17 October 2015

Can Walcott lay waste to Watford without Alexis?

We come back from an international break flush with excitement, whether it be the successes of Gunners playing for their countries, the fact that we trounced Manchester United, or that José Mourinho seems to have pressed the self-destruct button. With that backdrop, we should perhaps expect to simply show up at Vicarage Road on Saturday and say "boo" in order to leave with three points secured. Actual banana-peels are less slippery than this one could be.

Theo congratulates Henry for scoring against Watford in 2006.

Yes, it's true that Watford have scored a measly six goals in ten matches, joint-worst with Newcastle and Sunderland. However, at the other end, they've only conceded seven, level with Arsenal and Manchester City, among others. At home, in four matches, they've conceded just one (keeping three clean sheets, for those slow in maths). That goal came courtesy of a Cabaye spot-kick om . In other words, we're likely to have a club that will out-Chelsea Chelsea when it comes to parking the bus.

However, aside from an early trip to the Etihad, Watford have not yet faced an offense worthy of the name. Coming into the match, our lads have scored eight goals in our last two Prem matches. Between trouncing Leicester and Man U, we savoured an international break in which Gunners who might feature on Saturday scored eight goals and tallied two assists as well. To say that we're firing on all cylinders might stand as an understatement. Theo now has 12 goals and three assists in his last 14 Prem starts, and he's starting to convince even his worst skeptics (including yours truly) as he plies his trade as a striker.

Even if Alexis is rested (as Arsène implied in his pre-match presser), we're starting to see a more-fluid, dynamic attack in recent weeks with Walcott leading the line. After the Chilean manager admitted that he risked exposing Alexis to injury, I'd wager that Arsène will rest him, even without looking ahead to Bayern on Tuesday. This would leave Walcott to spearhead our ttack, and he'll crash up against a well-organised defense, composed of two banks of four more often than not, anchored by Heurelho Gomes in goal and shielded by Étienne Capoue, fancied at one point by Arsène until he signed for Tottenham only to fail to impress, moving to Watford this past summer. This is the kind of set-up many skeptics would point to in the "can Walcott play striker?" debate. We've seen some exciting glimpses of what Walcott can do. Without making too much of Watford's defense, this one could show us whether Walcott can unlocked a parked bus.

Coming the other way, we should prepare ourselves for a fair-few counters, whether launched from long kicks from Gomes or other clearances. Our backline and defensive midfield will have to be mindful not to get drawn too far up the pitch or get lackadaisical as we dominate possession. A side that has managed just six goals to date is one that we should handle as long as we don't unduly underestimate them.

Watford 1-2 Arsenal (26.12.2006)
Arsenal 3-0 Watford (14.10.2006)
Watford 2-4 Arsenal (05.01.2002)

Watford have never won a Prem match in October.
Arsenal have scored two goals or more in their last four matches against Watford.
Watford have not conceded a goal from open play in the current season.

Wilshere, Welbeck, and Rosický have been ruled out. Alexis and Koscielny face late fitness-tests. Flamini and Arteta are available.

Čech; Gibbs, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Coquelin, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Ramsey; Walcott. 

Expect long periods of frustrating, fruitless possession punctuated by innumerable scoring opportunities.

PREDICTION Watford 0-2 Arsenal