The center-back was dropped by Claudio Ranieri at Arsenal, and the Super Eagle may be worried about his manager’s post-match comments.
On the one hand, you wonder if there are any positives to take from yet another Watford defeat, their seventh of the season.
They failed to score on the road for the fourth time this season and for the fourth time in the last five Premier League games. Conceding their customary goal at Arsenal saw Claudio Ranieri’s winless run against the North London side continue.
The Gunners remain the only team the experienced Italian boss hasn’t beaten in his Premier League career, and that streak remains unbroken against a side the Hornets have never kept a clean sheet against in 15 meetings.
Having hinted after last week’s 1-0 defeat by Southampton he was looking forward to Nicolas Nkoulou being fit enough for his first start, William Troost-Ekong probably feared for his place.
As it turned out, the Nigeria centre-back was left out for the first time this season at the Emirates Stadium, watching on from the sidelines as his colleagues battled an in-form Arsenal.
The former Udinese defender had played every minute of every game since Watford gained promotion, making his manager’s choice to utilize the Cameroonian in his stead even more striking.
Only one goal was conceded, pleasing the Italian who lauded his team’s performance. Compared to the previous weekend against Saints, the expected goals against of 2.0 (vs Southampton) and 1.8 at Arsenal appears close, but a closer inspection adds a layer of context.
The concession of a penalty at the Emirates beefed up the North London side’s xG which was a paltry 1.04 if penalties were taken out.
Interestingly, Arteta’s men failed to fashion any open-play opportunity termed a big chance, further justifying Ranieri’s positive inclination at full-time.
“I’m very satisfied with our performance,” said Ranieri. “The players worked hard together and we had chances to come away with a draw.
“I know we have lost too many matches, but for me things are positive. My players were fighting to draw the game until the end. My players are learning my methods and we’re in a good place.
“This performance is building good foundations going forward.”
You wonder where this leaves Troost-Ekong, particularly as Watford broadly kept the Gunners from creating chance after chance without him in the side.
Admittedly, things could have gone awry for Ranieri’s team had Bukayo Saka’s sixth-minute goal stood, or if Aubameyang converted from 12 yards and the Gunners had subsequently run riot in front of their supporters, following the pattern in wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and the preceding victory at Leicester City.
Be that as it may, there’s a sense the center-back could be on the outside looking in after the two-week international hiatus, especially with Nkoulou now back to full fitness.
Whether Troost-Ekong’s non-appearance at Arsenal is a portent remains to be seen, but Ranieri’s remarks at the conclusion would certainly have raised a few eyebrows in the Nigerian’s corner.
Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.
Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.
Welcome to the Pulse Community! We will now be sending you a daily newsletter on news, entertainment and more. Also join us across all of our other channels – we love to be connected!
Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or:
© 2021 pulse.ng