Result: Arsenal 3 – 2 Watford
Competition: Premier League
Date: 26 July 2020
Venue: The Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Martinez, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Xhaka, Willock, Ceballos, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Macey, Sokratis, Cedric, Kolasinac, Torreira, Smith, Saka, Nelson, Nketiah
Arsenal sleepwalked to a 3-2 win over Watford in the last game of the season at the Emirates. The Gunners were mediocre for most of the game but somehow contrived to score three goals without reply with Tierney’s first goal for the club coming between goals by Aubameyang.
In typical Arsenal fashion, they let Watford back into the game through poor defending as Luiz conceded a penalty that was converted by Deeney and Welbeck scored their second in the second half.
Despite an upcoming FA Cup final against Chelsea looming ahead, Arteta persisted with a line-up primarily consisting of first team players like Aubameyang, Tierney and David Luiz. However, regular subs Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles got a start at midfield and right back respectively in a 4-3-3 formation.
Watford started the day needing all 3 points to avoid relegation and came out of the traps by lumping the ball into the Arsenal box at kick off but it was the Gunners who drew first blood in reply.
David Luiz regained possession and sprayed a long pass to Aubameyang down the left who crossed it for Lacazette who looked to have been impeded in the box by Dawson while challenging for the ball. VAR took ages to confirm the foul before eventually prompting Mike Dean to point to the spot. Aubameyang put the first nail in Watford’s coffin by tucking away the penalty effortlessly. Arsenal 1 – Cojones FC 0.
The goal put even more pressure on Watford to push men forward to score a goal and the visitors almost got their equalizer when we didn’t manage to stop Sarr’s dribble down the right. Sarr pulled the ball back for an onrushing Doucoure whose shot was blocked by Ceballos. The ball found its way to left back, Mesina, who could only shoot directly at Martinez who saved with his feet.
20 minutes in and Arsenal were still on the back foot and struggled to keep possession as Watford agitated for a goal – our midfield the biggest guilty party in giving the ball away. However, Tierney helped calmed the team’s nerves by scoring a second for Arsenal. He received the ball down the left channel and took what looked like a pretty tame shot on goal. Lady Luck was smiling on the Scotsman as his shot took a big deflection and wrong footed Ben Foster to nestle itself at the back of the net for his first goal for the club. Arsenal 2 – 0 Cojones FC.
Despite the scoreline, Arteta was fuming with Arsenal’s poor control of the game and was berating his players during the water break. That verbal rocket set the tone for a much improved spell of possession by Arsenal. The passing was more metronomic, Tierney was stretching the play and Maitland-Niles tucked in at central midfield.
Ironically, it was a direct long throw from Tierney which created the next goal. Captain Aubameyang was the recipient under little pressure near the 6 yard box. He had time for the ball to bounce in front of him before executing a superb overhead kick in his late bid to win the league’s Golden Boot award. Arsenal 3 – 0 Cojones FC.
It isn’t an Arsenal performance without a defensive error though and it was David Luiz this time who obliged with his fifth penalty conceded this season (let that sink in for a minute – 5 penalties by our most experienced defender). A late challenge on old boy Welbeck in the box prompted Mike Dean to point to the spot. Deeney scored to make it 3-1 and give Watford a lifeline before half time.
No doubt under instruction to patiently play out from the back and to keep the ball on the ground, Arsenal’s execution of the plan continued to be patchy, overturning possession often.
The poor possession and increased pressure from Watford saw the Gunners revert to a back five with Lacazette and an anonymous Willock leaving the pitch on 56 minutes for Nketiah and Kolasinac.
With passing lanes blocked and spaces in the backline covered, Arsenal looked to have gained a little more confidence with and without the ball in the familiar back three formation. But still, the Gunners allowed Watford another chance on goal on the 62nd minute as Pereyra striked up close only to have Martinez block with a “starfish” leap. Just minutes later, Welbeck punished Arsenal’s malaise by pouncing on a low cross for Watford to half the deficit to 3-2. It seemed like a matter of time.
Arteta’s solution to stem the tide was to bring on Torreira and Nelson for Pepe and Ceballos. The Ivorian’s departure was understandable considering how he was peripheral all game but Ceballos has been one of the better players in possession in a team struggling to keep the ball.
The ensuing minutes were a blur of chances and great saves. Welbeck almost scored from a brilliant back flick if not for Martinez’s sharp reflexes and Aubameyang replied with a low shot which Foster dived to prevent the Gabonese a hattrick.
The rest of the game remained an open affair without much cutting edge from both teams with Watford coming close on a couple of occasions to embarrass Arsenal with a draw. Fortunately, the game ended 3-2 in Arsenal’s favour.
The result confirmed Arsenal’s place outside Europa League places, with the only consolation being that we managed to relegate Troy Deeney to the Championship for the next season.
Arsenal need a major improvement in performance in the cup final game against much better opposition in Chelsea to salvage some pride and a European place in Arteta’s first full season ahead.
Arsenal’s performance was representative of a really poor season and I definitely couldn’t wait for the end of this dreadful game and look forward to the 20/21 league campaign.