Gunner Thoughts

Match preview: Looking ahead to Watford

Arsenal get set to end their season against Watford. A few thoughts on the match and a bit of Arteta’s thoughts.

The final game of the Premier League may not mean a whole heck of a lot to Arsenal in the grand scheme of things, but it means everything to Watford and Aston Villa who are deadlocked on points and separated by a goal in their battle to not be relegated. Watford will have been incredibly upset to see Arsenal trot out a rotated lineup on Tuesday against Aston Villa and lose, but may get their own opportunity to play a weaker Arsenal side at the weekend.

Arsenal sit in 10th place with no opportunity to move further back in the table and have a major FA Cup final on the horizon. Preserving star player’s legs and making sure no one is added to the injury list before then will be the main priority. It should be pointed out that Arsenal have the opportunity to win 3 points against Watford, get some help in other matches, and slide up to 8th place. While that isn’t enough for Europa League qualification, each spot higher on the table is usually worth a few extra pounds – something Arsenal can’t turn down. It’s far from the type of finish any supporter wants for their team, but 14 draws, 3 coaches, and a season of inconsistency will result in this more times than not.

It will still be a game that Arteta looks to win, wants to see good play, and looks to find players that can create chances, but you have to imagine this side is heavily rotated from normal “starters”. It wouldn’t even surprise me to see it more rotated than what Arsenal put out against Villa.

Arteta’s take

Arteta doesn’t have the ability to accept a game could be viewed as a throwaway, even in the face of a game that clearly matters very little. Asked if the players are prepared to give 100%, Arteta was pretty blunt.

“That’s the way we will prepare the game that’s for sure, we need to know the responsibility we have towards the other clubs and the responsibility we have wearing the shirt in any game. It has to be to win the football game and prepare so if mentally you are not ready, or your level of dedication is not 100 per cent, then you have a problem.”

As far as setting up his ‘best’ line up, “I think it is our responsibility. A strong side doesn’t mean that players that have played less will not participate. For me, it’s more about how we approach the game and how we go into that game to win the game. That is not 50/0, there is no lack of intensity, anything like that. We cannot do that.”

Whether it is about Arsenal’s “responsibility” to Villa or just Arteta’s full-throttle, competitive nature, you can decide for yourself, but you can expect Arsenal to want to win against a struggling Watford side that sacked their coach as a pivotal point in their season, sending a real message.

Arsenal now play a large role in the relegation results for the season. Villa earned three points of the Gunners earlier in the week and Watford will want to do the same. There is a bit of bad blood between the two sides, especially surrounding the controversial Troy Deeney, but Arteta won’t look at this an opportunity to seek ‘revenge’.

“No. I think revenge or when you are annoyed and when you want to put things right is probably because you feel that what has been said is right.” As far as Deeney’s comments, “Every player is free to say whatever they want. I cannot comment on every opinion.”

It’s clear Arteta is unwilling to open up and comment on others the way some of his fellow Premier League managers seem to be – looking at you Jose and Pep (who Arteta refused to comment on), but seems focused on using each match as an opportunity to establish the mentality he wants throughout the club.

Gunner Thoughts

Watford presents an opportunity for those that don’t get match time to play and Arteta to dabble in dynamics. Could we see Matt Smith, Zach Medley, or Trae Coyle play? That would be a bit exciting!

Could we see Matt Macey be called into action? It may seem drastic, but Emi Martinez has made a real appeal to be Arenal’s number one and raised his value in the market at the same time. While Arsenal may want to keep both Leno and Emi, the harsh realities of needing funds to rebuild may cause them to move one of their valuable keepers on. Assessing Matt Macey in a real Premier League match could be an opportunity to see if he is capable of being a back up or cup match keeper for next season. If he were able to be one, it would make moving on Leno or Emi to the highest bidder something to be considered.

In the end, I suspect it will be a side filled with players unlikely to be in the FA Cup Final’s starting XI, but it could be an opportunity for some to put their best foot forward in joining the subs. Players like Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Eddie Nketiah or even Kolasinac. All will want to be strongly considered.

When it comes to Mesut Ozil, or even Guendouzi, I simply don’t know anymore. Everything inside me screams that this is the game we will see Ozil play and yet something in my head tells me he won’t, which would end almost all belief that there is room for him in Arteta’s side.

A win would be great, a good performance would be better. Arsenal as a club need a bounce back from the uncreative, flatline against Villa, even if it’s coming from alternative players.

Predicting a lineup for this one, is darn near impossible so take this with a pinch of salt and I clap for anyone who gets it spot on.

Lineup: Emi, Kolasinac, Holding, Sokratis, Soares, Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Saka, Nketiah, Nelson

This is a return to the 4-2-3-1 formation for a game to accommodate players. Will this be the case? I honestly have a tough time judging.

Go Gunners and enjoy the end of this VOYAGE of a season.

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