Thursday 24 October 2019

Gunners shoot themselves in the foot again

Watford 2-2 Arsenal

Arsenal's Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe show their disappointment after conceding their second goal. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein
Arsenal's Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe show their disappointment after conceding their second goal. Photo: REUTERS/David Klein

Jason Burt

At 2-1 to Arsenal, Matteo Guendouzi was substituted and raised his fingers to the Watford fans to show the score. There were 23 minutes to go. Not one or two, but 23 minutes and they proved to be 23 minutes (plus four minutes of injury time) in which Arsenal were pummelled, forced into ever more panicky defending and left holding on for a point they frankly did not deserve.

At full-time Guendouzi's fellow midfielder Granit Xhaka offered a frank assessment. "We knew they had nothing to lose and they would come for us, but we didn't show our game, we were too scared, nobody wanted the ball," the Arsenal captain said witheringly.

Xhaka can't: 'We didn't show our game. We were too scared. Nobody wanted the ball.'
Xhaka can't: 'We didn't show our game. We were too scared. Nobody wanted the ball.'

Too scared? No-one wanted the ball? Really? That was some indictment from Xhaka who added that Arsenal were simply not "mentally strong" enough and did not have the "character" to see out a game in which they were 2-0 up at half-time against a wounded team at the bottom of the table, in what was Quique Sanchez Flores' first game back in charge at Vicarage Road.

Guendouzi has become a poster boy of something Arsenal have previously lacked, a bit of grit and the young midfielder had gesticulated angrily at his team-mates for not pressing with him in the first-half.

But he was part of the complacency that let Watford back into the game. In all they racked up 31 goal attempts - and should have won.

Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has to carry the can for the second-half display, which was condemned as worse than that expected of "semi-professionals" by pundit Graeme Souness. "Proper teams do not play like that," Souness said, not hiding his contempt.

Watford's Roberto Pereyra is fouled by David Luiz for a penalty. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Watford's Roberto Pereyra is fouled by David Luiz for a penalty. Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Emery will also have provoked the ire of Arsenal fans by suggesting that on-loan midfielder Dani Ceballos was suffering in the heat - he is from Seville - and needed to be replaced as Arsenal were wilting.

Emery also admitted that while Guendouzi may have "personality" he can also be very "emotional".

It was all very emotional inside Vicarage Road on what would have been Graham Taylor's 75th birthday. Watford midfielder Tom Cleverley said his side had sensed that Arsenal were "tentative" in playing out from the back and they turned the ball over again and again until they eventually scored as goalkeeper Bernd Leno tapped it to Sokratis who tried to find Guendouzi only for Deulofeu to intercept. It ran to Cleverley who smashed it home.

And the equaliser?

That came from a rapid counter-attack with Abdoulaye Doucoure picking out substitute Roberto Pereyra. He ran at David Luiz, who rashly brought him down just inside the box, and he picked himself up to net the penalty.

Most frustratingly of all for the hosts was the move deep into injury-time when Doucoure was teed up only to side-foot weakly into Leno's arms when he had to score.

"They pushed us," Emery said. In fact, they pushed Arsenal around and by the end it felt like a very different game from the one in which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had scored twice and Mesut Ozil had announced his return, on his first start of the season, by delivering the killer pass in a fine 20-pass move.

Watford cried foul on Arsenal's first with Will Hughes appearing to be felled by Ceballos, but Anthony Taylor waved play on as they stopped. Sead Kolasinac worked his way to the edge of the area and pick out Aubameyang who swivelled and shot low past Ben Foster.

Aubameyang's second arrived with Ozil sliding the ball in behind the defence for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to cross low for the striker to tap home.

The hosts had been unlucky to be behind in the first place - Leno had saved well from Cleverley and Holebas had shot over - but Flores provoked a reaction.

When pressure builds and momentum shifts it is for the best teams and coaches to react, but Arsenal appeared overwhelmed. Chance after chance was created by Watford and Arsenal had no answer.

"We never gave up," a delighted Flores said afterwards. Could Arsenal say the same?

Telegraph.co.uk

The Left Wing: Ireland fall short again, 2019 slump and what Andy Farrell must do as head coach

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport