Johannesburg - A rare mood of optimism seems to have settled over Arsenal's Emirates Stadium after last Thursday’s 2-0 away win over AC Milan in their Europa League last-16 first leg tie after four consecutive defeats.
It is likely to be challenged by a Watford side who have rediscovered their impetus under manager Javi Gracia. With three victories in their past four matches, including a 4-1 win over Chelsea in early February, the Hornets could fancy an upset in today’s English Premier League (EPL) clash.
That is not to say Arsenal’s positivity is not entirely without justification. Their performance against Milan was gritty and determined, and was a far cry from a number of disastrous displays, including two demoralising back-to-back defeats to Manchester City.
The proven quality and class of Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has rekindled hope. Whether they were the kind of players the Gunners needed in the last transfer window is a different issue.
In the same sense, the retention of Mesut Özil on a new contract until 2021 was presented as a major coup, however, it might be asked why no other club was willing to meet the wage demands of the mercurial German, who would have been available on a free transfer at the end of 2017/18.
The Londoners are still what they have been for years under manager Arsène Wenger – no more physically robust or likely to mount a serious challenge for major honours.
While they produce the occasional dazzling showing or the rarer gutsy display as against AC Milan, there remains a soft underbelly that Watford could look to exploit. The visitors from Hertfordshire have won two of their past three games at Emirates Stadium.
Today’s other EPL game: Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur
Bournemouth are seven points away from reaching the widely accepted safety mark of 40 points on the log. They will be up for the fight against a Tottenham side still hurting after crashing out of the Champions League at the hands of Juventus midweek.
The Cherries are arguably two wins and a draw away from escaping any fear of relegation to the Championship. Manager Eddie Howe has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround after his side spent December in the drop zone.
Meanwhile, the Lilywhites have not yet secured a top-four spot, despite enjoying a five-point advantage in fourth place ahead of Chelsea in fifth.
A victory for Mauricio Pochettino’s men would go a long way towards overcoming the disappointment of the heartbreaking loss to Bianconeri and could ensure a top-four finish.