Arsenal show familiar frailties but win sends Watford down
Arsenal manager says last match of season was 'like a basketball game'
26 July, 2020 — By Richard Osley at the Emirates Stadium
FA Premier League
ARSENAL 3 (Aubameyang 5 pen, 33, Tierney 24)
WATFORD 2 (Deeney 43 pen, Welbeck 66)
ALTHOUGH their post-match spokespeople conceded the cliched responses to relegation, that the table doesn’t lie and we haven’t been good enough over 38 games, Watford fans must be wondering about the riddle of Arsenal’s season-ending shapeshifting.
Against Aston Villa earlier in the week, the team which has managed to lever Watford into the dropzone at the crucial moment, the Gunners were confused and laborious and lost the match 1-0.
Today (Sunday), Mikel Arteta’s team, though generous to their opponents in defence, had regained the energy to rattle in a three-goal advantage in little more than half an hour.
Unforgotten, Watford captain Troy Denny once teased Arsenal that they did not have the ‘cojones’ for the physical side of the game. His team haven’t beaten Arsenal since those comments.
The criticism wasn’t so far off the mark at the time, however, and even after falling so many goals behind so quickly at the Emirates, his team were able to give the home side a fright as the game developed.
This match was a sort of microcosm of Arsenal’s season, a campaign which ultimately has resulted in the club’s worst final league position for 25 years. Arsene Wenger never finished this low.
Against Watford, we saw encouraging musketeer attacks, from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang chiefly but also Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe. But also on display was the shambolic dithering in defence. This uncertainty along the back line may have been concealed in the recent successes against Liverpool and Manchester City by adrenaline.
Arsenal were ahead before anything had really happened. On their first attack, Lacazette was clumsily handled by Craig Dawson and after a long VAR check – most of the players on the field seemed ready for a Watford goal kick and Dani Ceballos was actually arguing for a corner – a penalty was given. Aubameyang swept in the chance.
Watford responded well to starting a must-win match by handing the opposition a one goal headstart. Each of their assaults on the goal, however, were foiled by a mishit cross, a pass too many or stops from Arsenal goalkeeper Emi Martinez. It looked like they might be on the verge of an equaliser, when, pop, their bubble was burst by Kieran Tierney’s slow motion shot from the edge of the box, which may have taken a slight deflection before finding the corner of the goal.
Ben Foster’s cursing voice had rattled around the empty stadium for most of the match and there was more to come when Watford inexplicably failed to deal with a throw-in casually tossed goalwards. Aubameyang, as if he was playing in a schools match, had the time to acrobatically turn the ball beyond the irate keeper.
It was to be his last league goal of a 22-strike haul, one short of golden boot winner Jamie Vardy.
This, on the surface, was a controlled performance from Arsenal: keeping the visitors at bay while breaking purposefully. But there has rarely been a time this season where they haven’t been a misstep away from some self-inflicted calamity.
This time, they invited Watford back into the match by failing to clear their lines through Rob Holding. David Luiz, characteristically, then conceded a penalty by slicing Danny Welbeck. Deeney powered the spot kick past Martinez.
Arsenal then cantered through the second half, enjoying a couple of sights on goal on the counter attack but nothing too thrilling.
Arsenal released their new kit ahead of the match and played in the new design against Watford
Watford, still trying to keep their top flight status in tact, were able to cut through too many times at the other end. It was not completely unexpected when Welbeck stole in front of Luiz to score on his first return to this stadium.
And Welbeck should have really rescued a point but, when well-placed, opted for a back heel finish when he probably had the time to choose more effective means. Martinez got the ball away.
Aubameyang’s chances of sealing a hat-trick faded as his more polished team-mates were taken off the field. Eddie Nketiah looked lost up front as a second half substitute, even if Reiss Nelson provided some extra spark.
The time for more goals dashed by, and Watford were unable to complete the comeback and the Arsenal striker was unable to catch Vardy.
“It was a crazy game right from the start,” said Arteta afterwards. “The moment we went one or two up their front players were a bit cheating. We allowed too many balls in the box. It was a bit like a basketball game at times.”
The manager said next weekend’s FA Cup final match with Chelsea would bring out a different performance from his side.
He said: “It will be a completely different game. First of all from the mental side it will be equal. How much they want it compared to how much we want it. I don’t think that was the case today because of the necessity they [Watford] have, the way they had to approach the game was different to us and you can see that.”
ARSENAL: Martinez, Maitland-Niles, Tierney, Holding, Luiz, Xhaka, Ceballos (Torreira 72), Willock (Kolisinac 57), Pepe (Nelson 72), Aubameyang, Lacazette (Nketiah 57)
SUBS NOT USED: Sokratis, Macey, Saka, Smith, Soares
WATFORD: Foster, Masina, Kiko (Mariappa 45+1), Kabasele, Dawson, Hughes (Chalobah 81), Doucoure (Cleverley 81), Pererya (Pedro 88), Sarr, Welbeck, Deeney
SUBS NOT USED: Cathcart, Gomes, Gray, Pussetto, Quina