As I exited the ground yesterday with the three points secured, I asked my Dad to reflect on the game and the performance and he said ‘it was a funny old game, wasn’t it?’. Indeed it was Pa, indeed it was. Arsenal controlled possession, scored goals, had big chances in the form of a penalty, yet still only managed to win 1-0 and had difficulty in putting Watford to the sword. And it wasn’t even until we were 1-0 up that Watford ever even troubled us if I’m honest. So a strange game, all-in-all.
Arteta had to deal with a problem before a ball was even kicked in a tight groin for Thomas Partey and whilst it was unfortunate to see him out for the game, the fact he was out meant that we got a bit of a January dress rehearsal, because Partey won’t be around much in January (if at all) and so we are going to need to find some kind of solution. If that solution is to be Maitland-Niles then this was a good way of going about staking his claim. Ainalsey was man-of-the-match for many and I thought he was impressive in the middle of the park. He won the ball back, he offered an option to the defenders as a passing lane, plus he played a part in the goal itself. There seems to be a general consensus amongst the pundits that it was a foul in the build up to the goal itself, but I didn’t think so. All I saw was two players running in to one another, so quite how that is a foul I don’t know.
The second ‘controversial’ point about the only goal of the game was that apparently we should have given the ball back when Danny Rose kicked it out. Perhaps Ranieri and the various pundits viewing the game have a small point, but taken in the context of the game I disagree. Watford set about trying to disrupt the flow of the game through constant rotational fouling, then by falling down and feigning injury on multiple occasions during the match. When the Watford player – I think it was Dennis – went down and Rose knocked it out, he immediately got up and trotted back. If you’re an Arsenal player then you’re probably getting the hump of this tactic of trying to break down the flow of the play, so you are probably thinking “screw this, they’ve been messing around all match, the player is ok, we play on”. So I’m not having all of this ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’ talk. It wasn’t a consideration when the Scum scored against us and Xhaka was on the floor injured, with them not kicking the ball out, so why should it be a big talking point now?
Probably because despite the fact it was only 1-0 and Ramsdale even had a brain fart moment in the second half that nearly cost us, it was a relatively routine win for Arsenal in the end. I didn’t think Watford created many chances at all, I thought their play was to break up moves with rotational fouls, followed by going long as often as possible and rely on Foster having the game of his life. Which he very nearly did too. He made a number of smart saves – including an impressive one from Gabriel from a corner, plus he can chalk a penalty save down on his stats, although that feels more like an Auba miss than a Foster save. But the Watford ‘keeper was their best player and kept the game from being relatively comfortable.
It should have been done and dusted by half time though. We thought we’d scored early with the goal by Saka, but from when you see the replays it is obvious it is offside because the ‘keeper Ben Foster is the ‘last man’ as the there is only one defender behind him, so when Saka puts the ball in it is quite some distance between Foster and his position on the pitch. That happened so early I thought the game would be one in which we control possession and bag ourselves more goals and when Danny Rose tried to clothesline Lacazette in the box I thought it would be the start of the floodgates opening. But for the second home match in a row Lacazette didn’t want the penalty when he had the foul and for the second match in a row Aubameyang missed the penalty. The only difference this time was that Foster was there to dive on the second ball. It was a poorly placed penalty and I hope it pulls Auba off taking them for a while, because he’s not the best penalty taker in the world, whereas Lacazette usually always puts them away.
Aubameyang was pretty poor all match to be fair. He missed that penalty and he also took a touch in an offside position on the Odegaard chance in the second half. It would have gone in had Auba not got that touch and pretty much summed up Aubameyang’s day. The rest of his play was full of energy and so whilst he had a bit of a stinker in his end product, his general play wasn’t the problem, but hopefully we can just chalk this down to being a one off and he can be back firing against Liverpool.
Thankfully we have other players stepping up when he isn’t scoring and one of those is a man who is on a bit of a hot streak now, Emile Smith Rowe, who looked good all game and is become a real end product merchant. I’ve mentioned the controversy already so won’t go back over that old ground, but when the ball sprays out on the edge of the box he still has to be alive to it and place the ball in the corner. He did just that beyond the arms of Foster and we had what was to be our match winning goal.
So we saw out the game and despite the slightly hairy couple of moments after we scored, we certainly held Watford at bay with yet another clean sheet and decent defensive performance. Given how we were for the first three games of the season, the solid base of our team that has been built is very positive indeed. That’s five clean sheets in the league and although we haven’t been scoring tonnes of goals, when you’re building from a solid base of not conceding, you always have the chance to win football matches, even if the sharp end of the pitch isn’t doing it with too much regularity.
We now go in to an international break and have the warm feeling of a win to keep hold of until we face the daunting task of a trip to Anfield in a couple of weeks time.
Catch you all tomorrow.