Football is a weird old game. Supporting a football club for the love of it, even weirder. Just when you think you are done with it, you find that it has a way of pulling you right back in. Even when you feel justified in your disillusionment with the club. Even when you feel the club has let you down so many times, they couldn’t possibly disappoint you any more. So if you are one of those lucky enough to play live every week, you might stay away from the stadium register your displeasure at the current state of affairs. But soon, you’d realise that it takes is a hard-fought win to draw you in again.
Matches against Watford FC have always been testy matches; the recent seasons more than. The away tie was mired with controversy, with a dubious penalty call, a comeback win and the Watford captain, Troy Deeney, accusing the Arsenal players of lacking the cojones for the fight; all setting up this clash at the Emirates nicely.
However, it was immediately clear when the team sheet was announced that the Arsenal manager was now prioritising the Europa League rather than the seemingly now futile quest for a top four finish in the league. Despite now holding a comfortable lead over AC Milan going into the second leg on Thursday, Arsene decided to rest Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny for the league match. Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal missed out through injury.
Arsenal didn’t start like a team that had lost three consecutive league games; from the first whistle, they played like a team that was actually in from. Ozil especially played like he had a point to prove; in first few minutes slipping in Aubameyang on goal, who should have really scored instead of hitting the ball straight at the goalkeeper.
Soon the German’s efforts would be rewarded when he had the chance to play a free kick into the Watford box. Somehow Ozil’s flighted ball found another German with acres of space in the box and Shkodran Mustafi planted the ball past the keeper with what looked like a carbon copy header to that which he scored in the home North London derby.
Mesut had a chance to extend Arsenal’s lead midway into the half when he waltzed into the Watford box and seemed sure to score. Only the outstretched leg of the away goalkeeper prevented him from doing so. This flurry of chances seemed to awaken the Watford team as they gradually wore their way into the game. As the half ended, they seemed like the more likely team to score. Twice Petr Cech had to resort to very good saves, twice from Richarlison, one from a free kick and another from a well placed header.
It was more of the same in the second half, with the home team content to sit back and absorb the pressure and try to hit on the counter. Watford had a succession of set pieces that troubled the Arsenal backline but if was from one of these set pieces that Arsenal broke well to double their lead, Mhkitaryan finding and onrushing Aubameyang with a perfect pass and the Gabonese striker did the rest, taking the ball round the goalkeeper and finishing it.
In typical Arsenal fashion, however, they gifted an opportunity to the away team. Ainsely Maitland-Niles dangled his leg carelessly at the edge of the box for an Watford attacker to roll over. Penalty. Up stepped Troy Deeney against Petr Cech. Somehow, the goalkeeper who had never saved a penalty for Arsenal found a way to save this one as Deeney lacking all composure and cojones hit the ball almost straight down the middle. I repeat, Petr Cech saved a penalty for the Arsenal!!!
From then on, there was only going to be one winner. Aubameyang turned provider and assisted Mhkitaryan with his first Arsenal league goal. Arsenal held on till the end as Cech celebrated his well-deserved 200th clean sheet.
The past few weeks have been tumultuous for fans of the Arsenal with terrible results and performances, questions over the manager’s future and rumours of dressing room crisis meetings making it all feel like the end of the road. It was only a 3-0 win against a team we should of course be beating easily but this performance, combined with that in Milan, seemed like the beginnings of a resurgence. Long may it continue.