It was not a beautiful game to watch. It was not even a particularly impressive victory, but Arsenal secured all three points at Vicarage Road on Monday night. As a result, the Gunners’ fight to secure a place in the Champions League for the first time in two seasons is kept alive. The match against Watford could have been an entirely different affair if not for a harsh red card against Troy Deeney. However, Unai Emery will be more than happy to see Arsenal alter that fortune away from the Emirates.
Watford came out with a mission in the first five minutes of the match. The players were pressuring Arsenal deep in the Gunners’ own half in attempts to prevent any semblance of progression forward. It worked and Watford forced an early error from Arsenal keeper, Bernd Leno. After such a strong first five minutes, it would not have been unthinkable to see the match go in their favor come the final whistle.
The 10th minute drastically changed the course of the next 80. Ben Foster was rapidly chased down by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just a few yards in front of Watford’s goal. Aubameyang was just able to get a foot in front of Foster’s pass and deflected the ball into the net. The goal certainly was not indicative of the run of play, but Aubameyang’s hard work to put Foster under pressure was aptly rewarded.
Watford’s fortune took another sour turn when Troy Deeney was sent off for what was deemed to be forearm knock to Lucas Torreira’s head. The incident did not seem intentional, but it is hard to argue with the decision, especially because of how far away the ball was after Torreira’s pass.
Watford deserve a great deal of credit for their performance after playing a man down for the remainder of the match. The side never gave in and sustained a threatening presence in the counter attack. The players continued to stymie Arsenal’s attacking prospects but did have difficultly keeping track of Aubameyang in the box. At times, Watford played as if they had all eleven players on the pitch.
Watford’s best chance came in the dying minutes of the match when Demarai Gray made a move in the penalty area to open up a shot that would have leveled up the match. Unfortunately for Gray, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was effective in his defensive responsibilities and got in front of the shot to deflect it for a corner.
Arsenal predictably kept 65% of the possession throughout the entirety of the match with six shots on target. Unai Emery did well to manage the side knowing that Arsenal face an important 2nd leg match on Thursday against Napoli at the San Paolo Stadium. The decision to take off Aaron Ramsey for Maitland-Niles was a strategic move albeit an unpopular decision. Ramsey will be needed at his best on Thursday when he plays in his future home of Italy.
Konstantinos Mavropanos made his first start under Unai Emery and performed admirably under the pressure of Watford’s counter attack. The Greek defender was far from perfect and it was evident that he needs more time with the first team squad to learn from Laurent Koscielny and his compatriot, Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Considering this was his first performance in the Premier League this season under a new manager, it is difficult to make a true judgement about the Greek’s quality and potential. He was subbed off in the 59th minute for Matteo Guendouzi as the side switched to a back-four formation.
Unai Emery will now shift his attention to Thursday’s all important match against Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli. The Spanish manager has been widely regarded for his mastery of the Europa League during his time with Sevilla. The Gunners will head into the match knowing that one away goal could drastically increase the chance of moving on to the semi-final round. Hopefully for Arsenal, tonight’s win will foster a boost in confidence after having gone without a win in four consecutive away matches.