March 31, 2016

As the calendar turns to April, it seems like an annual refrain at The Emirates: It's now or never for Arsenal to make their title run.

The Gunners begin that quest Saturday by hosting a Watford team seeking a second victory there that could all but secure their top-flight status for next season.

Arsenal (16-7-7) went into the international break on a positive note, winning 2-0 at Everton as Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi scored first-half goals. That took away some of the sting from being bounced in both the FA Cup and the Champions League to the Hornets (10-7-13) and Barcelona, respectively.

Those defeats again rose the fan base's animus toward Arsene Wenger as he tries to figure out a way to overcome an 11-point deficit to Leicester City over Arsenal's final eight matches.

The schedule does the Gunners some favours - six are against those currently in the bottom half of the table - and they no longer have the distraction of chasing trophies after being denied a shot at a third straight FA Cup with the loss to Watford.

"We're aware that we don't just depend on ourselves - that's obvious," defender Nacho Monreal told Arsenal Player. "Right now we're in third place so I think the only objective we need to set for ourselves is winning the eight matches we have left and then what will be will be.

"Even if we do win all eight games that doesn't mean we'll be champions, but what does depend on us is winning those eight games."

The 19-year-old Iwobi may emerge as an essential piece to Wenger's plans having started three of the last four matches across all competitions for Arsenal and scoring his first goal with the Gunners. Iwobi came off the bench for both legs of Nigeria's African Cup of Nations tie versus Egypt, but the Super Eagles were eliminated with a 2-1 loss on aggregate.

Many of Arsenal's players added to their cap totals during the international window, with Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck scoring in friendlies for France and England, respectively. David Ospina, pressed into starting duty for Arsenal with Petr Cech sidelined by a calf injury, backstopped Colombia to a pair of World Cup qualifier victories in South America.

Alexis Sanchez didn't score in either of Chile's qualifiers, but he did have two assists in La Rojo's 4-1 win over Venezuela.

Watford had their share of players abroad during the break, most notably defender Craig Cathcart likely nailing down a spot in Northern Ireland's starting XI after playing the full 180 minutes in a victory over Slovenia and a draw against Wales.

Despite dropping three on the trot in league play and having just one win in their last seven (1-2-4) in the top flight, the Hornets are still tantalisingly close to the magic 40-point mark that almost always ensures safety from the drop. Watford, though, also have their head in the clouds ahead of their impending trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semifinals, a trip made possible from their last visit to the Emirates.

In that March 13 contest, Watford soaked up pressure before striking on the counter, first through Odion Ighalo five minutes after the restart and then on a thunderous strike from Adlene Guedioura just past the hour. The Hornets conceded late to Welbeck, and their 8,000 traveling fans survived a nervy finish as the Gunners took shots from seemingly all angles while putting few on target to challenge Costel Pantilimon.

"We go there hoping we can win, it's not impossible, as we've shown we can do that already," midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado told watfordfc.com after making his return from injury in Watford's 2-1 loss to Stoke City prior to the break.

"We are also in the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup, and reaching the Final would be fantastic, we are only one step away from that."

Arsenal have swept all five Premier League matches between the teams by a 12-3 aggregate and ran out comfortable 3-0 winners Oct. 17 in the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road. Sanchez, Giroud and Ramsey all scored in a 12-minute span of the second half.

Watford have more FA Cup road victories than they do league ones since Boxing Day, having claimed just four points from six matches (1-1-4).

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