On a day when all the title challengers won, (no, I’m not including Chelsea in that list even they beat Aston Villa; and no, Tottenham or Liverpool do not qualify either, Klopp or not), it was absolutely essential that Arsenal not drop any points and lose ground. Even though they were up against a Watford side that had only conceded one goal at home all season, and that a penalty against Crystal Palace.
Just like it was against Manchester United, a burst of three goals ultimately decided the contest in Arsenal’s favour, although the team had to wait till the second half for the scoring to start against an obdurate Watford team.
The home team defended doggedly in the first half and even their usually shaky goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes pulled off some good saves. They also threatened at the other end; Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo misfired when he was clean on goal, Petr Cech was lucky to escape without even a card when the ball seemed to graze his arm and then his shoulder as he ventured outside his box to deal with a ball that was played over the defence.
Again it was the Chilean that would open the scoring. Fresh from scoring three goals for his country during the interlull, Alexis Sanchez started the move that led to the first goal himself. A few seconds after Watford’s Etienne Capoue had dived shamelessly at the edge of the Arsenal box, the away team broke quickly and the ball fell to Alexis at the edge of the Watford box. He found Mesut Özil, who in turn found the once again impressive Santi Cazorla, who then returned the ball with a slide rule pass as the German broke into the box. Özil was brought down for a definite penalty but the referee wisely played the advantage and the ball broke to Alexis who smashed the ball in off the upright.
Olivier Giroud came on for Theo Walcott to consolidate Arsenal’s lead soon after, side footing Özil’s pass into the roof of the net. Aaron Ramsey, who was for me the best player on the pitch, scored the third goal, off a deflection from a Watford defender’s leg. All throughout the match, the Welshman was a constant threat, harassing the home team’s defenders and providing a ready outlet on the right. Even when the Watford fans started booing him for having the temerity to go down after being hit on the head, that only seemed to spur him on.
The victory against the team from just outside London was built on the foundations of the defensive performance in the first half. No matter what the Watford team threw at them, particularly from the pair of bruisers playing as centre forwards, the Arsenal backline stood strong. Even when the Watford captain, Troy Deeney pulled over to Hector Bellerin’s wing to receive slung over diagonal balls, he got little change over the young Spaniard.
Arsenal may well be playing Bayern Munich during the week in the Champions League but Arsene Wenger might be forgiven if he decides to prioritise the Premier League over the continental competition. With the team playing this well and only two points behind the leaders, this might represent the best opportunity for Arsenal to mount a creditable title challenge for the first time since the late winter of 2008.
And when the irrepressible Alexis is playing out of his skin like he has been for a couple of weeks, who says Arsenal can’t challenge for the title? Certainly not me.
COME ON YOU RIP ROARING GUNNERS!!!