If I told you before the season that 6 matches in, Arsenal would be beneath Watford in the table, would you have called me crazy? What kind of odds would you have given me on that? Well, here we are. Heading into Saturday’s match at the Emirates, the Hornets are a point above the Gunners in the table, due in large part to their defense, which has only conceded 6 goals through 6 matches.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are still working to solidify their defense and have only kept one clean sheet this season. The good news for the Gunners is that Sokratis has recovered from a dead leg suffered last weekend and will be available on Saturday. Emile Smith Rowe was the only addition to the trainer’s table this week, picking up a minor hip injury at the midweek. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Dinos Mavropanos are still out for a few weeks.
The importance of Sokratis’ availability this weekend should not be underestimated. His performances have flown under the radar a bit, but (in my opinion) he has been Arsenal’s best defender this season. I’ve been particularly impressed with his timing on tackles and his physical presence, something the Gunners have lacked in the past.
It seems that Unai Emery has (finally) figured out that Lucas Torreira should start. Arsenal’s scored / conceded numbers with and without the Uruguayan on the pitch are, uh, let’s go with thought-provoking (if only because saying MAKE IT BLATANTLY OBVIOUS, EMERY YOU DOLT would be rude):
Without Torreira: scored 8, conceded 9
With Torreira: scored 13, conceded 2
With Matteo Guendouzi starting and playing the majority of the Brentford match, I’d bet Torreira gets the start.
Key to Arsenal’s success will be the play of the aforementioned Torreira as well as that of his midfield partner, Granit Xhaka. Watford have won (by far) the most turnovers in the opposition’s half and quickly turn that possession into shots, completing the second fewest passes per shot taken in the Premier League (H/T to our own Scott Willis for the stats). If Torreira and Xhaka provide outlets for the Gunners’ defenders and are able to safely move the ball up the pitch, they’ll neutralize one of Watford’s main sources of offense.
Watford’s offense will also be hamstrung should team captain Troy Deeney not be available. The striker reportedly received injections earlier this week to help heal ligament damage in his ankle and faces a late fitness test before Saturday’s match. The Hornets are also hopeful that Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley will be available to return from their injury layoffs.
Watford are easily Arsenal’s toughest matchup since opening the season against Manchester City and Chelsea. Come Saturday evening, we should know more about whether the Gunners’ 6-game winning streak is indicative of team growth and progress under Unai Emery or was just the byproduct of facing weak opponents.
Arsenal v. Watford, Premier League
Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, September 28, 2018
7AM PT/10AM ET/3PM BT
US TV: Nope
US Streaming: NBC Sports Gold
Worldwide broadcast info: Livesoccer.tv
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Posted when available