Thursday, November 30, 2023

Watford preview: How will we make the midfield tick?

So, today we’ve got a game of football. If anyone’s forgotten that’s the thing you do with all the players you buy in the transfer market. You pick 11 of them and send them out onto a PITCH to kick a BALL into the NET. Beyond that the details get a little hazy for me.

Arsenal are in need of a win. After a defeat and a draw in the first two games, three points today would complete that sequence nicely, and we play Watford away from home. Last season we beat them 3-0 with second half goals, and today the manager has to try and build on the defensive showing against Leicester, but add a bit more threat.

I suppose his two big decisions today are his midfield and who plays up front. Does he bring back Mesut Ozil to pull the strings? I’d certainly be tempted if I were him. I know it’s still a bit early after his extended holidays, but he’s pretty good at this football lark, and maybe returning him to the side might allow him to get more out of Alexis Sanchez up front.

There is the possibility of going with Olivier Giroud there, and shifting Alexis wide, but Wenger said of the French striker:

Giroud is still a little fraction behind physically.

So my suspicion is Alexis will start but we’ll have the option of last season’s top scorer to come off the bench if we need him. Further back though, he has some thinking to do. If he does start Ozil, then it’s two from Xhaka, Wilshere, Elneny, Cazorla and Coquelin. I have to say I’m digging this midfield depth in a big way, but it doesn’t make it any easier to figure out what he’s going to do.

I wonder if he even quite knows himself which partnership will work best. Is it going to change game by game depending on the opposition, or will he look to build a partnership that can establish itself on a regular basis? Anyway, he’s got plenty to choose from today, so let’s hope whichever duo he does select click properly.

It certainly sounds like he’s going to pick a team that will combat Watford’s formation, saying:

Their 3-1-4-2 system means that defensively you protect more of the centre and of course, naturally, we have to use the width of the pitch well and combine very quickly to to penetrate their defensive block. We will have to play our game at our best to have the chance to score goals.

And with two up front, the manager is aware they’ll have to work hard:

They were very efficient last year with the two strikers up front together, Ighalo and Deeney. One of the keys for us will be to keep them quiet.

The other key, of course, is to score goals ourselves, and as much as the midfield selection today might have protection in mind, it also has to function in an offensive way too. Last season we found it difficult to connect the top and bottom ends of the pitch, and you’d think the signing of Xkaha was made with that in mind. The front three against Leicester – Alexis, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain – really didn’t combine to any great effect, so if they get the nod again today, let’s hope they’re a little more on the same wavelength.

Kick off today is 3pm.

Just a note regarding our live blog, and the arses. We are getting there, it’s taking a bit longer than expected – but then you knew that – due to the fact a lot of it needs to be recoded with the wotsit and the whizzbang-doohickey. Those are technical terms that Arseblog Tom has been using anyway. All going well though, we should be up and running again after the Interlull.

In other news, the manager more or less confirmed the deals for Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi, saying:

We are working on the deals. We are not close enough to announce to you today that they will sign for us. Will we sign anybody before the end of the transfer window? I am 99% confident.

Cautious as ever, but the fact that Arsene Wenger even admitted the deals were even going down is enough to make you sure. There was no ‘We are not close to signing anybody’ or ‘I do know this player’. The expectation is that both these deals will be completed over the weekend, and over the course of the Interlull they’ll settle into their new surroundings. Unless something remarkable happens, I would say that’s probably it in terms of players coming in, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or two go out.

Wenger admitted Calum Chambers could be one of them, but insisted Mustafi’s arrival was not something that would kill his Arsenal career. He does need a loan move though, and he needs to play regularly. On the Arsecast this week, the Man from East Lower said he’d heard of the possibility of Chambers going abroad to play, which I think would be a great move if possible. Too few English players do that, and as a learning experience from a professional and personal point of view, it would be fantastic. Let’s see where he ends up.

There’s some more from the manager on a ‘strange’ transfer window, and news that Thierry Henry is going to be the Assistant Manager of Belgium, working with Roberto Martinez. If nothing else he’ll certainly become an expert in teams that can’t hold onto a lead. Lots of attacking talent to work with though.

New signing Takuma Asano – who looked delighted to meet his Arsenal teammates – will spend the season on loan with Stuttgart. They’re currently in the German second division, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on there. If he’s got what it takes, you’d like to think he could have a pretty successful season in front of goal. One to keep an eye on anyway.

Finally, have a listen to yesterday’s Arsecast in which we discuss Mustafi, Perez, and all the rest. Something to listen to this morning as we wait for the game later.


As ever we’ll have all the post-game stuff like match report, stats, player ratings and the rest over on Arseblog News. Fingers crossed for the right result today. More from me tomorrow.

Until then.

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