As much as Arsenal’s pass-and-move penchant allows us to dominate possession and create a catalogue of goalscoring opportunities in most matches, it also, if we’re at the top of our game, causes our opponents to run themselves to a standstill as they chase after Santi Cazorla-shaped shadows all over the pitch.
That was certainly the case this afternoon as three goals in 12 minutes after an hour of valiant, but ultimately futile, effort by hosts Watford, secured us three more points, saw us reclaim second spot in the table having been dislodged for a few hours following Manchester United’s win at Everton, and ensured we picked up where we left off before the international break, just as we’d all hoped we would before kick-off.
The one change to our starting line-up from our win over United a fortnight ago was the return of Laurent Koscielny in place of Gabriel who missed out on the match-day squad entirely. There were conflicting reports about the Brazilian’s absence with illness and a ‘small operation’ both cited as explanations but thankfully, Arsene Wenger expects the defender to be fit for Tuesday’s game against Bayern Munich whatever the issue really was.
The large Vicarage Road pitch seemed smooth but could certainly have done with some sprinkler action because although the ball ran pretty smoothly, it was a little slow and looked far more physically draining than most others in the league. The fact the ball would hold up when hit long also facilitated the hosts’ deliberate game-plan of defending in numbers and then going route one at every opportunity.
That tactic tested our defence on a number of occasions in the first half and Koscielny vitally cut out a Troy Deeney cross from the left at one point, with Odion Ighalo lurking in the middle unmarked. Ighalo then raced clear on the right but carefully placed a glorious opportunity as wide as Frank Lampard’s waist.
At the other end, Theo Walcott glanced a header wide from a pin-point, right-wing cross by Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez tested their ‘keeper with what’s becoming a trademark 25-yard screamer and Ramsey himself replicated his miss for 4-0 against United by guiding the ball over the bar from close range following a Sanchez cross from the left.
I’ll be honest, at half-time I thought there was no way Watford could keep up their level of effort for long in the second period and not just because Deeney was blowing out of his arse after about 25 minutes. The pitch and our passing meant I was confident they would ease off, leaving us more space and then it would just be a case of can we take our chances when they inevitably arrive?
The answer, with Sanchez in such sizzling goalscoring form, was provided after 62 minutes. Tottenham reject Etienne Capoue tried to buy a penalty by falling over thin air and Francis Coquelin wasted no time in berating his fellow Frenchman in both English and then, when he realised who the diver was, in their common mother tongue. A bilingual bollocking.
Meanwhile, the referee waved away appeals, Arsenal countered, Mesut Ozil played a one-two with Cazorla taking the German one-on-one with their ‘keeper who duly brought him down. A clear penalty then, had Sanchez not instantly and nonchalantly stroked the loose ball off the near post and into the net to give us the lead.
That made it seven goals in four club games for the Chilean and heralded a bit of an onslaught for the hosts as substitute Olivier Giroud guided an Ozil cut-back from the right into the roof of the net and Ramsey found the net via a deflection, following what can only be described as a barnstorming run by Hector Bellerin on the right. Bang, bang, bang. Game over.
After the game, Wenger described our attacking as relentless from the moment we took the lead and he wasn’t wrong. He said:
I like that we continued to attack relentlessly until the end and to finish with it was a convincing win. We scored five at Leicester, we scored three against Watford today, who had only conceded one [at home], so that tells you we can score goals and we can be dangerous against anybody. We faced a team that was very well organised, very strong in their challenges and very direct as well. It took us a while to adjust to that level of commitment and when we did it in the second half we dominated the game and after the first goal you could see that mentally and physically they got the blow. Sometimes the first goal changes the game. When they had to come out it was much easier for us. We know once we are in full power, we are quick in transition and we can kill teams off with our pace and that is what happened.
So another three goals, another clean sheet and another three points keep us just two points behind Manchester City in the title race. Now to recover and go again when we entertain the mighty Munich in a few days’ time.