Watford should pose Arsenal a stern test
Gunners on a losing run
Sky Sports Premier League, 1.30pm Sunday
Arsene Wenger likened his Arsenal team to a boxer climbing off the canvas after watching them triumph 2-0 against Milan on Thursday but the Gunners could be pushed back onto the ropes when they face improving Watford at the Emirates.
Arsenal's fighting qualities were questioned in October by Watford striker Troy Deeney, who accused them of lacking 'cojones' after the Hornets came from behind to defeat them 2-1 at Vicarage Road.
Deeney's comments have added some spice to the fixture but Arsenal are not in the best position to respond.
An end to their sequence of three successive Premier League defeats would be welcome but Arsenal's top priority is the Europa League and Wenger's selection will be made with next Thursday's last-16 second leg in mind.
There were a few players running on empty towards the end of the Milan game.
Calum Chambers (cramp) and Sead Kolasinac (ankle) had to be substituted and injury-prone midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere may need protecting if they are to be preserved for the second Milan game.
The major positives for Arsenal are the significant confidence-boost they will have gleaned from their success and the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was ineligible for Europa League duty.
But the short turnaround puts Arsenal at a disadvantage to Watford, who have been focusing on their trip to the Emirates since a 1-0 victory at home to West Brom last Saturday.
Watford were far from spectacular against Albion but they looked solid at the back and have kept three clean sheets in five league games since Javi Gracia was appointed in January.
The sacking of Marco Silva was widely depicted as the predictable action of trigger-happy owner Gino Pozzo but it was a necessary decision.
Watford lost 11 of their last 16 league matches under Silva and their league position of tenth was starting to look precarious with just four points separating them from the drop zone.
Gracia inherited an injury-ravaged side who were low on confidence and far from guaranteed top-flight safety but has transformed them into an effective unit.
Key players Sebastian Prodl and Troy Deeney, frequently overlooked by Silva, have become mainstays of the side and if their revival continues Watford could still be involved in the race for seventh.
Gracia has shown tactical flexibility during games, switching to a 4-4-2 to great effect in the 1-0 wins over Everton and West Brom, and he could do the same against Arsenal.
Italian international striker Stefano Okaka, who was frozen out by Silva, has emerged as an effective impact substitute and his physical power is superior to that of Deeney, who caused Arsenal problems as a substitute at Vicarage Road.
Defensively, Watford are likely to be tested far more than in any of their matches under Gracia.
But they are playing well enough to pose Arsenal a stern test and look decent value in receipt of a 1.25-goal start on the Asian handicap, guaranteeing a full-stakes profit should they avoid defeat and a half-stakes profit if they lose by one goal.
Watford +1.25 on Asian handicap
2pts 17-20 bet365
Nacho Monreal (back), Alexandre Lacazette and Hector Bellerin (both knee) are out and Sead Kolasinac (ankle) is a doubt. Calum Chambers (cramp) should be available.
Will Hughes (hamstring) made his first appearance of 2018 last weekend and may be ready for a start. Kiko Femenia (illness) should also feature but Younes Kaboul, Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, Christian Kabasele and Gerard Deulofeu are injured.
Watford have won three of their last five matches against Arsenal.
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