Mesut Ozil makes his first start of the season as Arsenal visits Watford and new/old manager Quique Sanchez Flores on Sunday at Vicarage Road (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).
Ozil has two goals and four assists in nine appearances against Watford.
Following a sluggish start, an up-to-speed Everton, powered by Richarlison, Alex Iwobi and Moise Keane, look to continue on the same path, with similar speed.
In their first league starts, Keane and Iwobi contributed positively in the Toffees’ three-goal performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Couple Marco Silva‘s new arrivals with Richarlison and Gyfi Sigurdson, and the side’s current attacking prowess is what the side desperately needed when the season first kicked off. It now seems like Everton’s lucrative investments on their attack is paying dividends.
With Bournemouth’s defensive struggles in mind, things can be worse than a trip to the southern tip of England for Everton.
Despite a win against Aston Villa earlier this season, injury-ravaged Bournemouth are struggling to stay afloat. In their last three league matches, the Cherries have allowed 18 shots on target, seven goals. The attack isn’t compensating for the lack of defensive stability either, scoring four goals in the team’s five competitive matches this season.
There is a small silver lining for Eddie Howe and Co. ahead of Sunday, though. Midfielder Lewis Cook, 22, is slated to make his Dean Court return, following a lengthy injury.
For a second time at Vicarage Road, the Quique Sanchez Flores era is on.
The 54-year-old’s official return to Watford comes after three years away in Spain and in China. This time, though, the stakes are much higher and the room for error is much slimmer. The table says it all.
With only a point to their name after four bouts, the Hornets are quickly morphing into the league’s bottom dwellers. Will the Spaniard be able to overturn a disastrous defense and a lackluster attack that has only produced two goals? Unlike other teams in the league, Watford’s manager has a nearly-healthy team, and is only a few weeks away from regaining captain Troy Deeney from a knee injury.
That said, there is a stack of work to be done, and taking on Arsenal and Manchester City back-to-back is probably not going to help Watford’s frail state.
Coming in, Arsenal aren’t as feeble as their counterparts, but their confidence (and standing on the table) can use some help, following a loss to Liverpool and a draw to Tottenham in their last two league matches.
The Gunners, who in three weeks will play seven matches, will be without Alexandre Lacazette, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang becomes the team’s lone center-forward option with experience. Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney, too, are not expected to dress on Sunday, although manager Unai Emery hinted that their returns are imminent (a defensive boost, in theory).
Given their far-from-ideal situation, improvement is not something Arsenal are going to shy away from on Sunday against a transitioning and vulnerable Watford.
Arsenal have confirmed that star striker Lacazette will be out until October with a left ankle injury.
Lacazette, 28, has been playing through the pain but in a statement on Friday the north London club confirmed he will miss the Premier League game at Watford on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and the rest of this month.
“After assessments to an ongoing ankle issue, we have advised that Alex will need to rest and strengthen his ankle to regain full fitness. Alex has been playing through this injury for several weeks. He is likely to be back in action in October.”
How big of a blow is this to Arsenal?
They have Aubameyang and Pepe up top, so should be set for a goal threat, but Lacazette’s sharpness in and around the box has been evident early in the season as he scored against Tottenham and Burnley and his ability to pop up with a goal when Arsenal need it most will be missed.
This injury update also explains why Emery left Lacazette out of the team against Liverpool.
The Frenchman has been nursing this problem for quite some time and has battled through the pain barrier, but now is not the right time to take a risk with his long-term fitness. It is a marathon, not a sprint, as Arsenal’s top four hopes and possible UEFA Europa League glory hinge on a fully-fit Lacazette delivering 20-25 goals.
Defensively the Gunners have Kieran Tierney, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Dinos Mavropanos back in full training, so there is good news on that score, but Emery will be frustrated that he cannot unleash his full-strength attack on Watford, Aston Villa and Manchester United in their next three PL games.
There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?
It’s going to be a defender heavy list.
Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).
But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.
It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).
Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?
Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.
It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.
This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.
Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.
The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.
Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.
The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.
So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).
Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).
The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).
We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.
It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.
An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.
Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).
Arsenal somehow turned early dominance into a 2-0 deficit, but erased it and then some against a Spurs side which wobbled again in drawing top opposition at home.
Here are three things we took away from the pulsating encounter, which left more questions than answers for both teams.
We’ve now seen both Arsenal and Spurs look clearly second best over 90 minutes against Liverpool and Man City, respectively. It’s still super early, but maybe there are three distinct classes in the race for the Top Six places.
Luiz gonna Luiz, and Xhaka gonna Xhaka
No, that’s not a good thing. Arsenal’s twin time bombs turned a dominant first half into a 2-0 deficit.
David Luiz‘s lackadaisical life as a Gunner continues in the opening 10 minutes at the Emirates, as the ex-Chelsea man nearly gave away a free kick to Harry Kane with a silly challenge that went uncalled.
It was foreshadowing, as Luiz got caught in two minds when following Heung-Min Son. He was shook by a simple run behind him, and then didn’t bother to get in the path of Eriksen’s run to the back post to deposit a rebound for 1-0.
You’ll recall that Luiz got cooked by Mohamed Salah in similar fashion last week. Both matches were close, and both mistakes mattered to the score line.
As for Xhaka, he defies his statistics at every turn. Over 90 minutes, he’s going to be one of your best players (See his terrific vision to set-up of Pepe in the 85th minute). But in at least one moment, he’s going to absolutely short-circuit your goals.
In this case, the Swiss star slid into Son with the ball gone and only minuscule hope of anything positive. No miracle arrived, rather a penalty to Spurs and Harry Kane rarely misses those.
That was 2-0 Spurs despite Arsenal control of the match.
Pepe, Auba, Laca trident verdict = Pretty, pretty good
Unai Emery handed Arsenal’s best trident its first start, and Pepe’s otherworldly close-range pass allowed Lacazette to burst through the 18 to smash past Hugo Lloris.
Aubameyang would add a goal soon after Lacazette subbed out of the match, and it would be foolhardy to imagine that the hour-plus of dealing with the trident wore on Spurs defenders.
The performance wasn’t picture perfect — they did only score the one goal in 67 minutes together — but you have to think they’ll cook a lot of defenses that hold less quality than Spurs.
Spurs leave a lot to be desired
When you consider that Tottenham was given among the most fortunate 2-0 leads you’ll see, this was a poor result even given the venue. Outshot 26-15 and off-balance often, Spurs ought to give Harry Winks, as well as their center backs and goalkeeper, free dinner.
The other goal came from Xhaka’s absurd challenge on Spurs MOTM Son, who was very very good. Late chances were there, but Harry Kane embellished to try and win a late penalty and Dele Alli‘s lone moment as a sub was also a headfirst baseball slide which went unheeded. The calm of Spurs’ last season was simply not there.
Still, Son was quite good, Winks again a wonderful engine — sometimes single-handedly willing the unit forward — and Hugo Lloris mostly up to the task. The defense did stop the bleeding and preserve an away point. There are things to like from the season’s slow start, but Sunday’s performance was entertaining but not encouraging.
It’s easy to forget that Unai Emery has turned average ingredients into silverware-winning dishes in his day, so it’s no surprise that Arsenal’s manager was able to adjust his side to get a point at home.
Yes, even against Spurs stingy defense.
It’s clear that Emery thinks the Aubameyang-Lacazette-Pepe trident won’t allow him to include more than one forward-thinking midfielder like Dani Ceballos or Henrikh Mkhitaryan in his midfield (Mkhitaryan was pedestrian if not poor off the bench). That’s presumably why he opted for Lucas Torreira and Xhaka with Guendouzi.
Emery’s men didn’t lose their nerve down 2-0 — a credit to him — and the comeback started before he made his subs, but Ceballos was a big part of the difference. Would playing Ceballos and Guendouzi with Torreira sacrifice too much size and grit in the middle? Probably, and that’s the hard bargain Emery will have to strike on a week-to-week basis: Is he better with his trident together, or with a necessary fourth midfielder?