The Gunners’ final game of the Premier League season yielded a win against Watford and three points, but Arsenal couldn’t provide a performance to finish the campaign in style. In fact, Watford were the more aggressive, determined, and impressive. It’s hard to deny that they were desperately unlucky not to take the three points by winning 3-4.
Mikel Arteta will know how close the Arsenal vs Watford game was to a loss and but for his fair share of good fortune, the superb goal-keeping of Emiliano Martínez, and some good old fashioned panic-stricken defending, it could have been an entirely different story.
Watford had been rolled overall season and were even more inconsistent than the Gunners but, they turned up with spirit and determination to try to secure their Premier League status and made Arsenal look second best even though they had a 3-0 advantage.
Watford never gave up and despite an early penalty and the following two goals, they looked far better, by the time they got two in as reply, lots of Arsenal fans were expecting the worst. It was Arsenal that needed to chase the ball, cut down space and close off the flanks and look to counter on the break, but Watford pinched the script and followed it to the letter.
Arsenal’s midfield couldn’t get a grip, with Ceballos the only creator and it was obvious that the backline was its usual unstable self, with Rob Holding looking dreadfully uncomfortable on the right side of the three. Mustafi almost certainly would have kept Holding out of this side but for injury and now Arteta has to primarily go with what he has in reserve because of injuries.
No Mustafi, No Mari, No Chambers or Saliba, which probably makes it the Spaniard’s toughest decision with the Arsenal vs Chelsea FA Cup final looming.
Some will be offended by my comments regarding Rob Holding and in all fairness, he has been injured but playing on the right isn’t for him, he’s a CB in every sense and he does that incredibly well on his day, but I’m not sure his confidence or fitness levels are sufficient to face Chelsea but what other options are there?
Kolasinac? Sokratis? I’m not sure either would pip Holding to the team sheet. Arteta would be well advised to snap up Malang Sarr for next season and wave goodbye to at least four of their current 8 CB’s.
Next season, Arsenal will also need fresh impetus in the centre of midfield, either by promoting Emile Smith Rowe or buying a number 10, who can not only open up stubborn defences but also defend enthusiastically when his side is without the ball.
Arsenal have always looked pretty in possession but they look slightly lost when they have to chase and force the game. I can’t imagine that Torreira is going to play a major role in Saturday’s FA Cup final unless it’s to hold on towards the end of a tight game. Ceballos and Xhaka have a balance that works and perhaps, this is their sternest test together. The FA Cup final could truly depend on who controls the middle and Arteta’s final selection will be of extreme interest.
Elsewhere, Luiz will hold the middle berth of the trio if Arteta persists with a back three, with Tierney on the left. There’s a case for a formation change under the circumstances because Arsenal might be more solid with a back four of Bellerin, Holding, Luiz, and Tierney.
Even just by reading that, it looks safer and instead of the midfield wingers scrambling in reverse to cover the vulnerable back three, they will never be far from the recovery position. That may appear to be overly cautious and negative, but this game could hinge on just one mistake or moment of sublime brilliance. The defence needs to be up to the onslaught it will receive, especially in the second half.
Arsenal can’t go gun-ho, finding themselves behind after the first 45 minutes, not that they haven’t got the potential to erase a deficit, they have but this could be a tactical masterclass from Mikel Arteta. Depending on how the game is in the first half and how it ends, the second spell could see a change of shape and the introduction of fresh legs and pace.
I expect a 3-4-3 formation even though, 4-4-2 might be advisable. It’s a final that needs to be won and a frontline of three presents a greater threat. We already know Lacazette and Aubameyang will be present but can Pepe keep Nketiah or Nelson out of the side? I’d certainly give him the chance on the big occasion to prove the doubters wrong.
So, let’s look elsewhere now that’s the predicted strike force. Martinez, of course, remains in goal and the trio of Holding, Luiz and Tierney look the strongest available. Tierney is a delight going forward, but he also has great positional awareness and covers the left flank and centre of defence.
In the middle, Bellerin on the right would add the drive but Maitland-Niles has a shout with a decent showing recently. The middle is surely the Ceballos and Xhaka combo that has shown such promise in the rebooted season. Saka takes the last slot on the left in my opinion. The lad has had a sensational season and can now call himself Arsenal’s regular number 7.
As for the others, Willock is a squad player at this point, he’d be used with 10 minutes left on the clock. Torreira would be used to protect a narrow advantage, as would Kolasinac. Nketiah would add a new problem for Chelsea as would Nelson if they come off the bench.
It’s been a strange season, but let’s hope that the FA Cup final is going to be a tense and exciting battle as well as a showcase for the Premier League and two of its brightest young managers.