Five Thoughts: Watford 2-1 Arsenal



Well, that was pretty much the dictionary definition of how a match like this is decided on fine margins. I don't even think we were all that bad today, but the other mob got 100% of the rub of the green on the day, and we didn't have enough quality to overcome it.


1. This was never going to be a walkover, not with Marco Silva having these guys humming along so well in the league. It also doesn't help that our best players seem to all be crocked, "crocked", or knackered from the latest godforsaken international break. We weren't much at the races to begin with, as Watford used their pace and power on the flanks to excellent effect. They also tried to take advantage of our lack of speed in central defense - especially with Per Mertesacker pressed into duty - but we counteracted that by having Petr Cech play almost as an auxiliary sweeper. It was an interesting tactical cut-and-thrust, even if the chances weren't overflowing.

For me, the best player on the pitch was this Richarlison kid that Watford bought for a song from Fluminese. Everything he did was at pace, and always pushing forward. We were more ponderous than Gunnersaurus by comparison. The only one who was trying to make something happen was Granit Xhaka, who had one of his better games. He was raking long diagonal passes all over the place, but there was a precious little amount of movement from the forwards in front of him. He also took some pokes from distance in the second half, which was sadly some of the better chances we had in the game.

Long story short, Watford just about deserved this on the balance of play.


2. That said, we did take the lead right around the 40th minute or so. If you had told someone from 2007 that Watford vs. Arsenal would have a first half where the team with the quick, nippy forwards huffed and puffed and stretched the opponent, then went down in the 45th to a bog-standard header off a corner, they'd have asked who on the Hornets had scored. Instead, it was the BFG himself, taking advantage of a height mismatch with Tom Cleverley to nod home.

I don't know what Watford were playing at with that marking scheme, though. I mean, I know enough in my 7-a-side games to give a "Height on height!" yell on set pieces...why didn't Gomes?

Minutes later, Danny Welbeck (in about his only positive contribution of the day) picked out Hector Bellerin with a gorgeous pass, but the Spaniard could only screw his shot wide.


3. The second half kind of ambled along, looking for all the world like both sides had already downed tools. Welbeck looked to have picked up an injury, so on come Mesut Ozil. You know, for all everyone talks shit about this guy (and there was apparently a 1-v-1 chance that I missed somewhere in all of this - he's many things, but a dead-eye finisher is not one of them), his first touch of the game put Alex Iwobi in alone (not hearing too much about that one), and the second forced a corner. It was practically more positivity than there was in the entirety of the first half. Speaking of, Iwobi honestly should have scored, though you have to give credit to Gomes for an outstanding save.

The other thing causing much Twitter-screeching is Alexandre Lacazette coming off for Olivier Giroud in the 70th minute or thereabouts. Quick, name a chance Lacazette made or took in the game. Like, anything. The same people with cartoon steam coming out of their ears about this are, I'm guessing, the same ones that bitched about our lack of depth and options in seasons past. The truth is that a lot of players need time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the Premier League, and there's further nothing wrong with going with another look if what you're doing isn't working.


4. As we all know, though, the match went pear-shaped in the last 20 minutes. I was telling a few people yesterday that my homerism is just about dead now that I've joined the ranks of referees, and this is no different. It was a penalty, folks. Embellishing contact doesn't mean contact wasn't there - Bellerin slyly nudged their guy in the back when he was on the dead run. The worst bit is that it wasn't even that dangerous of a run - there were other defenders back, and it wasn't straight at goal. Hector's still a kid and all, but he has to get better at on-the-fly decisions like this.

Anyway, it was a penalty, and Cech was in goal for us, so of course Troy Deeney scored. I defend Cech a lot, and rightfully so, but he tips his dive on PKs as I've said on here many times before. It's frustrating.

It was basically all Watford from then on, the first warning shot coming in the 82nd when a deflected shot caught Cech going the wrong way, but rebounded off the post. Then, Laurent Koscielny went off for Rob Holding, having picked up some kind of a knock. Outstanding.

Finally, at the death, they scored. It was one of those pinball deals - Cech brilliantly saved the first shot, BFG deflected the second, but it came out to another of their guys to hammer it into the empty net. Bugger. The worst bit, though? The first shot was offside. I mean, if Lacazette was off earlier this season when his big toe was beyond the last defender, then this one was too.

We just don't seem to be getting any luck this season...like, at all. I hope this shit evens out, and quick-like.


5. Like I said, this was never going to be an easy match. While you need about 10-12 matches for the table to reflect any kind of objective reality, Watford are currently in 4th place. Their goal differential is 0, meaning this isn't entirely sustainable, but on the other hand they're not Sutton United or anything, either. We saw it yesterday - they're a fairly decent lot who play good football at times. Losing away to these guys isn't some kind of international disgrace.

On the other hand, that's now three losses on the season for us, two of which were utterly preventable. However, when you ask yourself what our realistic expectations are for the season, you should get some perspective out of that. We're not winning the title - the second we re-signed Arsene, we were condemning ourselves to two more years without being seriously in that conversation.

Going back the last few seasons, as far as fourth place goes: Liverpool lost 6 last year, Manchester City lost 10 (!) the season previous, and United lost 8 the year before that. We're not doomed as far as that goes, but we are losing a little bit of our margin for error.

