Happy Friday folks. After a tedious two-week break, club football returns when we travel to Watford tomorrow evening to kick-start a relentless run of fixtures for Arsenal over the next month or so.
We follow up our trip to Vicarage Road by hosting Bayern Munich on Tuesday and Everton next Saturday, before traveling to Sheffield Wednesday, then Swansea, all before the end of the month. After that it’s Bayern in Germany on November 4th before the north London derby at Emirates stadium four days later, taking us up to the next international break.
That’s seven games in 21 days across three different competitions, which will not only have a huge say on whether we really are set to challenge for the league this season, but also shape our campaign in terms of Europe.
Will we pull off a minor miracle and leave ourselves with a realistic chance of progressing from our Champions League group? Or will it be a Europa League debut or maybe even complete elimination from continental competition? The next three weeks will give us a much better idea and needless to say, savvy squad rotation will be key to our chances of success.
Bayern are clearly the stronger of our next two opponents yet Arsene Wenger suggested at his press conference yesterday that he’ll pick his first-choice team against Watford. When asked if his selection would be influenced by our critical encounter with the German champions on Tuesday evening, he said:
Not at all. For me the most important game is Watford because the Premier League is the most important competition, with the Champions League. I would say the Premier League is the most important competition for us.
You can understand what Arsene means here. We obviously start every season with winning the Premier League and Champions League as our two main targets but given our start in Europe, perhaps there’s an acceptance that a first success in Europe’s premier competition will have to wait for at least another year, so there’s little point in jeopardizing a win at Watford by resting players for midweek.
Then again, if you’re more of an optimist, you’ll point out that four group games remain to be played, so qualification is still in our hands and we should do everything we can to make it happen. I guess it depends on your outlook. It’s certainly a bit of a dilemma for the boss but then that’s what he’s paid for so let’s hope he gets his selection right in both games and we can secure two wins.
Team news is that everyone is reportedly in contention bar the three long-termers Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, although Laurent Koscielny faces a late test on his hamstring and Arsene was due to assess others returning from national team duty a little further before deciding his 11.
In terms of our history against tomorrow’s hosts, despite the first fixture between the two teams taking place as long ago as February 1906 (a 3-0 FA Cup win for us), we’ve only met on a further 20 occasions over the proceeding 109 years or so, with Arsenal winning 10, drawing one and losing nine. But we have won each of our last five games against Watford, stretching back to a 1-0 Premier League success at Highbury in September 1999, when a solitary goal from Nwankwo Kanu gave us all three points.
The game against The Hornets that sticks out for me though, came a year later in April 2000, when a brace from Thierry Henry and one from Ray Parlour put us three up by half time. One of Henry’s strikes in that game saw him weave past a couple of defenders before curling one into the far corner and wheeling away, I think, with his top pulled over his head Fabrizio Ravenelli-style. Thinking back, it was one of the first times it dawned on me that we may have a special player on our hands.
Who knows, maybe Theo will do something similar tomorrow and show he’s got more in common with Thierry than just blistering pace and the number 14. Considering our record goalscorer is likely to be on duty for Sky for the match, I’m guessing we might just get a reminder of that game and his his goals in the build-up to kick-off.