Friday 23 February 2018

Early Hornets blitz stings dismal Arsenal

Arsenal 1 Watford 2

Deeney: Early strike. Photo: Reuters
Deeney: Early strike. Photo: Reuters

Jason Burt

A famous, famous victory for Watford and an infamous performance from Arsenal. They deservedly lost. They can have no dispute; no complaint over that because of their own carelessness. With Arsene Wenger banned from the touchline they lost touch.

This was Watford's first win in eight Premier League games and there will be no threat of relegation if they maintain these determined heights while Arsenal will be subsumed into another period of angst as they prepare to travel to Chelsea this Saturday.

Arsenal were far better in an increasingly desperate second-half but Watford with-held the onslaught. This time there was no comeback, no late goals - only a chorus of home disapproval at the sodden end.

Arsenal were sloppy from the off; conceding a series of careless free-kicks - in particular by Shkodran Mustafi - and then conceding a goal. Again it was Mustafi who erred - and this time Tom Cleverley tapped the ball sideways for Younes Kaboul to thump it from 25 yards, his shot deflecting off Aaron Ramsey past a wrong-footed Petr Cech .

They were buoyed. The visitors had made a bristling start, belying their recent form and doubled their advantage when they were again aided by Arsenal's carelessness.

Again Mustafi was involved, allowing Etienne Capoue to run past him and that came after an appalling throw-in mix-up between Ramsey and Gabriel, giving the ball to the Watford midfielder. Capoue ran on, superbly beating Francis Coquelin and then Mustafi before his shot was parried by Cech but squirmed across goal. There were three, four Arsenal defenders there but Troy Deeney wanted it more and hurtled in to turn the ball home.

Already there was a whiff of anger; a mood of frustration at the Emirates with just two minutes and 54 seconds between the goals and the only consolation for Arsenal being they had to improve surely and also had plenty of time to do it. They also had to make a change with an injured Ramsey making way for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Watford had cashed in - and not just with the sale confirmed before kick-off of striker Odion Ighalo to Chinese Super League club Changchun Yatai for a fee that could rise to £25 million - with AC Milan loan signing M'Baye Niang, making his debut and funnelling back, working hard as Arsenal finally provided some threat.

At half-time the boos rang out. Theo Walcott, scorer of a hat-trick against Southampton in the FA Cup last weekend, started on the bench but went through his paces during the break. He came on - Giroud was replaced - and his first involvement was to flash a low shot wide and then went even closer, forcing a fine block from goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.

The siege was on. Arsenal, finally, had some momentum and then they had a goal when Iwobi found the net.

Arsenal went for it with Coquelin substituted, leaving them with no defensive midfielder, and Watford had to respond otherwise they were being overwhelmed. Monreal fired narrowly over and then substitute Lucas Perez went even closer as he slammed a fierce drive against the cross-bar.

Arsenal became increasingly desperate but could not claw it back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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