Saturday 21 April 2018

Sanchez goal rush continues as Gunners crush Watford

Watford 0-3 Arsenal

Watford's Victor Ibarbo tries to stop the advance of Francis Coquelin
Watford's Victor Ibarbo tries to stop the advance of Francis Coquelin
Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring Arsenal's second goal
Watford's Troy Deeney battles Laurent Koscielny for control of the ball
Watford's Etienne Capoue (left) and Troy Deeney (right) challenge Arsenal's Francis Coquelin

Simon Burnton

Alexis Sanchez's golden scoring streak, threatened before kick-off by a minor hip injury, was instead extended to 10 in six games as he broke through a resolute if occasionally ragged Watford defence to set Arsenal on their way to victory and a return to second place. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey went on to extend the winning margin, all three goals coming in the second half of an unexpectedly open encounter, allowing the prolific Chilean to spend the last 10 minutes on the bench, as thoughts turned to Tuesday's crucial Champions League encounter with Bayern Munich.

Watford's first four home games were forgettable affairs, featuring few chances and two goals, a 360-minute symphony of sterility. They played a different tune here, as Vicarage Road witnessed more attacking action in the opening half-hour than in the previous two months.

The Watford captain, Troy Deeney, said in his programme notes that this represented "a bonus game for us", with Arsenal bearing all the pressure. But there was little sign of any pressure in Arsenal's approach to the early exchanges, as with unhurried menace they twice raided down the right, most productively when Ramsey's cross found Theo Walcott in space, a decent chance from which he headed too close to Heurelho Gomes. Arsenal's next chance fell to Ramsey, whose effort was blocked by Sebastian Prodl, before Sanchez found space outside the penalty area and curled a right-footed shot that a diving Gomes pushed away, all with less than 10 minutes played.

At this stage, most of the pressure on Arsenal was being applied by Deeney, who chased Sanchez for 40 yards, and Francis Coquelin similarly, with little reward but the acclaim of the home fans. But his efforts earned his side a foothold in the game when he stole the ball off Coquelin before blasting a shot goalwards that Petr Cech beat away.

Buoyed by the sudden evidence of a crack in Arsenal's defence, Watford crowbarred their way into the match. Walcott had regularly threatened to break his opponents' offside trap, but it was Deeney who first managed it, racing down the left only for Laurent Koscielny, making his first appearance of the month after hamstring trouble, to cut out his low centre with Odion Ighalo lurking. Then, after half an hour, Ikechi Anya set Ighalo clear, but the previously dead-eye striker, responsible for Watford's last five league goals, side-footed hopelessly wide.

It was thrilling stuff, breathless and wildly unpredictable. Sanchez's glorious chipped pass sailed over the home defence and into the path of Ramsey, bursting into the area, but his effort clipped the bar on its way over.

Hector Bellerin cut in from the right before sliding a low cross across goal, well cleared by Allan Nyom at the far post, and Koscielny volleyed wide from the corner. Then Watford produced the finest move of the first half, with Ramsey prostrate on the wing all the while claiming an imaginary injury, though after a flurry of pinball passes Deeney's cross deflected harmlessly to Cech.

On the evidence of the opening quarter-hour of the second half, both managers must have spent the interval exhorting their charges to calm down, as the avalanche of goalmouth action came to a juddering halt and the teams instead exchanged bookings, with Nyom and Per Mertesacker both cautioned.

But the game turned on an incident in the 62nd minute when the referee refused to blow his whistle. Etienne Capoue, who spent most of the match stationed in a defensive role, launched himself into Arsenal's penalty area and then, as Coquelin challenged, on to the ground. Mike Jones waved play on and the Gunners roared into the space he was no longer protecting. Cazorla's excellent reverse pass found Ozil, who could well have won a penalty had Nathan Ake's challenge not sent the ball rolling to Sanchez, who scored.

Five minutes later, Arsenal extended their lead when Ramsey's gentle shot deflected to Ozil, who squared for Giroud, on the field for less than three minutes, to side-foot home. With 15 minutes remaining, Ramsey completed the victory by turning in Ozil's low centre.

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