Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ozil fluffs his lines as Cleverley steals the show for Hornets

Watford 2 Arsenal 1

Tom Cleverley of Watford (8) celebrates as he scores their second goal with Etienne Capoue. Photo: Getty Images
Tom Cleverley of Watford (8) celebrates as he scores their second goal with Etienne Capoue. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Dean

Considering the primary criticism of Mesut Ozil is that he does not do enough to seize control of games, it was a cruel twist of fate that it was his error that swung this match away from Arsenal. Clean through on goal, with almost enough time to stop and brush the hair out of his eyes, Ozil had the most welcoming of opportunities to extend to the lead given to his side by an unlikely Per Mertesacker header.

He fluffed it, Heurelho Gomes saved, and barely a minute later Watford had equalised. Not long after that, the ball fell invitingly to Tom Cleverley and Arsenal were beaten. Such is life for Ozil at the moment, who had dominated the build-up to this match amid mounting speculation that he could be leaving in January and growing questions over his importance to this Arsenal side.

Christian Kabasele of Watford jumps between Per Mertesacker and Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images
Christian Kabasele of Watford jumps between Per Mertesacker and Mohamed Elneny of Arsenal. Photo: Getty Images

This was not the answer he was hoping to give. This should at least have been one point for Arsene Wenger, but Marco Silva's Watford side do not need much encouragement to go for the jugular. For all of their impressive performances this season, this was Watford's first home win under Silva. What a way to get it.

Cleverley's late, late goal sent Watford into the top four, and would have erased the midfielder's memory of his poor attempt to stop Mertesacker heading Arsenal into the lead.

After flying to South America and back to play for Chile during the international break, Alexis Sanchez was not deemed fit enough even to join the Arsenal substitutes. Aaron Ramsey was also absent, while Ozil had to make do with a place on the bench a day after his manager insisted he remains "one of the best players in the world".

Watford had international travellers of their own, including Andre Carrillo, who dropped to the bench after playing for Peru against Colombia on Wednesday. Troy Deeney was also demoted after 13 league games without a goal as Silva matched the visitors by playing a back three.

Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil (L) challenges Watford's French midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure (R). Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's German midfielder Mesut Ozil (L) challenges Watford's French midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure (R). Photo: Getty Images

The first real chance fell to Watford. Abdoulaye Doucoure twisted his way down the left wing and flashed across for Roberto Pereyra, who could not quite glance his close-range header home.

Still, this was encouraging for Silva, who refused to give his players a moment of peace from the touchline as he cajoled and clapped and nagged his way through the first half. His most dangerous player, as has been the case for much of this season, was the direct Richarlison on the left, who nearly burst into Arsenal box but was thwarted by a fine challenge from Hector Bellerin.

That run prompted the first effort of note from Arsenal, as Mohamed Elneny fired high and wide from range. Alexandre Lacazette nearly picked out Danny Welbeck after a promising run, while Iwobi's cross was held by Watford goalkeeper Gomes.

Then Mertesacker ambled up for Granit Xhaka's corner, held off the helpless Cleverley and powered his header home.

Watford's half-time instructions seemed to be to move further up the pitch. Richarlison soon had their first effort, cutting in but curling wide.

Iwobi, in particular, took pleasure from raiding those spaces, and he and Welbeck could have been clean through if Lacazette had not botched the final pass. It was enough to prompt a change from Silva, who threw Deeney into the fray after an hour.

Ozil then had his big moment, and choked. Richarlison was almost immediately sent flying by Bellerin in the box, and Deeney stepped up to make it 1-1 from the penalty spot.

Etienne Capoue's deflected effort spun against the post and then Richarlison volleyed over from close range. The golden moment was coming and it promptly arrived following a goalmouth scramble that was emphatically finished by Cleverley.

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