Watford have ramped up their pre-season schedule with friendlies coming thick and fast. On Saturday, the Hornets played two separate friendlies, one at Vicarage Road in front of fans against West Bromwich Albion and another behind closed doors against Brentford. On Tuesday, the club travelled to Stevenage and played out a 1-1 draw. And most recently, on Wednesday, Watford against Arsenal at the Gunners’ training ground to play in another friendly match was on the schedule.
Watford Against Arsenal: Plenty of Positives for Watford Despite Defeat
How the Match Unfolded
The final scoreline of 4-1 in Arsenal’s favour misleads how the match panned out when it mattered most. Eddie Nketiah opened the scoring for Arsenal with a wonderful curling effort. Philip Zinckernagel equalised later on in the first half after brilliant pressing by Watford forced defensive discombobulation. For the majority of the first half, Watford dominated threatening possession and looked at least as equally as strong as Arsenal, if not stronger.
The Hornets used the second half to give minutes to fringe and youth players, whereas Arsenal’s team at the full-time whistle still contained many first-team players. Thus, Arsenal were able to score three times in the second half as Watford were without most of the men who will play a big role in their quest for survival. Overall, when the Hornets’ stronger eleven was on the pitch (while still missing a few key players), they performed encouragingly.
Midfield Dilemma Not as Dire as Once Thought
New signings Peter Etebo and Imran Louza got to lineup alongside each other for the first time this pre-season. Etebo played in the number six role whereas Louza was more advanced in the centre of the midfield. Both were standout performers for the Hornets. Etebo continued to look composed on the ball, robust in defence and wise with his passes. Louza provided a creative eye, talented presser, and innovative passer.
With Nathaniel Chalobah and Will Hughes’ contract scenarios signalling towards potential departures for the two, there were worries as to whether the Hornets would be able to fill their shoes. However, Etebo and Louza filled their roles admirably against strong opposition. Even though another midfield reinforcement will be sought, as depth may be a concern as shown in the Club’s last friendly, the situation surrounding having talented starting midfielders at Vicarage Road is less worrisome for the Hornets than previously thought.
Fluid Tactics Show Xisco Munoz’s Ambition
In the Premier League, Watford will have significantly less possession per match than they did in the Championship. Instead of expecting to dominate matches, the Hornets will be the team expected to be dominated. Thus, the Hornets will need to either counterattack effectively or apply high presses to maximise impromptu chances in front of the net.
The Hornets undoubtedly have a squad capable of being lethal on counterattacks – this was even seen in the Championship. With pace such as Ismaila Sarr’s, Joshua King’s, Cucho Hernandez’s, and Emmanuel Dennis’ in the team, there is no shortage of players adept at counterattacks. However, in this match, Xisco Munoz decided to experiment with deploying a high press to create chances, and, as the goal shows, the Hornets found success in doing so.
Defensive Worries Persist for Watford Against Arsenal
Despite the many positives Watford have to take away from the match, a question mark remaining is in regards to the defence. Admittedly, Kiko Femenia, William Troost-Ekong, and Francisco Sierralta – three of the Hornets’ main four starting defenders last season under Xisco – were unavailable for the match. Thus, Jeremy Ngakia, Christian Kabasele, and Craig Cathcart got the nod against the Gunners.
Kabasele looked relatively composed throughout the match, though Ngakia was frequently caught out of position after committing too far forwards on attacks. Cathcart, after making an embarrassing error leading to a goal against Stevenage on Tuesday, already has concern surrounding his name.
When Troost-Ekong is inevitability selected to participate in AFCON in January, the Hornets, as of now, will only be with Sierralta, Cathcart, Kabasele, and 19-year-old Mattie Pollock (who may be loaned out to gain more experience) at centre-back. The depth is a concern, and even the starting options are far from flawless. With just over one month left in the transfer window, do not be surprised to see the Hornets sign another defender. It is not imperative, though it is highly advisable.