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Preview: Watford vs. Arsenal - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Premier League clash between Watford and Arsenal, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.

Arsenal face Watford on Sunday afternoon as both sides return to Premier League action following the first international break of the new season.

The two teams enter the game after vastly differing starts to the season; the Gunners have taken seven points from their opening four matches while Watford, who replaced manager Javi Gracia last weekend, are currently winless in the league.


Watford's Ismaila Sarr celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates on August 27, 2019© Reuters

Watford stopped their run of six consecutive league defeats with the draw against Newcastle United last time out, but that result extended their winless run in all competitions to nine games, which was enough for the board to ditch Gracia and replace him with former boss Quique Sanchez Flores.

Flores was a defence-first coach during his previous stint with the Hornets and there is no evidence as yet to suggest that his approach has particularly changed.

That said, Watford's biggest issue through the first four league games has been their profligacy in front of goal when they actually create openings, scoring just twice in more than 360 minutes of football.

That figure will have to improve if Watford are to preserve their record of taking at least a point from their opening three home league games in each of the last 28 seasons.

The Hornets actually won their first three league games of the last campaign and their fans will be hoping that the traditional 'new manager bounce' will make the players hungrier and help them avoid defeat against Emery's men.

On the flipside, the international break will have limited Flores's time to work with the squad and actually work out his best team ahead of the visit of one of the league's better sides.

Former West Bromwich Albion defender Craig Dawson has been one of the club's most impressive performers thus far this season, recording three blocks in the opening four games, and he will likely be key to Flores's plans for neutralising the Gunners' attack.

Watford opted for three at the back against Newcastle and it would seem likely that they will implement the same formation on Sunday to match Arsenal playing three up top.

Although club captain Troy Deeney, who has been a significant figure in the previous meetings between the two clubs, is still out injured, Watford will be able to welcome Etienne Capoue back to the side and it is likely that the Frenchman will slot right into the midfield.

Recent form: LLLD
Recent form (all competitions): LLLWD


Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring their second goal with Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos on September 1, 2019© Reuters

Arsenal delivered a strong second half last time out to take a point against Tottenham Hotspur in a game that highlighted the issues with Unai Emery's side this season.

While the Gunners were strong when moving forward, creating a number of excellent opportunities to score, they were to easy to open up in the first half and they have been shaky defensively throughout the campaign thus far.

Those defensive frailties could well be exposed against a physical Watford side likely to be feeling the benefits of having a new manager at the helm for their third home game of the league season.

Arsenal fans finally got to see Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe start together against Spurs, with the exciting trio dovetailing well on occasion.

However, any hopes of seeing that partnership continue will have to wait as Lacazette has been ruled out until at least October with an ankle problem, which means that Emery has some tough choices to make regarding the shape of his team on Sunday.

Arsenal, who are also likely to be without Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira after they picked up knocks on international duty, will need to be at their creative best to break down Watford, who under the stewardship of Quique Sanchez Flores are likely to be a much more defensively-oriented outfit.

That need for creativity will likely prompt Dani Ceballos, who was so impressive against Burnley, to be restored to the starting lineup, with academy products Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson also candidates to come into the team for the trip to Hertfordshire.

However, including both could leave the Gunners short on both experience and defensive cover against a side that they have had problems with in the past.

Recent form: WWLD

Team News

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring their first goal on September 1, 2019© Reuters

Aside from the still injured Deeney, Flores has a fully-fit squad to choose from for his first game since being reappointed Watford manager.

He is likely to pick a side similar to that which Gracia picked against Newcastle, although Jose Holebas, Nathaniel Chalobah and Gerard Deulofeu could be in line for recalls to the starting lineup, with Andre Gray still likely to be preferred to former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck.

The news of Lacazette's injury absence will have been a big blow to Emery, especially with his options already limited by Xhaka and Torreira's recent niggles and the start of the Europa League group stage looming.

Arsenal are likely to stick with a 4-3-3 despite the Frenchman's absence, with the option of either moving Aubameyang into the centre and using Nelson out wide or giving a first start to summer signing Gabriel Martinelli.

In the midfield, Torreira is almost certain to miss out while Xhaka may be confined to the bench ahead of next Thursday's game with Eintracht Frankfurt, with Willock and Ceballos likely to start in their absence alongside Matteo Guendouzi.

Watford possible starting lineup:
Foster; Dawson, Kabasele, Cathcart; Femenia, Capoue, Chalobah, Doucoure, Holebas; Deulofeu, Gray

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Kolasinac; Willock, Guendouzi, Ceballos; Pepe, Aubameyang, Nelson

Head To Head

Sunday's game will be the 31st competitive meeting between the two sides, with Arsenal currently leading the way on 17 wins compared to Watford's 12.

Although the Hornets' overall record is quite good, their recent form against the Gunners has been poor - they were the only side not to score at least once against the Gunners last season.

Overall, Arsenal have won the last three meetings and five out of the last six in the league since Watford's return to the top flight.

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We say: Watford 1-2 Arsenal

Although the return of Flores could spark life into Watford's season, Arsenal have more than enough pace and quality in the attacking areas to secure them a third win in five league games.

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Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring their second goal with Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos on September 1, 2019
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