A HOLLOW victory for Arsenal against a Watford side relegated from the Premier League as they ultimately lacked the cojones to take more from a match in which they had more than enough chances to win.
Arsenal moved up to an eighth place finish, but hardly a confidence booster ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup Final against Chelsea. They allowed Watford 20 shots on goal and there were no better opportunities for Watford to take something from the game than a 90thminute Troy Deeney header.
It was the Watford captain, of course, who first accused Arsenal of lacking the bottle to compete a few years ago and the chance for a revenge of sorts was a feature of the pre-match build-up.
Deeney, who did get on the scoresheet with a late first half penalty after two Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goals and a Kieran Tierney strike and given Arsenal a seemingly unassailable lead, could have equalised after ex-Gunner Danny Welbeck scored Watford’s second.
At least Deeney was man enough to face the media afterwards, gracious in defeat and hinted it could mark the end of his Watford career. He said: “I will be having a knee operation next week. If that is my last game, I am happy I went out on my shield. I am a simple man. Did I go out and do everything I could, yes, was it good enough? No
“Things happen in football. I have been here 10 years, if it is my time to go, it is my time to go.”
“I will take the stick on social media but the harsh reality is people will lose their jobs because we haven’t been good enough.
“As a club and as a community we will go again. Ultimately we have not been good enough, no point dancing around it.”
Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta would not be so petty to get involved in personal point scoring and made it clear afterwards he has greater ambitions.
He said: “I feel for Watford and hope Troy does play on and gets them back into the Premier League. He has made his mark. They are our neighbours and know how they must be hurting.
“It was a crazy game, like a basketball match as they had to gamble with so many players going forward.”
Arteta also revealed afterwards he will select Emi Martinez as his Cup Final keeper but will have to assess his defensive options now regular centre back Shkodran Mustafi is injured with a long-term tendon problem.
Watford’s mission impossible looked just that less than a minute into the match when a Craig Dawson foul on Alex Lacazette was missed by referee Mike Dean only to be picked up by VAR. An extraordinary delay, even by the ridiculous standards of the Premier League, followed as it did not look like an obvious penalty offence. And then they had to decide whether or not Aubameyang had been offside in the build-up.
He was not, by a toe or two, and Dean belatedly dragged all the players back to the penalty area to watch Aubameyang send Foster the wrong way to score.
Arsenal still needed to be alert as Watford played with a with understandable energy and a frantic desire to get forward.
Goalkeeper Martinez was again in excellent form, though, and Arsenal are at their best as a counter- attacking side.
Nicolas Pepe was their most dangerous outlet. The Ivorian winger bewildered Watford left back Adam Masina every time he ran at hm, but smartly checked inside to set up Arsenal’s second goal with an increasingly familiar curling left foot cross which Aubameyang controlled and laid back for Tierney to score his first Arsenal goal with a deliberately placed right foot shot.
It was a selfless assist from a man chasing the Premier League golden Boot, but he showed his goalscoring instincts soon after when he scored his second and Arsenal’s third with a neat overhead free-kick after he set himself up from a Tierney throw-in went unchallenged by a demoralised Watford defence.
Few would have given Watford any hope now, but they continued to pass the ball well going forward and got back into the game through a Deeney penalty after an unnecessarily late lunge by David Luiz on Welbeck.
Watford proceeded to miss a series of great chances, none greater than Deeney’s, but a draw would not have been enough for them as they ultimately needed three points to overhaul Aston Villa and avoid the drop.