Arsenal and Watford meet in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, with the Gunners looking to extend an unbeaten run in this competition which has lasted nearly three seasons. Arsene Wenger’s men have looked vulnerable, however, having failed to win in five before their thumping 4-0 victory over Hull City on Tuesday.
Numerous injuries for the hosts will give Watford belief that they are capable of turning over Arsenal, although their form may suggest otherwise. No goals in three games would appear to suggest that the Hornets have hit something of a wall as their excellent return season to the Premier League comes to an end, and that is a record which is clearly going to have to improve if they are to win at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Arsenal’s approach is unlikely to change, regardless of who is given the nod to start this game. They have been weak in recent weeks, exposing their soft underbelly to both Manchester United and Swansea City who simply out-battled them, but their commitment to attacking football will not waver.
Wenger will be hoping that his side keep hold of possession far more efficiently than they managed at White Hart Lane last week, with long spells of possession likely to quickly tire a leggy Watford side, while the Hornets have proved themselves vulnerable to crosses into the box over the last few weeks.
Quique Sanchez Flores has tended to rather shut up shop when his side have visited the big guns in the league this season, but has promised not to adopt such an approach for this one. His line-up, which has, at times, included three holding midfielders in a 4-3-3 shape of late, hardly lends itself to goal-scoring, but the Hornets solidity is what has made them difficult to beat all season.
Odion Ighalo looks badly short of confidence, and Flores may well continue his policy of leaving the Nigerian hotshot out of his cup line-up, and Troy Deeney could end up leading the line, rather than playing in more of a midfield role.
Watford fans would love to see Flores give this one a go though, rather than sit back and wait for the inevitable.
When they last met
The sides last met back in October, when Arsenal visited Vicarage Road in the Premier League and ran out 3-0 winners.
The Hornets, yet to find the form which catapulted them up the table in November and December, impressed in the early stages of the contest, carving out numerous opportunities which Ighalo and Deeney uncharacteristically wasted.
And the Gunners punished them in the second half, with an outstanding display of attacking football dismantling all the Hornets’ good work.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were involved as the latter put the visitors in front, and the duo did not allow the Hornets a sniff for the remainder. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey out the game beyond doubt in a 10-minute second-half blitz, but Ozil and Sanchez were the architects, producing a quality of football not seen at Vicarage Road for some time.
Arsenal have numerous injury concerns, and may well make further changes just three days ahead of their Champions League second leg game with Barcelona. Though the tie looks dead and buried, Wenger cannot afford to be seen to throw it away and his selection for this game will be fascinating. Petr Cech, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel and Aaron Ramsey are all doubts.
Jose Manuel Jurado remains doubtful for the Hornets, with a niggling calf injury not yet cured, while Miguel Britos misses out with an injury picked up in the warm-up ahead of the Leicester City game last week. The news regarding Craig Cathcart is better, and Watford’s reliable centre-half may be fit.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Gibbs; Elneny, Coquelin; Walcott, Iwobi, Sanchez; Giroud.
Watford (4-3-2-1): Pantilimon; Nyom, Cathcart, Ake, Holebas; Capoue, Watson, Behrami; Abdi, Deeney, Amrabat.