Arsenal Vs Watford: Highlights and analysis from disastrous defeat

WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road on October 14, 2017 in Watford, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 14: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Watford and Arsenal at Vicarage Road on October 14, 2017 in Watford, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images) /

Arsenal travelled to Vicarage Rd to face a deceptively dangerous Watford side. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 2-1 loss.

A disastrous loss for Arsenal. While they never deserved anything more, lacking creativity in the final third, and failing to manage the game in the second half, this was, nevertheless, two points dropped on a day that offered the perfect ground-chasing chance. With Chelsea losing and Manchester United and Liverpool drawing, Arsene Wenger’s side had the chance to go to fourth with a win. They were unable to do so. Watford battled, and dived, their way to a precious win, and Arsenal can consider this nothing more than an opportunity missed.

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I’ll be honest, the first half of this drab and dreary fixture was the worst 45 minutes of football I have watched since the second half of Liverpool vs Manchester United at lunchtime. It was a thoroughly terrible game by the time the break came. In the opening 30 minutes, there had been only two shots — one for each team –, both of which were off target and far-from threatening. Other than a flashed Abdoulaye  Doucoure cross for Watford and a cushioned first-time, volleyed square pass from Sead Kolasinac at the other end, neither side looked close to breaking the deadlock.

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Having said that, the deadlock, surprisingly, was broken, but not until the 38th minute. A whipped-in Granit Xhaka corner, who had struggled for the most part at the heart of the midfield, dilly-dallying on the ball, shifting it left and right, slowing down the play, and allowing Watford to organise and compact themselves, exposed the mismatch of 6-foot-6 Per Mertesacker being marked by 5-foot-9 Tom Cleverley, and the German powered home the header from the edge of the six-yard box. The goal was not deserved, but it was necessary, and it settled the growing nerves of the Gunners’ bench.

There were glancing chances for Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin to close out the half, with both skewing their first-time efforts either straight at Heurelho Gomes or wide of the far post. For the most part, this was a workmanlike performance from Arsenal, without the cutting-edge quality that Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez provide in the final third. But it was one that gave them a lead at half-time, and, ultimately, that is all that matters.

The second half continued, early on, in a very similar manner, although Watford pressed Arsenal a little more in their own defensive third and Alex Iwobi offered a little more burst when he had the opportunity to drive forwards. But this was still a game without a spark, two industrious, combative teams, without the sharpness when it really mattered to engineer any chances of note.

And then came the crucial moment of the second half. First, Iwobi, who was Arsenal’s most threatening player in the second half and would later see a curled effort brilliantly saved by Gomes, drove at an exposed Watford defence, and laid the ball on a plate for Mesut Ozil. Ozil, though, lacked conviction in his finish, and Gomes made a good, but comfortable save. And then, just moments later, Richarlison drove straight at Hector Bellerin, knocked the ball down the line and surged past the rather flat-footed Spaniard. Bellerin dangled an unwise left foot out, over which Richarlison fell, winning the penalty. It looked soft in real time, and upon several replays, it looked as though the Brazilian dived. Troy Deeney, who earlier came on for Andre Gray, slammed home the penalty, and levelled the match at 1-1.

That goal changed the game. Arsenal retreated into their shell, Watford grew in confidence, and thanks to a barrage of aerial pressure, they ultimately forced their way through the visitors. The winning goal did not come until the 92nd minute, and, in all honesty, it was rather deserved. A pinballed penalty area, with blocked shot after blocked shot eventually fell to Tom Cleverley, who, smartly, thumped his shot into the roof of the net. And it was deserved.

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This was a terrible loss for Arsenal. Poor defending, poor finishing, poor game management. They are traits that title-winning teams have. Arsenal do not have them.