Arsenal Vs Watford: Highlights and analysis – Subdued success

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal celebrates coring the first goal with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Watford at Emirates Stadium on March 11, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal celebrates coring the first goal with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal and Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Watford at Emirates Stadium on March 11, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

Arsenal hosted Watford on Sunday afternoon as the Premier League returned to the fore. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis of the 3-0 win.

It was a subdued victory for Arsenal. they scored early, controlled the game, suffered a few customary moments of uncertainty, with Watford pressing their hosts in the closing stages of the first half and early moments of the second, and ran out relatively comfortable victors. The atmosphere in the Emirates was one of a meaningless game. Apt, then, given the Gunners’ standing in the Premier League table. Arsene Wenger’s team selection reflected that sentiment, resting the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny. Their absence was noticeable.

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Arsenal started the game sharply. Their passing was crisp and creative; their control of the game was unrivalled by a passive Watford. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could have opened the scoring early on, after latching onto Mesut Ozil’s slid through pass, and Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi caused problems furrowing down the left wing.

The opening goal did not take long to come. Mesut Ozil stood over a freekick in the left channel. Outswinging, he placed it perfectly onto the head of Shkodran Mustafi, who was woefully marked by the Watford defenders, utterly unchallenged as he rose to head the ball. His header, directed back towards the near post, looped up and past the stretched efforts of Orestis Karnezis, and nestled into the net. A lovely header that was helped by some dreadful defending.

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The goal, though, seemed to wake Watford up a little. While Arsenal still enjoyed the majority of the ball and controlled the game, Javi Garcia’s side did show signs of a threat when they were able to impress themselves on their hosts’ defence. Richarlison slithered in behind Granit Xhaka, leading to a good, blocked save by Petr Cech after taking a deflection off Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi, while Roberto Pereyra missed a lovely chance, skewing the rebound from Richarlison’s free-kick over the crossbar.

At the other end, Sead Kolasianc had a couple of good opportunities to deliver a cross from the goal line and Mesut Ozil, who had a brief injury scare shortly afterwards, was denied by the legs of Karnezis, inches away from converting a lovely move involving Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mohamed Elney and a beautiful Ozil first-touch. There were other openings for the Gunners, but the final pass or shot was wayward.

Moreover, there were signs of the same vulnerabilities that have scuppered their season in the past few weeks. Petr Cech spilled the ball when he looked to throw it out, before changing his mind, trying to recoil but dropping it in the process. Thankfully, Shkodran Mustafi was on hand to clear. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who looked dangerous going forward and extremely comfortable on the ball, was sometimes a little too relaxed, playing loose passes and gifting possession away cheaply, while an Alex Iwobi pass that went straight to Watford led to a Richarlison header that was smartly turned around the post by Petr Cech on the stroke of half-time. Even the resultant corner flashed across the penalty area with no defender looking to clear away.

It was an odd half, littered with nervous errors and moments of real quality, if perhaps unable to put them together. Arsenal were well worth their lead, but Watford did not go quietly into the night.

The opening few periods of the second half were a little hairy for the Gunners. Watford, with a series of corners and crosses, pressed their way up the pitch, looking to exploit the deemed aerial superiority of Troy Deeney against the Arsenal centre-halves. They certainly caused problems, though the elusive equaliser was difficult to find.

That, ultimately, would be pivotal. In perhaps their first real attack of the second period, Arsenal, through the precision of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, extended their lead. Mkhitaryan received the ball in the centre of the pitch with time to turn and space to drive into. He dribbled up to the exposed Watford defence with options aplenty. He bided his time, waited for the angle to open up, before sliding a lovely ball through to Aubameyang, who duly rounded the goalkeeper and rolled the ball into the empty net.

Watford immediately had a chance to change the complexion of the final 30 minutes when Ainsley Maitland-Niles couldn’t sort his feet out in the penalty area, clumsily bringing down Roberto Pereyra for a clear penalty — I did feel a little sorry for Maitland-Niles who would have had to move right out of the way to avoid any contact. Having said that, it is still a clear foul. Just one of the difficulties of modern-day defending. Thankfully, though, Troy Deeney lacked the cojones to convert the spot-kick, thumping it down the middle. Petr Cech, having already dived to his right, thrust his left hand up and behind him to make a strong save, his first penalty saved since his 2015 transfer from Chelsea.

That penalty miss killed the game. The life seeped out of Watford and Arsenal meandered through the remaining minutes without much trouble. They did extend their lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Mesut Ozil flashed a cross into the box from the left flank. The havoc it caused left Mkhitaryan in acres of space, whose shot, after being teed up by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, squirmed through the body of Karnezis, who certainly should have done better.

There were some fleeting moments of fluid football from Arsenal. Jack Wilshere slipped in Danny Welbeck, whose shot was parried clear. Mesut Ozil was inches away from releasing Wilshere. But this game had lost its spark. The result was determined; the intensity had died.

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This was not a brilliant Arsenal performance. There were certainly some defensive issues as Watford impressed themselves on the game. But for a team as fragile as they are currently, this was a good win with some nice football played and good goals scored. The focus now shifts to AC Milan on Thursday, but Arsenal have a solid foundation to build on here.