Arsenal saw off Watford 1-0 at the Emirates in a match that the Gunners could have won 3- or 4-nil and also could have dropped points late on. It was a strange game. But the table doesn’t track how you won them, just whether you did. Arsenal are up to 5th and are unbeaten in 10-straight matches.
Today’s win adds one more to Mikel Arteta’s tally in his first 100 matches at the club. Arteta amassed a 54-20-26 record in all competitions, good for second best in club history behind George Graham. If you were to convert the results to points, Arsene Wenger, who is 3rd in wins in his first 100 matches in charge, would edge ahead. Either way, it’s an impressive start. And I’ll admit, I didn’t realize Arteta’s results were quite as good as they are.
It was a day to forget for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He could have scored the opener for Arsenal 6 minutes in, but he didn’t control the ball and his failed attempt steered it to Bukayo Saka, who put it away but was offside. Aubameyang missed a penalty later in the first half. And he touched home a ball from Martin Ødegaard in the second half from an offside position when it might have been headed in anyway. On the other hand, Aubameyang was involved, working hard, and getting into good positions all match. You could chalk it up to bad luck. But he shouldn’t be taking penalties when Alexandre Lacazette (or Nicolas Pépé) are on the pitch. He’s missed his last two and that pair both have better conversion numbers than Aubameyang’s pedestrian 70% rate.
It was the red-hot Emile Smith Rowe who scored the only goal for Arsenal (his third in as many games), which was a bit of a controversial one. The Gunners did not throw the ball back to Watford, who had put the ball out for an “injured” teammate who had stayed down to simulate an injury and didn’t end up needing treatment. Arsenal also won the ball back off a pretty clear foul by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, that Kevin Friend saw but either decided not to call or played an advantage that didn’t really materialize.
The non-call was karmic retribution. Watford played a physical, borderline dirty game. They committed 19 fouls while only managing four yellow cards. Two of those cards went to Juraj Kucka, who was sent off for his second in the 89th minute. Arsenal, on the other hand, saw four yellow cards for six fouls. Danny Rose alone committed four or five fouls, three of which were clear yellows, and was somehow not booked.
Karma flexed her muscles again late in the match, when Aaron Ramsdale made a terrible mistake coming flying out of his box towards the right-side touchline and completely whiffing on the ball. Josh King got in behind but was unable to steer the ball home from an admittedly tight angle. Perhaps if King hadn’t been running around the pitch kicking people from behind and also going down like he’d been shot off minimal contact, the football gods might have looked more kindly on his chance.
That big error aside, Aaron Ramsdale didn’t have too much to do today. He claimed a few routine balls in the air and made one good punch to snuff out an opportunity. The Arsenal defense handled the rest, limiting Watford’s chances and putting in key blocks on the rare occasions that things broke down.
I think Ben White had his best game defensively for Arsenal today. He also broke up several plays quite high up the pitch, including the interception / tackle that led to the Arsenal goal. It was a MOTM performance for me. The actual MOTM was given to Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who also had a fantastic game filling in for Thomas Partey who missed out with groin tightness. To my surprise, Maitland-Niles played a fair few really nice, incisive passes, which isn’t normally part of his game. He was also his usual energetic, strong-tackling self.
I liked what I saw from Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares today. As previously mentioned, Emile Smith Rowe stayed red-hot. Bukayo Saka looks back to himself — he’s had a few good performances in a row after starting the season slowly. And Martin Ødegaard was quite good in his 30-minute appearance.
It was an impressive performance from Arsenal, for me. The announcers and some of the online commenters think the Gunners weren’t up to their recent level today, which may be technically true. But they showed gumption and fight. They matched Watford’s physicality all over the pitch and didn’t back down. A bunch of things didn’t go their way — two goals chalked off and a missed penalty — but they managed to get the full points anyway.
It was a gritty win, the type that Arsenal don’t always pull out. The type that they have a somewhat-divorced-from-reality reputation of not being up for. They were up for it today. Arsenal earned it.
The Gunners are next in action away to Liverpool on November 20th. Arsenal head into the international break with 10-matches unbeaten and in 5th place in the table. There is a lot to like about what the Gunners are doing right now.