With international football finished for a few weeks, we return to Premier League action this weekend. The Saturday evening kick-off sees Watford host Arsenal, with the teams separated by just the one point before the start of the weekend’s matches.
Marco Silva has started superbly at the Hornets after his almost-heroic spell with Hull City last year, while Arsenal have dusted themselves off after two early defeats. They might not be direct competitors in May, but this is a match of great significance for both teams. Watford can prove that their early form is here to stay, and Arsenal need to avoid any further blips.
Injuries are restrictive for Silva and Arsene Wenger. Nathaniel Chalobah, Sebastian Prodl, Isaac Success and a few others miss out for the Hornets, but Wenger could be without Laurent Koscielny, Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil on top of the already ruled out Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Shkodran Mustafi.
Each team has depth to cope with this, but it might mean that Watford have the opportunity to line-up Andre Gray against Per Mertesacker.
Mertesacker’s pace is an obvious target for any team, but the German is far too experienced to be simply undone by a runner in behind. The immensely impressive Richarlison is Watford’s biggest threat in the final third, however, and will look to expose the space left by Hector Bellerin’s jaunts up the field. The youngster is at 3/1 to find the net.
He has scored three times already this season, and will be the closest player to Gray, making that one of the better goal scorer prices this weekend. Gray himself is also in with a decent chance of getting his name on the scoresheet.
Arsenal, as is the case in almost every match they play, will dominate the ball at Vicarage Road. Watford are comfortable out of possession, but the Gunners’ defence has taken a real leap forward of late and not conceded in their last four Premier League matches.
The concern for Wenger, though, will be over the fitness of Koscielny. Without Koscielny, the 2/1 odds of Watford to score over 1.5 goals have to be worth considering.
This match will be decided in the midfield. Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure could suffocate Arsenal’s build-up play. The absence of Ozil could hurt Arsenal in breaking down Silva’s side, but may give Jack Wilshere a significant role to play off the bench.
Converting their inevitable possession into chances will be a challenge for the Gunners and Watford – who won at the Emirates earlier this year – are poised to catch Arsenal out on the break.
There is a tendency for odd things to happen after an international fortnight. Given the performances of these two teams so far this season, no result would be particularly absurd. A Watford win is justifiable even at this point, and Arsenal beating a team tipped by many to struggle in the bottom half would hardly raise eyebrows.
Wenger needs a result here, though. Slipping up again would wipe out the ground made up on Chelsea and Spurs, which, in turn, could leave Arsenal behind Liverpool, too.
Signs of improvement have been clear, but these are the type of matches that the Gunners must deliver points, almost regardless of the display. Watford, meanwhile, can turn a good start into a great start with three points. For me though, the draw is worth a punt at 13/4.
TIP: Match to be drawn @ 13/4