Arsenal 3 – 0 Watford
The script wrote itself. Petr Cech danced on his line as Troy Deeney strode forward to hit the spot kick straight down the middle of the goal. Cech got his hands on it, parrying the ball.
At this point, it would have been so Arsenal for the ball to hit the turf and spin into the net. Fate hadn’t read the script and the ball bounced to safety. Cech’s first penalty save in an Arsenal shirt and his first in the Premier League since 2011.
Even Jens Lehmann found it amusing. You hope he reduced the moment to our coarse level, shouting “Uvanka!” at Troy Deeney from his lofty perch. It has to be something like that for it brought a smile to his companions faces.
I know what you thinking. This Deeney thing has got out of hand but frankly, like Tottenham’s defeat last week, if you can’t find the humour in that for a few days afterwards, you have to ask if football really is your thang.
Cech’s 200th clean sheet was the third surprise of the afternoon. The second was that it took Granit Xhaka 89 minutes to get booked.
It was a typical Arsenal performance with Watford’s few chances coming as a result of our own making. Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding frequently criticised this season, were okay and nothing more. They were centre-backs who rarely – if ever – play together in a four and it showed. Its job done, so no complaints given the six changes to the starting line-up.
A Little Better
Mustafi opened the scoring with a repeat of his goal against Tottenham earlier in the season. A firm header from Mesut Özil’s free-kick, the midfielder’s 50th Premier League assist, reached in a short-lived record time. It was the club’s 1,000th home goal in the Premier League to top off the record-setting afternoon.
Aubameyang and Özil missing gilt-edged opportunities to give the half-time scoreline a one-sided look. The former’s shot skidded to safety off the goalkeeper’s inner thigh while the latter found his way blocked in a Jenningsesque style. Both were presentable chances and both should have been scored.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was another who enjoyed his afternoon, grabbing his second goal in nine appearances which is as many as he scored for United last season in 22. He’d already added his eighth assist of the season – equally his total in his entire Manchester United career – when he set Aubameyang free for a coolly take finish for the second of the afternoon.
In a largely uneventful match, Martin Atkinson managed to create controversy. It took a replay to work out why he’d awarded Watford their penalty and no-one fathomed how he didn’t award Arsenal one. Even a VAR would call that a fundamental error by the referee.
Post-match, it’s churlish to not allow Arsène some positive spin after a win so fire away, winmeister:
“When you are knocked down it’s a little bit like in a boxing match when you’re half-knocked down you don’t have time to recover and the next one comes again. That’s what happened to us.
“But at some stage, you know you have to respond. Your pride and desire to show quality has to come through in the game.”
It Can’t Get No Worse
In fairness to the manager, he recognised there was much work for the team to do in terms of regenerating belief in the stands,
“I want our fans to be behind the team and be happy. But after what happened in that week, it’s a bit understandable.
“We are in a job where we have to get the fans on our side and do absolutely everything to do it, to achieve it. That’s what we want to do.”
Wenger, you sense, is in a losing battle this season. I’d expect big crowds in the Europa League but the fixtures which remain will most likely see the Premier League reduced to indifference. The race is run for both fifth and fourth as far as the league is concerned so apathy reigns supreme for those remaining games.
The football tourists aren’t interested either but Arsenal still records 59,000 tickets sold so there’s no financial damage yet. Even so, empty seats are negatives they can’t shake off. Whether Stan noticed is anyone’s guess.
Before the match, Ivan felt it inappropriate to discuss Arsène’s future. Raul Sannelhi let slip he’d overseen eight changes of manager at Barcelona. Someone somewhere at Arsenal knows what they are doing.