How Arsenal’s top-four bid could be derailed by Javi Gracia’s quiet Watford revolution

first_img Comment Advertisement Javi Gracia has transformed Watford’s fortunes during his time in charge (Getty Images)There have been times during the Pozzo family’s seven years in charge of Watford where the Hertfordshire club have appeared to be in a state of complete and utter chaos.Much of that has been down to the instability off the pitch with no fewer than 10 managers having been employed by the club during that time. There was famously a five-week spell in the Autumn of 2014 when the club had four different managers.Despite the seemingly constant turnover of tacticians, though, this has rather improbably been one of the most successful periods in the club’s history. Next season will mark Watford’s fifth consecutive campaign in the Premier League, only the second time they have enjoyed such a run in the top-flight since their glory days in the 1980s.AdvertisementAdvertisementNot only are Watford in amongst a gaggle of sides looking to secure 7th position in the table, but they also have a date at Wembley to look forward to as well having come from 2-0 down to beat Wolves 3-2 after extra-time in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend. It will be only their second ever final appearance and their first since 1984.ADVERTISEMENTIt is no coincidence that Watford are in the midst of their most successful period in recent memory at a time when they are at their most stable. Absolutely pivotal to their strong showing this term has been the job done by the Pozzo’s tenth manager: Javi Gracia. Owner Gino Pozzo has overseen Watford’s promotion from the Championship and subsequent consolidation in the Premier League (Getty Images)A matter of eight hours and 19 minutes after dispensing of the services of Marco Silva following interest from Everton last January, Watford had confirmed their replacement with Gracia parachuting straight in to replace the Portuguese after his desk had been cleared.The timing of the announcement and Gracia’s low profile immediately raised eyebrows. Somewhat predictably, there was a sea of memes in the Twitter responses to Watford’s announcement, with people either questioning who he was or offering him goodwill ahead of an inevitable sacking a few months later.Some 15 months on, Gracia is no longer an unknown quantity and Watford are no longer a laughing stock. Only Gianfranco Zola, the Pozzo’s very first managerial appointment, has lasted longer in the hot seat at Vicarage Road than Gracia. Should the Spaniard secure a top-half finish to go along with a cup final place, this will be Watford’s best season since 1982-83.What has made the 48-year-old’s work all the more impressive is the low-key nature of all. The squad at his disposal is virtually the same one he inherited from Silva and Watford’s other ensemble of short-term managers with only Ben Foster and Gerard Deulofeu newcomers to the starting XI this season.Watford were also one of only three Premier League clubs to turn a profit in the transfer market last summer, boosting their profits by around £13m thanks to the £50m sale of Richarlison to Everton in a move that saw the Brazilian reunite with Silva.Continuity off the pitch has been reflected by continuity on it with Gracia making subtle tweaks rather than wholesale changes to Watford’s tactical setup. For much of their time in the Premier League, Watford have paired their inspirational captain Tory Deeney in attack with a more mobile forward and Gracia has maintained that tradition. Troy Deeney accused Arsenal of lacking ‘cojones’ after they lost to Watford in October 2017 (Getty Images)The pace of Deulofeu and Andre Gray up front also gives them an outlet in the channels should they need to relieve some pressure and knock the ball long. Their ability to mix things up to counter-act the strengths of opponents is something that Gracia deserves plenty of credit for cultivating.AdvertisementAn average of 1.73 points won per game at home this season has Watford behind only the top six clubs and it is that record allied to the variety of their game that sets them out as extremely dangerous opponents for Arsenal – and manager Unai Emery, who played alongside Gracia at Real Sociedad – as they bid to finish in the top four.Watford also have a decent record against Arsenal recently, beating them three times in the last seven meetings including a 2-1 victory the last time they played at Vicarage Road in October 2017 with Deeney scoring a penalty on that particular occasion.Deeney seems to relish coming up against Arsenal scoring twice and registering two assists in seven career appearances against them and following Watford’s last win over Arsenal 18-months ago, he came up with a memorable soundbite, accusing them of lacking ‘cojones’.Arsenal’s recent struggles on the road, meanwhile, have been well-documented and of their remaining fixtures in the Premier League, this appears to be the most likely banana skin that Emery’s side could face. That in itself is a testament to the job done by the unassuming Spaniard in the Watford dugout.More: Arsenal FCArsenal flop Denis Suarez delivers verdict on Thomas Partey and Lucas Torreira movesThomas Partey debut? Ian Wright picks his Arsenal starting XI vs Manchester CityArsene Wenger explains why Mikel Arteta is ‘lucky’ to be managing Arsenal Oliver Young-MylesMonday 15 Apr 2019 8:45 amShare this article via facebookShare this article via twitterShare this article via messengerShare this with Share this article via emailShare this article via flipboardCopy link249Shares How Arsenal’s top four bid could be derailed by Javi Gracia’s quiet Watford revolution Advertisement Gerard Deulofeu has been in inspirational form for Watford in recent matches (Getty Images)Arguably his most innovative move has been to redeploy Deulofeu as a roving No.10 just off Deeney, with the Spaniard thriving in a more central role having spent virtually his entire career to date out on the right wing. With seven goals and five assists in the league not to mention his inspirational double against Wolves in the FA Cup semi-final, this campaign has already been the most productive of the 25-year-old’s career.AdvertisementAdvertisementIn terms of shape, Watford have almost exclusively used a narrow 4-4-2 system with natural central midfield players Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes tucking in on their opposite flanks to flood the middle of the pitch and create space for full-backs Daryl Janmaat and especially, Jose Holebas to charge into.There is no particular metric by which Watford standout as superior to any other in the Premier League. For instance, they rank 17th for the number of shots taken which is only better than relegation-threatened Cardiff, Burnley and Brighton.However, from back to front they are an organised, physical and hard-working side that gives any team in the division a difficult game. Nothing exemplifies Watford’s approach more than their central midfield partnership of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure, both of whom have been amongst the top players in their position in the league this term.Not only are the French duo physically able to dominate opponents in the centre of the pitch they also have the technique to go with it, Capoue acting as the deep-lying playmaker with his expansive passing range and Doucoure offering an attacking threat from deep, as evidenced by his five goals and six assists this season.That blend of brain and brawn characterises the whole team. The set-piece prowess of Holebas and the aerial threat provided by Deeney, Doucoure, Craig Cathcart and others is undoubtedly a key weapon in their armoury, but the presence of technicians such as Pereyra, Deulofeu and Hughes in their side means they are equally capable of stringing together intricate passing moves.last_img

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