“There is only one thing I’d like to know, when there is a man on the ground, everybody expected the ball goes back and it didn’t go. There is a respect in that situation. Then we get the ball with Sarr and go on the counter-attack and there is a big foul. It’s unbelievable.”
Those were the words of Claudio Ranieri as he bemoaned Arsenal’s decision not to return the ball to his Watford players after professional chubster Danny Rose had kicked it out of play so Ozan Tufan could receive treatment.
It mattered to the Italian because the Gunners, thanks to Emile Smith Rowe, scored from the resulting action; a goal that ultimately sealed a 1-0 win for Mikel Arteta’s men.
Should we sympathise? Well, if Watford actually had an injury, rather than a lad lying on the turf trying to get the referee’s attention in a bid to kill our momentum, then maybe. As it was, by the time the ball was hoofed off the pitch by Rose, the Turk was already on his feet and fine. So, no. Screw them.
As for the perceived foul on the edge of the box. Sure, there was an accidental coming together between Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Ismaila Sarr but in a match that had its fair share of fouls, this was not one of them. Moreover, it’s hardly Arsenal’s fault that the visitors then gave the ball away to Ben White and subsequently deflected Smith Rowe’s strike past Ben Foster. That’s on them.
Asked about the incident in his post-game press conference, Mikel Arteta wasn’t in the mood to blame his players or to stoke up a slanging match with his opposite number.
“I have to defend my players, my team and my club,” he said.
“I would say we are the most honest [of] all of them – and at some stages we can even become naive. But still, if he feels like that towards our club, I have to apologise if that’s the case. But for sure there was not any intention to take advantage.”
On a day when Arsenal had two goals ruled out by VAR for offside and missed a penalty, Watford can hardly have argued with the result. For Arteta, another win and clean sheet sees his side push up to fifth in the Premier League. Morale is high in the camp after the disappointing start to the season.
“It’s much better and it’s always great for any manager or team to win before the international break because we’re now going to lose 70 per cent of the squad,” he said.
“They are going to go to the national teams and hopefully when they are back we can maintain that and keep the run going.
“It was really important today to be clear that we were going to have moments of frustration. We expected a certain game-plan from them. That is going to happen and you have to go through that.
“You have to be consistent and you have to be determined with what you want to achieve in the game. And the type of actions that are necessary to win the game and to keep going. We never lost sight of that and I believe that’s why we won the game.”
The boss was also full of praise for the attitude of his players who’ve confounded their critics to string together a 10-game unbeaten run and win over dubious supporters.
Reflecting on the way things have come together since September, Arteta added: “It was about what I could see around me – the faith that the players and the staff have in what we do, the belief, the sense of belonging they have to be a part of a team, and the unity they’ve shown in difficult moments, not to try to point to anybody [else] but to take full responsibility and show real leadership and courage to overturn the situation.
“They faced the criticism and moved forward, slowly trying to engage people. We’ve been lucky because we have supporters who, in difficult moments, have shown that they love this club and they realise how important it is for our players to play the game with them. When that happens, you can see what the atmosphere is like.”
When the players return from international duty, Arsenal’s next task will be crushing Liverpool at Anfield. A win would see us climb above Jurgen Klopp’s side, who in losing to West Ham this evening, have surrendered their unbeaten start to the season.
Happy Invincibles Day, Gooners.