coquelin, Elneny; Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

Arsenal look to have found some form, passion, and intent after weeks of lethargy, and Watford will not have enough to counter.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-0 Watford

Make your own scoreline and MotM predictions below the fold!