Arsenal lost to Watford at the Emirates for the second year in a row today by a final score of 2-1. It was not a great performance in heavy skies, and with Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur both dropping points, it feels even more like a season-ending backbreaker. Here’s how things happened.
A real son of a gun of a first half
Arsenal came out, as they have far too often for a team with title aspirations, looking flat. Passes weren’t connecting, Watford’s high pressure was making Arsenal’s midfield and fullbacks look lost in possession, and the forwards were isolated. When Watford took the 1-0 lead on a deflected free kick, it could’ve been fluky enough, Younes Kaboul’s shot striking Aaron Ramsey firmly on the rear before beating a slow-ish Petr Cech. But when Watford scored to make it 2-0 a few minutes later, it was not at all fluky; Ramsey lost possession, Francis Coquelin jogged alongside the dribbling Etienne Capoue for a full 30 yards while getting faked out of his jock, and four defenders failed to stop Troy Deeney from pouncing on a rebound. Absolutely no response was forthcoming from the Gunners for the remainder of the half.
False dawn and the sun shining on Alex Iwobi
Arsenal brought on Theo Walcott to start the second half, and the team responded with a new shape and pressure to boot. Alex Iwobi in particular looked excellent, using his dribbling skills and energy to make things happen again and again, and when Alexis squirted away on the right byline to float a cross, it made sense that the Nigerian was on hand to bundle Arsenal back into the game. However, after Arsenal’s third sub, Lucas replacing Olivier Giroud, things became static again, and despite one or two chances, Arsenal simply could not cohere again.
Arsenal’s formation non-functional
Arsenal’s best period this year came with Alexis up top. As Aidan Gibson points out, that allows him to function essentially as an extra midfielder and frees up a spot for a runner on the left and right—a role Alexis doesn’t relish when he himself is on the left. But instead, today, Arsenal began with Giroud up top and Alexis on the left, and with no passers in midfield to speak of, it’s no wonder Arsenal ended the half with zero shots on target and no possession of any quality whatsover.
Oh look, darling, Aaron Ramsey is sitting down again
Aaron Ramsey had to leave the match about fifteen minutes in, holding his calf. We’ll keep you posted about the news, but suffice it to say: injuries suck and rob us of the chance to see awesome things. I hate injuries.