Weird fact that you probably don’t know: Arsenal and Watford train at adjacent fields which are both just 23 minutes North of Watford’s stadium on Vicarage Road.
Weird second fact you may not know: if Alexis and Ozil don’t play tomorrow, I can’t see Arsenal getting three points from this match.
Much of what will have me worried about tomorrow’s fixture is the health of the Arsenal team. Mustafi, Monreal, Koscielny, Kolasinac, and Ramsey have been Arsenal’s top 5 best players this season according to WhoScored.com. Below them, Lacazette, Cech, Sanchez, Welbeck, and Xhaka. That is the order that these players are rated by WhoScored’s metric and Xhaka’s rating has dipped well below 7, which is awful for a starting center mid. Of those ten best Arsenal players, only 5 are ready to start with no issues (Monreal, Ramsey, Lacazette, Cech, and Xhaka) with two of them certainly out (Mustafi and Kolasinac) and three of them being rushed back under uncertain circumstances (Koscielny, Sanchez, and Welbeck). This is a less than ideal squad setup.
That said, it is a chance for Ozil (who could also be rushed back) along with Iwobi and Bellerin to pick up the slack and give this team a chance. That said, I see a starting lineup of:
Cech : Bellerin – Holding – Mertesacker – Monreal : Walcott – Ramsey – Xhaka – Iwobi : Ozil – Lacazette
Despite the short drive for both teams from training ground to stadium, this will be a home game for Watford and using my predicted lineup, my model gives them the advantage. If Alexis starts, Arsenal have the advantage. It’s that simple, really.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this Watford side is a terrible mid-table team. Watford have scored as many goals as Arsenal (11) and created 12 big chances this season (tied for 7th with Spurs). More important, they have created 3 big chances against Liverpool and 2 against City – they know how to play against top teams and aren’t afraid to take the game at their opponents – even if they only took one point from those two matches.
Their top two threats are the Brazilian Richarlison and Mali center mid, Abdoulaye Doucoure. Both players have scored 3 goals already this season.
Watford are overperforming according to my expected goals model by three goals (on offense). This is down almost entirely to the fact that they have scored 4 goals from outside the 18 yard box – more than any other team.
Where Arsenal could find some joy is that Watford are tied with Crystal Palace for the most shots allowed in prime with 32 and have allowed a further 13 big chances (6th worst, one less than 5th worst Liverpool). This is Arsenal’s attacking sweet spot: Wenger’s teams are very patient with their shots and wait until they can get one in a dangerous position rather than letting rip from 80 yards like Liverpool. If Arsenal can get the ball to Lacazette, through the Arsenal midfield, which will be pressed by the likes of Capoue and Doucoure, then Arsenal could win this game. If Arsenal can’t move the ball up field – watch to see if Watford force Arsenal’s center backs to play the ball, Holding and Mertesacker could be a major liability – this will almost certainly be a predictable loss for the Gunners.
Watford have an expected goals against average of 12.23 and have allowed 12 goals this season. They are vulnerable at the back, the question, then is can Arsenal exploit that given their injuries and lack of form.
Source: Whoscored.com, my personal database
Ed. Note: I know it’s a hart and not a moose on the Watford crest, but it looks so much like Bullwinkle J. Moose that it could have graduated from Wossamotta U. and be mayor of Moosylvania.