Watford (0) 2 Arsenal (2) 2
Vicarage Road, Watford, Herts WD18 0ER
Sunday, 15th September 2019. Kick-off time: 4.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Sead Kolašinac; Granit Xhaka, Mattéo Guendouzi; Dani Ceballos, Mesut Özil, Nicolas Pépé; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Lucas Torreira, Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson, Emiliano Martínez, Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (21, 32 mins)
Yellow Cards: Sead Kolašinac, Mattéo Guendouzi, Bernd Leno
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 47%
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Ain’t nothin’ changed, then. Despite all the good things that we created at times in the first half of this troublesome match, we still had the ability to make a complete pigs’ ear of everything by the time the final whistle blew. For the first quarter of an hour, we struggled with containing the home side, and it looked as if we were chasing the game so early in the match; that was until Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang worked his particular kind of magic after 21 minutes. Sead Kolašinac moved forward, slotted the ball to Aubameyang, who wasted no time in turning and blasting it into the back of the net. Nine minutes later, the Gabon international did it again; the pass from Mesut Özil split the Watford defence asunder for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to run onto. He quickly advanced into the Watford penalty area, passed the ball into the middle for Aubameyang to score both Arsenal’s second (and his) to give us a (seemingly) unassailable lead. And that was it, for both the rest of the half, and although we were not to know it, the rest of the match as well.
Come the second half, say hello to the nightmare. Just eight minutes after the break, the first of many car crashes happened. Somehow, the defence lost their heads, and their common sense to boot. Bernd Leno passed the ball to Sokratis, who tried to find Mattéo Guendouzi; a quick thinking Gerard Deulofeu stuck his leg out and the loose ball found Tom Cleverley, who simply crashed it into the back of the Arsenal net. From now on, we capitulated like a Sunday morning pub side that was suffering from a Saturday night hangover.
The home side smelled blood, Time and time again they tore through us, and now our defensive frailties came to light. They were physical, their desire was greater, and despite Unai Emery making substitutions, it made no difference whatsoever, in fact it was worse. Ten minutes from time, Roberto Pereyra ran at David Luiz, who simply stuck a leg out to stop him, and in doing so conceded a penalty, in which the man he fouled also equalised the score. How on earth we managed to hang on for the rest of the game without conceding any more goals was nothing short of a miracle. Wave after wave of Watford attacks penetrated both our midfield and defence, and spurred on by the crowd they pressurised our goal. When the final whistle blew, a sense of relief overcame the Arsenal players, who can think themselves very lucky indeed that we didn’t lose this match, which by rights, we should have.
After the match, Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness said that our second half performance was akin to a “semi-professional team”, which to be fair, was about right, really. More worringly, Granit Xhaka said that we were “scared” in his post-match interview. Scared? Are you sure? What on earth is going on at this club these days? There are no leaders on the pitch, no-one with any idea what to do or how to organise a defence. The facts are that we have eight points from five games, and today we drew against the team that is currently bottom of the league. We were battered by Liverpool, rattled by Spurs, and today were fortunate not to come away from Vicarage Road with no points whatsoever. We allowed them to take 31 shots on our goal, with ten on target; with statistics such as these, it is fairly obvious that our defensive issues are going to cause us massive problems over the course of the season, unless something radical happens. And it has to be said: if lowly Watford do this to us, how much damage can Eintracht Frankfurt inflict on us come Thursday evening? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Eintracht Frankfurt at Commerzbank-Arena, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, on Thursday, 19th September at 5.55pm (Europa Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.