Preview: Arsenal must shake off FA Cup nightmare as they prepare to host Watford in Premier League

So how do you solve a problem like Watford?

Frankly, it really shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s not as if the Hornets are laying waste to all who stand before them, tearing through the Premier League and defying expectation week after week.

Looking at the league table, they are probably just about where they should be. The manager seems to have brought some stability and they have put together little runs of wins when needed.

They have gone about their business quietly, but with a certain amount of style, too. In particular, striker Odion Ighalo has impressed with a return of 16 goals while Troy Deeney has weighed in with 10.

But, if you take these two men out of the equation, they have managed just four goals this season as a team. Only two teams – Newcastle and Aston Villa – have scored less.

And their league form is no great shakes either, having picked up just a single point from their last four outings.

The problem Arsenal will face is whether they can overcome their stifling inefficiency in front of goal, a problem that really has plagued them at key points this season – as it did when the two sides met in the FA Cup in March.

I expect Quique Sanchez Flores will set his side up in much the same way that he did in the cup encounter. They sat deep, left two men up top, and sought to make lightning quick transitions from defence to attack. And, credit to them, on the day it worked better than many could have been expected.

Relatively speaking, Watford’s defence is sound. They have conceded only 32 goals this season, a record bettered by only four sides.

But what will prove decisive, is who can land the first blow. If Watford can get their noses in front, they have proven that they know how to shut up shop and deny teams space.

But if Arsenal strike first, and hold that advantage, it will force Watford to change their system as they search for goals, and they have found them hard to come by these last few months.

If Watford were safe this season, this could have made for a dangerous fixture. Coming up against a team with little to play for, and free of the pressure that a relegation scrap brings, can often prove a fixture ripe for upset.

But the Hornets are not yet out of danger with 37 points on the board, they will be looking for another five at least before they jet off on their summer holidays. Let’s hope we can make them wait another few weeks yet.

From an Arsenal perspective, only a win will do. Any less than three points and you can kiss goodbye to any wafer thin hopes of Premier League glory, especially with a trip to West Ham looming on the horizon.

For my money, Arsene will plump for the energy and industry of Danny Welbeck up front, with Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny returning in the centre of midfield, providing the cover that was so obviously missing in the cup encounter.

All said and done, this has to be three points to the Arsenal, given the way they performed against Everton, and with the season’s title hopes hanging by a thread. If that is not motivation enough to get the win, I don’t know what is.

Prediction: Arsenal to emerge victorious, 3-1.

Form guide

Watford

  • March 19: Watford 1 Stoke 2
  • March 5: Watford 0 Leicester 1
  • March 2: Man Utd 1 Watford 0
  • February 27: Watford 0 Bournemouth 0
  • February 13: Crystal Palace 1 Watford 2

Top scorers (all competitions): Odion Ighalo (16), Troy Deeney (10) Almen Abdi (1)

Arsenal

  • March 19: Everton 0 Arsenal 2
  • March 5: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 2
  • March 2: Arsenal 1 Swansea 2
  • February 28: Man Utd 3 Arsenal 2
  • February 14: Arsenal 2 Leicester 2

Top scorers (all competitions): Olivier Giroud (20), Alexis Sanchez (11), Theo Walcott (8).

 

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