Watford (1) 2 Arsenal (2) 3
Vicaarage Road Stadium, Vicarage Road, Watford WD18 0ER
Sunday, 6th March 2022. Kick-off time: 2.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale: Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Martin Ødegaard, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Rob Holding, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Zak Swanson, Omari Hutchinson.
Scorers: Martin Ødegaard (5 mins), Bukayo Saka (30 mins), Gabriel Martinelli (52 mins)
Yellow Cards: Cédric Soares, Eddie Nketiah
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 57%
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, Richard West
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Eddie Smart
Looking objectively at the Premiership table, with West Ham United and Manchester United (the two teams directly above us), playing Liverpool and Manchester City respectively this weekend, this match represents a superb chance for us to make our mark on fourth place, regardless of the fact that we also have three games in hand, all of which we need to win, of course. Three wins in a row for us in the Premiership have improved the mood music at the Emirates nowadays after what was truly a difficult start to the season.
Within seventeen seconds of the kick-off, Emmanuel Dennis ran onto a Joao Pedro pass and got the ball into our net, but thankfully, it was disallowed for offside; however, five minutes later, Martin Ødegaard opened the scoring for Arsenal when he slotted the ball past Ben Foster to hit the back of the net after some clever play from Bukayo Saka out on the right wing. The match got even more frenetic when, on the eleventh minute, Cucho Hernandez equalised for the Hornets with a clever acrobatic shot that gave Aaron Ramsdale no chance to keep out. After such excitement so early on in the game, the match started to gain pace and became an end-to-end one from now onwards. Thomas Partey was desperately unlucky not to score our second goal when his long-range shot deceptively twisted around the right hand side of Ben Foster’s post. Both teams are fiercly competitive and look really dangerous when they get in front of goal, and it was looking as if this match was there for the taking should one side or another get the breaks. Aaron Ramsdale made a fabulous save from Emmanuel Dennis, which he could not hold, but somehow managed to claw it away before Joao Pedro ran in to try to score. However, on the half hour, we got back in front when Bukayo Saka took the ball off Tom Cleverley, slotted it to Alexandre Lacazette who back-flicked it into space for Bukayo Saka to put the ball away with some aplomb. The goal certainly inspired us to go on the hunt for more goals, as we started to pass the ball around with confidence, but we had to be very careful though, as the home side were extremely dangerous on the counter-attack. Three minutes before the break, we had a penalty appeal turned down when Cédric Soares took a tumble in the Watford penalty area, but referee Craig Pawson waved for play to continue. In the two minutes injury time, we continued to press the Watford defence but the scoreline remained in our favour when Craig pawson blew his whistle to signify the hiatus.
With much anticipation, we started the second half here at Vicarage Road this afternoon. The home side commenced rather firmly, with the majority of the action being in our half. There was a heart-stopping moment just after the restart as an attempted clearance by Aaron Ramsdale went straight to a Watford player who was quickly neutralised by our men, which could have been extremely awkward, and then, a minute or so later, Ben White accidentally caught Cucho Hernandez with his arm and the Watford player went down clutching his face. After one or two angry words and pointing fingers from the Watford players, Cucho Hernandez carried on. Seven minutes after the restart, Mikel Arteta retrieved the ball after it went out for a throw-in and Bukayo Saka took it quickly, and in an extremely quick thinking moment, Martin Ødegaard and Alexandre Lacazette combined superbly well together to tee-up Gabriel Martinelli to blast the ball into the net from twenty yards, a real cracker of a goal, worthy of a winning goal in a cup final, no doubt about that. Cédric Soares was booked for a silly tackle on Joao Pedro, and when the match resumed, we just appeared to take control of matters. Watford, to be fair, still looked dangerous as they had done most of the match, but when we moved forward, particularly on the counter-attack, we looked positively lethal, with the feeling amongst the travelling fans in the stadium that we could still get yet more goals today. Gabriel Martinelli was replaced by Nicolas Pépé with eighteen minutes of the match remaining, which gave us a fresh pair of legs in order to grab yet more goals this afternoon. Mikel Arteta could be seen encouraging his players to move forward to increase their goal tally. Alexandre Lacazette made way for Eddie Nketiah with eleven minutes left on the clock, and within a minute of his arrival, our subsitute hit the post with a ferocious shot that left Ben Foster grasping for air. With three minutes of the match remaining, Moussa Sissoko twisted, turned and slipped the ball under Aaron Ramsdale to reduce our hard-earned lead to just one goal now. Martin Ødegaard was substituted for Rob Holding during the first minute of five in the injury time period to try and shore things up a little at the back, and suddenly things started to look a little more pressurised for us. Eddie Nketiah was booked for a reckless challenge and after Samuel Kalu’s shot was easily plucked out of the air by Aaron Ramsdale, we managed to hold on to grab the victory, and for the time being, fourth place in the Premiership.
A superb win today, and some great football played by the boys as well. Just how good was Bukayo Saka this afternoon? This young man is growing in stature in every match he plays, and it was also heartening to see how good Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey were in linking up together in midfield, not to mention the off the ball running of Alexandre Lacazette also. All three goals were dazzling pieces of work, and at last there is a feeling of fourth place in the Premiership being a distinct possibility.
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: Leicester City at the Emirates on Sunday, 19th March at 4.30pm (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.