Where to evening start this morning.
Arsenal won a football match. Again.
Arsenal scored three goals.
Arsenal kept a clean sheet.
Petr Cech saved a flipping pelanty.
It was almost as if Arsenal realised that they aren’t one of the worst teams in the division, that they can actually put teams away (eventually), that they do have what it takes to pull themselves out of this funk and that as a team it is possible to function well for more than one game in a season.
Back-to-back victories, five goals scored, nine conceded and with a big European night this week too. What’s not to like?
Well, the constant playing of a clear poor Iwobi and the occasional loss of possession of Maitland-Niles, but I’m not going to dwell on that, because this is a day to appreciate that Arsenal have at least arrested the slide that was defeat-after-defeat.
With Milan at home on the horizon Arsène opted to rest Ramsey, Wilshere and Koscielny and whilst at the time of learning of the team selection I was a little bemused at the absence of Ramsey, given his injury record I guess it makes sense. Kos too has those dodgy Achilles of his and so giving him time out for Thursday makes sense. After Thursday’s game we don’t have a match for a few weeks before we play Stoke on Easter Sunday, so I kind of got that the manager might have wanted to rest a couple.
Thankfully he didn’t rest Mkhi and Özil, because as the game transpired it became clear that the creative nous of those two would be important in supplying an Aubameyang who now has three goals to his name this season already. In the first half Özil slide him in and a good stop for the ‘keeper prevented an early goal, whilst in the second half it was his clever run in between the Watford lines that gave Mkhi the chance to slide him in to make it 2-0 to The Arsenal and what should have felt like a breather and the end of the game.
To Watford’s credit though, this wasn’t as routine as the final score line suggested I thought. Mustafi’s early headed goal gave me hope we could batter Watford but defensively we are far from watertight and we gave up plenty of chances in both halves. It’s weird because I thought Mustafi and Holding played well, so too Kolasinac (looking much more like his beginning of season variant that we had expected to see more of than we have of late), but we still gave up some very presentable chances. A Cech save was palmed out to a Watford player who probably should have tapped in but thankfully blazed over, whilst the running of Richarlison looked like it might have us reeling, although thankfully in the end the young Brazilian just descended into tantrums and waving the odd imaginary yellow card.
Watford came out in the second half determined to take advantage of our fragile confidence and certainly had some of the better spells at 1-0, but after Auba slalomed his way past their ‘keeper for 2-0, the game should pretty much have been done.
This is The Arsenal though and we don’t do ‘simple’. Mainland-Niles’ hanging leg inside the box was diabolical I have to say and quite why he thought that invitation wouldn’t have a Watford player going down is beyond me. And all of a sudden every Arsenal fan is thinking “oh sh*t, 2-1 and now they’ll be up for bringing it back level”. Step forward Petr Cech who, having made a couple of smart saves already during the day, was gifted with a pretty shoddy penalty from pantomime villain Deeney to make his first save in forever from the penalty spot but also – as Arsène Wenger admitted afterwards when talking about how it had been playing on his mind – get that illusive clean sheet which brings him up to 200 in the Premier League.
I’m glad he got it. Not least because over the last few weeks it seemed to very much be becoming a ‘thing’ both for him and for Arsenal too.
There was still time for a third and I’m glad Mkhi got it because even though he’s got assists and a goal already in his fledgling Arsenal career, he still has the slightly haunted look of somebody who needs his confidence built up more and more over the coming months.
I also thought we played with a bit more pace in moving the ball yesterday. There seemed to be more movement from the team. We looked like a side who had some urgency about us and certainly in the middle of the park I thought there was the right level of incision and movement from Elneny and Xhaka, the latter of which I thought had a very good game, pulling the strings and seeming a lot more comfortable.
So that’s it. Three points. Three goals. One clean sheet. One penalty save. Two games without defeat. Plus a whole heap of ‘cojones’-related banter from Arsenal fans to Troy Deeney yesterday.
Can’t argue with that.
Catch you all tomorrow.