Arsenal (0) 1 Watford (0) 0
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Sunday, 7th November 2021. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(4-4-1-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Nuno Tavares; Bukayo Saka, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith-Rowe; Alexandre Lacazette; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Kieran Tierney, Martin Ødegaard, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli.
Scorers: Emile Smith-Rowe (56 mins)
Yellow Cards: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Albert Sambi Lokonga, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Gabriel Magalhães
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 61%
Referee: Kevin Friend
Assistant Referees: Adrian Holmes, Simon Beck
Fourth Official: Martin Atkinson
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jarred Gillett; AVAR James Mainwaring
Today’s match will mark the one hundredth game under Mikel Arteta’s tutelage, and what could be a better way to celebrate, with no other than a victory here at the Emirates in a Sunday lunchtimeclash? Arsenal are starting with the successful 4-4-1-1 formation again (which saw its debut in the victory against Leicester City last week), and it is good to see Kieran Tierney on the bench today after recovering from his ankle injury, with the only obvious absentees being Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka, through injury, of course.
After an extremely moving Remembrance Day ceremony involving the managers of both clubs laying wreaths in the centre circle on behalf of the fallen of both world wars which involved the Last Post being played by a solitary trumpeter, we kicked off proceedings on this rather chilly November day in North London. Right from the start of the match, we imposed our will on the visitors by pressing them back deep into their own half. We had a great chance to open the scoring within five mintues of the start when Albert Sambi Lokonga was presented with a golden chance, but instead, he slotted the ball to Alexandre Lacazete, who could not quite get a hold of it, so the visitors managed to clear easily. Bukayo Saka put the ball into the net a couple of minutes later, but unfortuntely it was deemed to be offside, and although it was disappointing, we did not appear to let it break our stride. Our passing was crisp, and our shooting accurate, as our domination became obvious for all to see at this point in the game. Five minutes after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang received our first yellow card of the day, Albert Sambi Lokonga received our second for a silly altercation with Juraj Kucka, and the subsequent free-kick that was awarded to Watford petered out into nothing. The match levelled out for a while with the visitors looking accepting of the fact that we were the stronger side on the day, and patiently we returned to the business of the hour with comfortable possession and incisive attacking movements. Just before the half hour, Takehiro Tomiyasu received our third yellow card of the afternoon after a clumsy tackle on Ismaila Sarr, and after yet another botched Watford free-kick, we regrouped in order to continue to take the game to the visitors, who appeared to be more intent on stopping us scoring, rather than attempting to open the scoring themselves. Danny Rose made a ridiculous and heavy-handed challenge on Alexandre Lacazette in the penalty area; referee Kevin Friend awarded the penalty, and although Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot was perfectly placed, goalkeeper Ben Foster dived the right way and kept the shot out of the net. This incident merely served to fire up the Hornets, and they started to become more of a competitor at the Emirates this afternoon, with a goalscoring attempt by Juraj Kucka going inches wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s right-hand post. Just before the break, Gabriel was unlucky not to score with a powerful header, and despite some inspired and physical play from both sides, the half-time whistle blew with honours even.
And so the visitors kicked off the second half and although it was a slow start, the signs were good. Albert Sambi Lokonga had a superb shot on goal from outside the penalty area, which was saved by Ben Foster within a couple of minutes of the restart, and on the touchline, the animation in Mikel Arteta’s movements became obvious to all, as he encouraged his players to keep applying the pressure onto the visitors. Emile Smith-Rowe was unlucky not to score when an inspired effort was cleared by the opposition defence, and as the match became scrappy the visitors’ tactics of stopping us at all costs only served our collective frustration greater. Eleven minutes after the restart, and for the third match in a row, young Emile Smith-Rowe opened the scoring with a blistering low shot that had the beating of goalkeeper Ben Foster all the way, after some sterling work by Ben White. The goal certainly woke the stadium up, with the crowd vocally encouraging the team to go on and score more goals this afternoon. The visitors were also energised, as it was Arsenal’s turn to soak up pressure, as Watford tried to break through our midfield to attempt to score. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was desperately unlucky not to score after trying to meet a high, curling ball from the right-hand flank viathe trusty boot of Bukayo Saka after sixty-seven minutes, and just seconds later Alexandre Lacazette was substituted for Martin Ødegaard and the game continued onwards. Our substitute was instrumental in getting the ball into the Watford net, (courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), but it was denied for offside, and with fifteen minutes of the match remaining, we started to look very comfortable indeed. After some clever play in and around the Watford penalty area, Emile Smith-Rowe blasted the ball over the bar from close range after seventy-seven minutes, and just after Gabriel received our fourth yellow card of the day for dangerous kicking, Watford came close to scoring when Aaron Ramsdale misjudged the ball on the right-hand side of the penalty area, and fortunately Joshua King placed the ball into the side netting, which was a truly hair-raising moment. Mohamed Elneny replaced Emile Smith-Rowe with five minutes of the match remaining, and with the visitors going down to ten minutes after a rough tackle on Nuno Tavares by Juraj Kucka, we intensified our desire to secore a second goal. In the six minutes injury time, Albert Sambi Lokonga came close to scoring with a blistering shot that was pushed away by Ben Foster, and as Gabriel Martinelli replaced Bukayo Saka with a couple of minutes of the match remaining, the name of the game appeared to be one of containment now, as the game ebbed away to its conclusion, which was a superb home win for us.
Blimey. How about that then? Ten matches unbeaten, and three games on the bounce as winners! And, as this is being written, fifth in the Premiership as well. The team are playing with renewed confidence, and they all look happy plying their trade under Mikel Arteta these days. too. Mentioned in dispatches today are the magnificent performances by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who completely dominated the midfield; Ben White, who is growing in confidence with every match; Emile Smith-Rowe, who, pound for pound, must surely be the finest young player of his generation in that position and the rejuvenated Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is becoming an indispensible member of the team. After the international break next weekend, the following three Premiership matches are Liverpool (away), Newcastle United (home) and Manchester United (away). Dare we dream?
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: Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday, 20th November at 5.30pm (Premier League). 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.