By Brian Bariyo Tumuramye
England: Here were the two faces of Arsenal who surrendered a two-goal lead, earned through some beautiful attacking play, with some ugly defending.
Hideous, in fact, as familiar failings afflicted them once more. In saying that a draw was the least that Watford deserved on Quique Sanchez Flores first game back at the club with a stirring performance that suggests they will soon climb out of the bottom three and beyond.
Watford should have won it with Abdoulaye Doucoure sidefooting into Bernd Leno’s arms in injury-time when surely he had to score and cap a remarkable comeback in the first game since Javi Gracia was sacked as head coach.
If the definition of madness is to continue to do the same thing again and again even if it is not working then Arsenal were guilty of that with Watford first goal as they tried to play the ball out of the back while the man charged with given them defensive leadership, David Luiz, buckled and conceded a penalty.
It had seemed the story would be Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring two more goals or Mesut Ozil playing a sublime pass to help fashion one of those in what was his first start of the season. Instead it was Watford’s revival – and the sight of Matteo Guendouzi holding up his fingers to the home fans to reflect the 2-1 scoreline at the time he was substituted. It smacked of arrogance.
Watford were undoubtedly better and the better team in the first-half but that was overwhelmed by the clinical efficiency of Aubameyang’s goal. Even so there was a shard of controversy around the opening goal with Watford crying foul, with justification, that Will Hughes had been fouled, as he was challenged on half-way by Dani Ceballos.
Even so that did not excuse Watford players – notably Etienne Capoue – stopping, expecting the free-kick. Referee Anthony Taylor waved play on and Sead Kolasinac did just that to work his way to the edge of the penalty area and play a pass inside to Aubameyang who swiveled and shot superbly low into the net.
Watford’s defending had not been good enough then and they were unpicked once more, albeit through a lovely 20-pass move by Arsenal, with Ozil playing the kind of ball only players like him can play to release Ainsley Maitland-Niles who sent a low cross for Aubameyang to tap into the open goal. The Arsenal players ran to Ozil in celebration.
Before the goals it had been Watford in the ascendancy as they sprung a trap to defend, catch Arsenal and counter quickly with Gerard Deulofeu running from deep. It was Tom Cleverley though who forced a fine save from Leno, who tipped over his powerful rising shot before Jose Holebas drove the ball wastefully over after being picked out by Deulofeu inside the Arsenal area.
Watford needed to respond and Andre Gray spurned two-half chances before Hughes shot over after, again, good work by Deulofeu and Doucoure sliced wide. Watford were aided by Arsenal, at times, sloppy defending and inability to really play the ball out from the back – as clearly Unai Emery was continuing to demand – with any conviction.
Once more Arsenal did it and this time they were caught out with Sokratis simply panicking. His loose pass was intercepted by Deulofeu and it ran to Cleverley who fired it past Leno from 12 yards out. It was the 14th error Arsenal had made in the Premier League under Emery – more than any other club. And it gave Watford hope.
Flores responded by bringing on record signing Ismaila Sarr who had played so well against Arsenal for Rennes in the Europa League last season and he went close as he collected a Deulofeu pass into his feet, turned and shot across goal and only just wide. There was shock among the visiting Arsenal fans, though, when a few minutes later Emery took over Ceballos and replaced him with Joe Willock.
By now Leno had abandoned playing his goal-kicks short to a defender inside his own area but that meant clearing the ball long with Watford’s centre-halves dominating in the air and regaining possession.
The game was becoming more and more stretched with another substitute Roberto Pereyra going close as he flicked the ball past the post before Christian Kabasele miscued with the goal beckoning.
The pressure told. Watford countered quickly with Doucoure picking out Pereyra who ran at David Luiz. The Arsenal defender clearly caught Pereyra, just inside the area, and the penalty was awarded. The Argentinian took the ball and sent it low into the net with Leno diving the other way. It was no less than what Watford deserved and they should have gone ahead when, soon after, the ball rebounded to Deulofeu whose low shot went narrowly wide. A shot by Cleverley was deflected over and Arsenal were left holding on and relieved that Doucoure had also missed.
The game ended in a 2-2 draw and Arsenal is now in 7th Position