Arsenal left it late, but 2 goals in quick succession (an own goal, Mesut Ozil) were enough to seal the points for the Gunners and ensure they finish the weekend no worse than tied fourth in the table. Like last weekend, it was not the prettiest of wins, but it counts the same in the standings. The team is far from a finished product, but I can’t complain too much about 7 wins on the trot.
The chances started early. Not 5 minutes in, Christian Kabasele whiffed on a tackle and caught Alexandre Lacazette. To his credit, the Frenchman tried to keep his footing but was only able to manage a half shot as he stumbled to the ground. It should have been given as a penalty regardless, but Lacazette staying on his feet likely hurt his chances to get the call. If only there were some kind of system that allows referees to rewatch critical moments to get the call right...
A few minutes later, Lacazette found himself in on goal, but his chip went well wide; he really should have done more with the chance. As well as he has played recently, today was one to forget.
Watford’s heavy press and physical play caused problems for the Arsenal midfield and back four the entire game, and the Hornets generated a number of gilt-edged chances. Bernd Leno, who replaced an injured Petr Cech, made several key saves to keep the game 0-0. For the middle 20 minutes of the second half, Watford looked the more likely side to score.
While the second half substitutions of Alex Iwobi for Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang didn’t have an immediate impact, the changes eventually paid off. Iwobi was involved on both goals, and Welbeck’s hard work to win the ball created the second.
Today’s match did nothing to assuage my concerns about the ability of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang to play together effectively. Ozil isn’t getting on the ball enough, Ramsey is being forced too far forward, and Aubameyang’s pace and threat is largely wasted out wide. They are Arsenal’s four best attacking players in terms of absolute talent, but things might work better with one (or both) of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi playing from wide. If Unai Emery wants to continue playing those four together, a change in formation / roles is needed at the least.
Alex Iwobi, in my estimation, has earned a starting spot for the next few league games. He has been by far Arsenal’s most dangerous attacker in the cup competitions, and his involvement in today’s goals seals the deal. It’s also time for Shkodran Mustafi to lose his starting spot to Rob Holding. Holding had his second strong game in a row while Mustafi made at least two serious (and laughably poor) errors that led to Watford chances - and don’t forget, he was faked TO THE GROUND by a Championship player at the midweek.
Full credit to Watford - they’re a strong side, and they didn't sit back. They play a physical style (but not excessively so, for the most part) and are well organized in defense. They created a whopping 2.38 xG today and probably did enough to earn a draw, if not a win.
Today was a good, and a bit lucky, win for the Gunners. But I’ll take it, of course. Next up, a trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday to face Qarabag.