Premier League: Watford stands between Arsenal and return to top four

Arsenal won the reverse fixture between these teams at Emirates Stadium.

Unai Emery has Arsenal in contention for a top-four spot and a return to the Champions League next season.   -  Reuters

After a worrying drop in form midway through the season, Arsenal, under Unai Emery, is showing signs of achieving a strong finish that might help secure its place in the Champions League next season.

The north London club holds a 2-0 advantage from winning the first leg of its Europa League quarterfinal against Napoli at home, while a win against Watford on Monday will propel it to fourth in the Premier League, following Chelsea's loss to Liverpool on Sunday.

Emery has engineered Arsenal's turnaround by shoring up the defence, which has kept four clean sheets in the last five fixtures across all competitions. As an attacking force, Arsenal has been slicker in recent weeks. Aaron Ramsey has chipped in with crucial goals from midfield, while the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-Alexandre Lacazette partnership has flourished too.

Watford comes into the fixture after the high of securing its place in the FA Cup final with a 3-2 comeback win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Its results against current top six make for grim reading, however: it has won only one of its fixtures so far against the top six, a 2-1 victory against Tottenham Hotspur at home in September.

Arsenal itself has struggled for results away from home — it has won five and lost six of its 15 away fixtures in the Premier League — and its away form could yet determine its final league position and whether it goes all the way in Europe.

Team news

Central defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos will serve the first of his two-match suspension for picking up 10 yellow cards, while midfielder Granit Xhaka, who has been out of action with a groin injury, faces a late fitness test.

Watford will be without Jose Holebas (hamstring injury), Domingos Quina (shoulder injury) and Tom Cleverley (calf injury).

What the managers said

Javi Gracia (on whether FA Cup final will be a distraction): "I am only thinking about trying to win the next game. I don't want to think any further."

Unai Emery: "When we started last in the table after the first two matches in the season we were thinking about arriving in this moment with the possibility of being in the top four in our hands."

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