Watford offer up gifts to Gunners as Deeney endures an off day
Watford 0-1 Arsenal
There is plenty to be gained from speaking your mind as a footballer, as Troy Deeney knows well. But there is a reason that so many stick rigidly to cliche, and it is to guard against the sort of humiliation that the Watford captain suffered here, a week after leading his club to the FA Cup final.
"Whenever I play Arsenal, I'll go up and think, 'let me whack the first one and see who wants it.'" So said Deeney after this fixture last season. A season later, he stuck to his word and promptly whacked Lucas Torreira.
The problem was that the whack in question was more of an elbow, and it was thrust straight into the Arsenal midfielder's face. Barely 10 minutes had passed and the striker was marching angrily down the tunnel.
It was not even the first advantage that Watford had handed Unai Emery's side. Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster had already gifted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the most fortuitous goal that Javi Gracia's team will concede all season, launching a goal-lines clearance straight into the Arsenal striker's boot and watching as it flew into the back of his net.
The Watford double-whammy set the tone for a night of tension and drama. The visitors can hardly be said to have made the most of the one-man advantage but they did just about enough to return to the top four.
Given their horrendous run of results on the road, Arsenal might have been forgiven for thinking they were due a bit of luck. It was Daryl Janmaat's back-pass that put Foster under pressure, but the finger of blame should be pointed only at the Watford goalkeeper.
The first touch, across his own goal, was loose. The little skip, before the attempted clearance, was unnecessary. Aubameyang slid in, the ball smashed off his boot, and Arsenal's top scorer had his first away goal of 2019.
Deeney's dismissal made the evening feel even sweeter. Torreira was certainly caught around the face, but the Watford captain was enraged, ripping his shirt off before he had even left the pitch. If the diminutive Torreira had been taller than 5ft 6in, it might have been a legitimate shoulder barge. Instead, it had all the appearance of an elbow to the head.
It was to the credit of Deeney's team-mates, and his head coach, that Watford responded excellently. Dinos Mavropanos, the Arsenal centre-back starting his first match of the season, appeared especially nervy under pressure from Andre Gray as Watford hunted with venom.
The visitors needed Bernd Leno to remain alert between the posts. The German goalkeeper deflected Craig Cathcart's shot on to the woodwork before then springing across his goal to deny Etienne Capoue's free-kick. Responding to the growing pressure, Emery turned to Mesut Ozil to provide more composure and control in the Arsenal midfield. His side began the second half with more authority, and they nearly doubled the lead when Henrikh Mkhitaryan's close-range shot was somehow deflected wide by Foster.
Still Watford pushed, with Adam Masina launching a swerving cannon of a shot onto the top of Leno's woodwork from all of 25 yards. Gray soon found space in the penalty box but miscontrolled with only the Arsenal goalkeeper to beat, before Ainsley Maitland-Niles made a wonderful sliding tackle to prevent the Watford striker slamming home an equaliser.
Aubameyang was always prowling with menace but the one-goal lead gave Watford hope of an equaliser until the very end, when their shattered players finally collapsed to the turf.