Watford Review: Lucky Seven

Three points and fifth on goal difference. If you had offered that to Unai Emery before kick-off, we would have bitten your arm off on his behalf. Three points and ninety minutes of my life I will never get back.

That’s harsh; seventy minutes of my life I won’t get back. Not that it lacked effort or incident; far from it. A clear penalty denied in the first half, not given because Lacazette was “too honest” and didn’t crumple in a heap. If players have to hit the deck for penalties to be awarded, can we at least change the Laws of the Game to reflect this?

Or referees stop bottling decisions for fear of media chastisement; it’s coming anyway, whichever way the decision goes. But you’ll get less for getting decisions right.

Lacazette couldn’t apply a finish when he got the wrong side of Cathcart either; the defender showed him how it’s done ten minutes from time.

In between times, the game ebbed and flowed. Arsenal dominated, Watford fought back. Success proved inappropriately named when he missed as presentable a chance as Lacazette’s.  The Hornets striker came close but nobody was having a good day. Not Tony Gale or the commentator who told us Jay Leno took over in goal from the stricken Petr Cech.

For seventy minutes, it was evident that we were too narrow. An XI without wingers suffers from that problem, so if Unai Emery wanted evidence of the theory, he got plenty of it. 

The genuine improvement in our performance came with the introduction of Danny Welbeck and particularly Alex Iwobi. Aubameyang was sacrificed for the former; unsurprisingly. PEA worked hard but. Well, just but.

Oh, that we had Troy Deeney because that’s why he receives so much grief from the crowd. Apparently.

Tough Tackling

The second of those changes left headline writers salivating. Aaron Ramsey, in the match following his contract situation became clear, left the pitch after an indifferent afternoon. He worked hard but like the remainder of the team in that first hour or so, nothing really came off.

And then came Iwobi and Welbeck. Iwobi in particular. As with Brentford, his width and pace gave us life, inventiveness down the right. It led directly to the first goal and significantly in the second. Not as significant in that one as Welbeck’s tackle in midfield; there’s a life to the substitutes at the moment, that we’ve missed for some time. Game-changing performances.

And the game needed changing. Another second-half win, countered by another clean sheet. It took six matches for the first to arrive so I guess there’s going to be a few more before we play for 90 minutes in the Premier League.

Unai Emery waffled his way through that question post-match:

We need more moments in the 90 minutes for this control. The first half was not easy but our defensive moments were good. They were more than we wanted but we did well in the first half. The best chance was for Lacazette. In the second half, we scored two goals but we conceded two good chances for them.

We need more control, we need to continue to improve with the control, with the possession, with the positioning. But it’s not easy. Each match is very difficult in the Premier League. I’m happy because I think we are becoming more competitive. This way is good to continue improving on other things, like playing well with control and our quality.

Unai Emery avoids answering the question of why we’re a second-half team

In other words, he’s not really sure.

Heading for the Chop?

We might just be unstoppable when he gets that answer. Then again, we might become a first-half team which collapses in the second.

The match threw out several interesting scenarios for Emery, however. Cech’s injury means he’s out for three weeks although that is not yet confirmed. Leno made some good saves and had some decent moments with the ball at his feet. Some bad ones as well but was there as much of a sense of panic? We’ll know in a few 90 minutes time.

However, the biggest plus is the form of Rob Holding. He did well, by and large, against Brentford and was probably the most consistent performer over 90 minutes yesterday. Sokratis was rested to allow him to fully recover from a dead leg but it begs the question whether our philosophy should be Holding and the Greece international rather than Mustafi? Less panic, once again. 

Sometimes injury forces a manager’s hand and the right solution presents itself. Is this that moment for Unai Emery?

Whatever the case, I think Iwobi has certainly done enough to warrant a place in the side for the next Premier League match at Fulham. There’s a side susceptible to pace and width.

We’ve got Qarabag before that and Unai Emery has plenty to think about. But that is what a manager wants, is it not? He needs players to force him into thinking about whether they merit inclusion for good reasons rather than him being concerned that a player’s drop in form should see him axed.

Competition for places at Arsenal? Whatever next.

’til Tomorrow.

14 thoughts on “Watford Review: Lucky Seven

  1. YW, I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than Everton. I think we played a bit more fluidly, especially once Ramsey came offf and Ozil moved centrally. But I didn’t think Emery set us up properly with Auba switched over to the right. So we really looked better balanced when Welbeck went on the left and Iwobi moved over.

    Either we have something more about us under Emery and some players are improving or we are regularly getting lucky. Let’s go with the former even if we see some problems in how we are setting up. One thing I would say is that we haven’t unleashed the all out press or consistent playing out of the back but are picking our moments. That suggests pragmatism and I am all in favor of that I’ve attempting to impose a new style with excessive zeal. Now, if we could get a tighter more organized defense (play Holding-Sokratis!) we may have a real chance at 4th.

  2. Good stuff Yogi and I completely agree that Iwobi’s introduction and moving Ozil centrally was the catalyst.

    I thought Iwobi just added that width and the danger on the flanks that also allowed more space for both Lacazette and Ozil to work. Much more balanced team and you could certainly see the immediate impact.

    Leno played his part in keeping the clean sheet and I woupd imagine that we will see a more settled Leno against Fulham. For what its worth, our two clean sheets this year came with Holding and Mustafi as the pairing. Who was that in the 90′ tracking back and stopping Doucoure from having a go at the top of the box 🤔

  3. Thanks, YW. On width, and assuming we’re tightening the purse-strings a little, a Guendouzi-style signing out wide wouldn’t go amiss in January. Someone young but pickable. I don’t mind Welbeck on the left, but then we’re light on cover up front.

    I’m really pleased for Iwobi. He proved in the past that he’s a talent. Needing time to make a decision, wishy-washy finishes and taking the easy option were all symptoms of low confidence. It’s obviously early, but I’ve got high hopes for him under Emery.

    Oh, and Torreira has to be a guaranteed starter, but he’s got some small things to work on. Success’s big chance yesterday came from some pretty naive midfield play by him . Naturally he’s still finding his feet (and learning at his age) so it’s not a worry.

  4. Let’s hope the streak continues, its Liverpool vs Man city next weekend so hopefully we can close the gap to the top spot!!! #COYG

  5. Birdkamp,

    Yup, people forget that Torriera is only 22 years old but I’m not worried at all about him. You have watched and followed Serie A for a long time and you know that it is no small feet to lead that league in tackles and tackles won and I think top 3 in interceptions.

  6. consolsbob,

    7 on the trott, consecutive clean sheets and 5th only on GD…think there is plenty yo be excited about especially given our only two defeats were to Citeh and Chelsea and if we finished better we could habe had 5 against Chelsea.

  7. Also, Leno coming in under that situation and performing as he did, well done to Leno for not only the savea but the comfort with the ball at his feet.

  8. I didn’t say that I was not optimistic, C.

    I have yet to see anything to get too many excited about.

    Three or four new playes required for that, I think.

  9. consolsbob,

    Its actually quite different to the look and feel of this team even from last season so I’ll take it.

    Think there is still so much from this team, especially if Ramsey gets dropped for Iwobi and he continues his good form.

    Obviously some pieces will need to be added, but plenty to be excited and optimistic about.

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