Perhaps this was the process so often mentioned. Arsenal have now gone nine matches without defeat and have climbed from 20th to 6th in the Premier League table. The fact that Mikel Arteta and this squad could potentially go from last place heading into the first international break to a top-four team as we entered the third international window of the season speaks volumes to the quality of players brought in this summer and the continued growth of young stars.
At home, Arsenal’s form is right up there with the top of the Premier League. In the Gunners’ five home matches, they collected 10 points, tying Manchester City for second best and just two points behind Chelsea. However, Watford’s form on the road is actually better than how their season has faired at Vicarage Road Stadium. Watford have six points from five road matches and a +1 goal difference.
This week we are talking with The Watford Way, a Watford fan channel, and its founder James Batchelor to discuss the club’s drop and rise again to the Premier League, Ismaïla Sarr, the Hornets’ new manager, and this weekend’s match.
TSF: Watford had five seasons in the Premier League, finishing as high as 11th once, before relegation saw them spend one year in the Championship. Now back in the top flight, is Watford similar to what we’ve come to expect from the field to club management, or has there been any significant shifts in philosophy since their relegation?
TWW: I don’t think there has really been a huge change in the club, you could argue we have shifted to recruiting to younger up-and-coming players but overall the processes within the club are largely the same as before.
As always there is a high turnover of managers at Watford! This is to be expected and although it becomes frustrating as fans, the owners do ultimately have the club’s best interests at heart when making these choices.
TSF: With the relegation the club transitioned from Troy Deeney as the face of the team to the young exciting attacker Ismaïla Sarr who led the club with 11 goals to help secure promotion last season. He has four goals from his opening ten matches this season and is seen as Watford’s most valuable player. How much of their attack runs through Sarr and do you expect him to exit this summer to a bigger spending club?
TWW: Ismaila Sarr is a fantastic player and destined for great things, however, he does still possess a rawness to his game that needs to be worked on especially his decision making.
Yes, a lot of our play is focussed down that right flank but with the additions of Dennis and King, there is not just Sarr to worry the opposition defences. Next summer marks two years remaining on his Watford contract and I personally can’t see him renewing, so expect a Top 4 club to make a big offer for him.
TSF: Upon promotion, the club added several players this summer, both those with Premier League experience and younger players with strong potential. Do you feel the club spent correctly in the summer and which player do you believe will have the biggest impact in year one?
TWW: Do I think we spent correctly? Well, we didn’t spend a lot to start with! Our “marquee” signing who cost the highest fee was Imran Louza for £8m and he hasn’t seen much football this season. Joshua King is a superb acquisition alongside Emanuel Dennis who joined from Club Brugge plus Cucho Hernandez was granted a work permit which adds even more depth and quality to the attack.
Where we lack is at CB and I think this is where Arsenal can target with Craig Cathcart and Troost-Ekong the only fit central defenders at the club currently, this is something I hope this club will look at in January. Former Tottenham midfielder Moussa Sissoko joined and has been our star performer centrally in recent weeks.
TSF: Emmanuel Dennis appears to be a great value thus far coming from Club Brugge and already contributing three goals and three assists. When he was announced were fans expecting this level of an impact early on and how has he changed the Watford attacking depth chart?
TWW: Definitely not! Yes, he had promise before he arrived but everything we had heard was quite negative. How wrong we were! You could argue especially in the last couple of games he has outperformed Ismaila Sarr. Three goal contributions in 15 minutes against Everton highlighted his ability to punish teams on the counter-attack and this is something I would hope we target against Arsenal. He was unavailable in the last match week due to suspension but now he’s returned and will be itching to make an impact the Emirates.
TSF: On the flip side, Watford have seen significant departures over the last two seasons, as you would expect with relegation & promotion in consecutive years. Who are the biggest losses that the club will feel this season and where will Watford need to reinforce during the January transfer window?
TWW: There has been a huge turnover at Watford with Hughes, Deulofeu, Deeney, Capoue all leaving the club in the past two years. All brought something unique and in some cases are irreplaceable in the case of Troy Deeney. Yes, as a footballer, his decline was drastic but as a leader and a voice in the dressing room it has been something we have lacked this season. Additionally, we have yet to appoint a permanent captain after his departure with the role being shared around the more senior players.
As mentioned earlier, central defence is where we should be looking to improve. This is the position the club have spent the least on since 2015 and it shows with a 32-year-old Craig Cathcart still finding his way in the starting lineup.
Fun fact: Watford have yet to keep a Premier League clean sheet this season…
TSF: Xicso helped Watford to promotion, had won 21 of his 36 matches, and had a +20 goal differential. Should he have been given more time this season or was it the right move to bring in Claudio Ranieri?
TWW: Hmmm…It’s a tricky one. 19 of those wins came in the Championship and a lot of Watford fans would argue he was out of his depth then, with the quality of the squad carrying him through the games.
Yes, from the outside looking in it does look very odd, however, at Watford it is part of the model and to be expected even though from an outside perspective it may seem insane. Tottenham sacked Nuno just 17 matches into his tenure yet I don’t see many people criticising Spurs as they did with Watford. Double standards perhaps?
Ranieri is a Premier League winner and won it in the most unexpected way imaginable. What more is there to say! Look, his time at Fulham didn’t go to plan but if you look at some of the clubs he has managed and what he has won, you can’t question his pedigree.
TSF: Despite giving up 18 goals in the league thus far, Watford have managed three wins, which is important compared to the four clubs below them in the table. Is Ranieri’s primary, and perhaps only objective, survival this season even if the play isn’t as entertaining, or does this squad have enough talent to begin climbing up the Premier League?
TWW: The aim is 17th or above. Nothing more, nothing less. If come May we are in 17th I’ll be delighted and then we can continue to build from there. Of course, we have the potential to move up the table but the strength of the Premier League is the best I have seen for a long time so I can only see us making it as high as 12th/13th, and that would be an achievement!
TSF: Who is the player that we haven’t discussed yet and that may be underappreciated that Arsenal fans should keep an eye on this weekend?
TWW: You won’t like me saying this but I’ve got to go with former Spurs man Sissoko. Everything he does just oozes class and is quickly becoming a star player in this Watford side, even wearing the captain’s armband in recent games. He is strong, powerful, and drives us forward whilst also protecting the back four. Classic box to box midfielder and is exactly what we needed.
TSF: What formation should Arsenal expect Watford to use this weekend and who is in your predicted starting XI?
(Updated) TWW: Ranieri has used a few systems since he joined Watford. I would expect to see the 4-3-3, but don’t be surprised to see a 4-4-2 with King and Dennis in a front two.
Starting XI: Foster, Ngakia, Ekong, Cathcart, Rose, Kucka, Sissoko, Tufan, Sarr, King, Dennis
TSF: And finally, give us your prediction for how the match will go.
TWW: I’m always quite outlandish with my score predictions. In my heart, I would love us to win 4-0 but in reality, I think it’ll be a score draw, with Dennis and Smith-Rowe to score.
Thanks to James and The Watford Way for taking the time to discuss Watford FC ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures.