The Emirates stadium provided the backdrop for Watford’s highlight of the season. This afternoon the Hornets return to Arsenal’s home for the second time in three weeks. Memories of that FA Cup quarter-final win are very much fresh in the mind. The Gunners will be smarting.
When Quique Sanchez Flores and his Watford side travelled to north London last month FA Cup quarter-final tie they were expected to be beaten. They were deemed cannon fodder in Arsenal’s quest to extend their unbeaten FA Cup run to 17 matches. How wrong that turned out to be.
Odion Ighalo’s smart finish and Adlene Guedioura’s thunderous strike helped the Hornets upset the odds and clinch a 2-1 win. It was a painful defeat for Arsenal. You just had to look at the way Mesut Ozil kicked the turf as he trudged off to see that. They will want retribution.
“We know it’s going to be difficult against Watford because we only played them recently and they knocked us out of the FA Cup, but we’re hungry for revenge,” Nacho Monreal told Arsenal’s club website. “It’s a completely different competition. They’re not fighting for big things so we need to show that we are.”
That last sentence isn’t entirely correct. Watford are still, just about, fighting for survival. Their Premier League status for next season has yet to be secured and the Hornets have faltered since the turn of the year. They’ve won just two league games, against relegation-threatened Newcastle United and free-falling Crystal Palace, and have collected the same amount of points, nine, as Aston Villa since Christmas.
“We are not safe,” Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford’s head coach, reiterated ahead of the game. “Our ambition is to always improve. At this moment I have a feeling that we’ve maybe been on standby for the last month. We are in the middle of a comfort zone and I don’t like the feelings I’ve had during some matches. We’ve spoken to the players to try and solve the situation. We have to recover the energy we usually play with in matches.”
That energy was certainly present on Watford’s previous trip to the Emirates. But Sanchez Flores is placing no stock in that match. In fact, he thinks the Hornets’ victory three weeks ago makes today’s clash even trickier.
“It’s a completely different game, a completely different competition and a completely different scenario,” the Spaniard said. “For sure they will want revenge. We need to be cautious. Playing at the Emirates it is always difficult. They are a tough team. We have to play well, defend very well, be passionate and fight a lot. But during the season we’ve always forgotten the conditions of the opponent. We think about ourselves. They are a good team and have very good players, we will have to be at our best to win. The FA Cup win does make it harder but every single match is difficult.”