But, we truly need to shit or get off the pot where it comes to Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and if they are no longer the answer, we need some kind of creative force to take advantage of the talent we have at forward. I mean, that first half was *dreadful* - workmanlike, almost Stoke-esque.

There's work to do.

Preview by Numbers: Watford v. Arsenal


Vicarage Road, Watford
Saturday, October 14
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Neil Swarbrick
    • Assistants: Scott Ledger and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Graham Scott
  • This Match, Last Year: Watford 1 - 3 Arsenal
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 14 Arsenal wins, 11 Watford wins, 1 draw
  • Arsenal's League Form: L-L-W-D-W-W
  • Watford's League Form: W-D-W-L-W-D
Arsenal Squad News

Out: Mustafi (hamstring,) Coquelin (hamstring,) Cazorla (ankle)
Doubts: Alexis (match fitness,) Kolašinac (hip,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Chambers (hip) 
  • The worst news out of the international break comes from Germany, where Shkodran Mustafi hurt his hamstring in a meaningless qualifier against Azerbaijan. He'll miss four to six weeks, so eight weeks.
  • To make matters worse at the back, doubts remain over Laurent Koscielny, who you may recall will forever be dealing with a chronic Achilles injury, and now Sead Kolašinac has a hip concern.
  • Calum Chambers, who might be in line for an appearance if both Mustafi and Koscielny can't play, has been hobbled by a hip injury all season himself and is doubtful.
  • So, at the worst, it'll be Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding.
  • In good news, Mesut Özil (knee) and Danny Welbeck (groin) should both be back to full fitness.
  • Arsène Wenger was unsure about the status of some of his players as of yesterday's presser, as Alexis Sánchez, for example, had not yet returned from international duty. At least Welbeck could start in his place if he's short of fitness.
  • I didn't hear anything about Francis Coquelin's hamstring injury, so I'll assume he's still out.
Predicted XI: Čech, Holding, Koscielny, Monreal, Bellerín, Kolašinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Welbeck, Lacazette.

Watford Squad News

Out: Kaboul (thigh,) Hoban (knee,) Cathcart (knee,) Chalobah (knee,) Success (knee)
Doubts: Carrillo (match fitness,) Prödl (hamstring)

  • Sebastian Prödl picked up a hamstring injury on international duty back in September and is about a 25% chance to return to Watford's lineup here.
  • André Carrillo is a late return from international duty with Peru and is a doubt in the same way Alexis Sánchez is.
  • Younes Kaboul is out with a thigh problem. In September, a specialist determined that surgery was not necessary, but the rehab may be extensive.
  • Watford have four players out with knee injuries: Isaac Success will be out for four to six weeks. Tommie Hoban has no timeframe for a return. Nathaniel Chalobah is expected back some time during this calendar year, but it's at least January for Craig Cathcart.

Predicted XI: Gomes, Femenía, Kabasele, Britos, Holebas, Doucouré, Capoue, Carrillo, Cleverley, Richarlison, Gray.

Current Form
  • Arsenal rebounded nicely from two losses in August to climb up to fifth in the Premier League table. They trail fourth place Chelsea on goal difference.
  • Don't sleep on Watford, though. They are only a point back of Arsenal, sitting eighth in the table. They trail Burnley and Liverpool on goal difference themselves.
  • Arsenal are unbeaten across all competitions since their 4-0 loss at Liverpool, but they still have not scored a goal away from home in the Premier League this season.
  • Watford have only lost one league game so far this season, but it was by six goals at home to Manchester City. So, you can see why they might trail on goal difference.
Match Facts
  • Arsenal and Watford split their league meetings last season, with each side winning away from home.
  • Arsenal won 3-1 at Vicarage Road last August. Santi Cazorla put Arsenal ahead from the penalty spot within two minutes and the Gunners led 3-0 at halftime. Watford pulled a goal back on 57 minutes, but that ended the scoring.
  • Watford returned the favor at the Emirates in January, taking a 2-0 lead inside a quarter of an hour. Alex Iwobi pulled a goal back on 58 minutes, but the Gunners could not find an equalizer.
  • Overall, Arsenal's record against Watford is mixed; in 19 league encounters, both sides have won nine with one draw.
The Referee
  • The referee is Lancashire-based Neil Swarbrick.
  • This is the first time Arsenal have seen Swarbrick this year.
  • Last year, Swarbrick worked only two Arsenal matches, both against West Brom. Arsenal won 1-0 at the Emirates and lost 3-1 at the Hawthorns.
  • This is also the first time Watford have seen Swarbrick this year.
  • Watford split their matches with Swarbrick last year as well, winning 2-1 over Leicester, but losing 2-0 at Stoke.
Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Liverpool v. Manchester United; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Burnley v. West Ham United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Crystal Palace v. Chelsea; Selhurst Park, London
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Stoke City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Huddersfield Town; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Bournemouth; Wembley Stadium, London
  • Sunday (early): Brighton & Hove Albion v. Everton; American Express Community Stadium, Falmer
  • Sunday (late): Southampton v. Newcastle United; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Monday (night): Leicester City v. West Bromwich Albion; King Power Stadium, Leicester
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John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and sixth planet from the sun. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for information about his many, many moons.