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Arsenal vs Watford: Gunners to relegate the Hornets?

By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)

Watford will be justifiably irritated with Arsenal if a result goes in favour of the North London side tomorrow. After a dismal performance on Monday from the Gunners, Aston Villa climbed out of the relegation zone and currently look like the most likely side to finish in 17th place. In consequence of Villa's surprise win, the Hornets dropped into the bottom three and if they fail to gain any points at the Emirates, they’ll likely be down. Even if they gain all three points, relegation could still be on the cards.

Finally, Watford's record with regard to poor managerial appointments has caught up with them. Four men have been trusted to sit in the manager’s seat over the course of the season. Three of these men have been permanent manager’s of the club and all three have received their marching orders.

The most bizarre sacking was that of Nigel Pearson, who gave the Hornets a fighting chance to survive. A chance they quite simply didn’t deserve. They seemed all but relegated when the former Leicester boss took over.

Now, of course, there must be reasons for his firing. There must be things the public don’t know. But frankly, with two games to go, surely the best thing for all parties would have been to let the enigmatic Englishman see out the season with the Hertfordshire club.

After all, heading into the last two games of the 2019/20 campaign against City and Arsenal, Pearson’s record against top sides since arriving at Watford should’ve given him a saving grace. During his tenure with the club, his Watford side picked up points against the likes of Manchester United, Wolves, Spurs and of course, Liverpool. The Watford board would be foolish not to have recognised that their chances of picking up points against either City or Arsenal would’ve increased if the seasoned Nigel Pearson was still in charge.

Instead of keeping Pearson on, the Watford hierarchy decided Hayden Mullins should be the man trusted to keep Watford up. Mullins, who has managed the Watford Under-23s side since 2016, is currently acting as a caretaker for the second time this season. It’s hard to say what his personal vision of how football should be played is. So, instead, I’ll take a look at how Watford set up under Pearson.

After years of operating in a 4-4-2, Nigel Pearson tweaked the formation at Watford and introduced a 4-2-3-1 system to the players. Troy Deeney continued to play as a target man whilst Abdoulaye Doucouré played in behind him. This was a decision that raised a few eyebrows at first, but one which has worked to great effect, as shown through the brilliant 3-0 win against Liverpool prior to lockdown.

Either side of Doucourè, the talented Ismaila Sarr usually starts on the right and Roberto Pereyra plays on the opposite flank. These three play in front of a double pivot of Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes. All 5 of these players are physical in their nature, so you’ll be unsurprised to hear that during their best days under Pearson this was a team that bulldozed through opponents.

As for our set up, I expect changes. In defence, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney should come in for Cedric and Sead Kolasinac to increase their match sharpness ahead of the cup final. Then, in midfield, Xhaka should come in for Lucas Torreira, who disappointed at Villa Park.

In attack, to decrease any chance of major fatigue, Alex Lacazette should drop down to the bench. Lacazette has barely missed a minute of football since Eddie Nketiah’s red card against Leicester, so in order to ensure he is sharp for the final he’ll miss out on a starting spot. Consequently, Nketiah will start through the middle with Aubameyang and Pépé operating as the inside-forwards. If all three are on song, they should tear apart Watford's shaky defence.

To be forthright, this Premier League season has been nothing short of shambolic. Certainly, the worst I have seen as an Arsenal fan. As Arteta insinuated in his press conference post-Villa, we deserve to be mid-table. Nonetheless, it’d still be nice to see the boys end this league campaign on a high. Gaining some momentum going into the all important FA Cup Final is crucial.

Predicted Lineup: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pépé, Nketiah, Aubameyang

Score Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Watford

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