For us British-based Gooners a 3pm kick-off means either being at the game, listen to the radio or try and find a dodgy stream; there is no showing on Sky or BT Sports. Luckily, Arsenal.com showed the full game this morning and, with the score-line already known and having listened carefully to the radio coverage, it gave me a good opportunity to look at the way the team was set up and eventually won the game.
Eight observations from a pulsating game of near-cup-final football:
- Yes the tempo was high and both teams played to win. The Hornets had nothing to lose and were clearly full of confidence, and they took the game to us as much as we took the game to them. This made for a good game of football with a great battle in midfield. Watford are a tall and physical team with plenty of technical ability, and our players – in defence, midfield and attack – were made to work hard for the entire game. What pleased me most is that we kept matching the Hornets for energy till the end and then made the difference in the last ten minutes. The first goal required bad-luck from the opposition but the second one was a razor-sharp punishment of a slackening in midfield. The players are fit (only Torreira looked done in at the end) and know that they need to keep going till the end, and because of this we won the game.
- What also really pleased was the strength of the spine of the team: Cech/Leno – Holding – Torreira/Xhaka – Mesut – Lacazette held the team together and won most of the battles with their Watford counterparts. For me this is likely to be the Spine for the season, with Sokratis and Holding becoming the preferred pairing in defence.
- Mustafi is a bit of a chancer who relies heavily on his high energy levels and over-my-dead-body attitude; this has to compensate for both his lack of reading of the game and physicality. He relies a lot on fellow defenders compensating for his occasional errors, but he also covers for them a lot when in good form. Mustafi gave away more than once an unnecessary free-kick and was skinned in defence a few times too. With Holding looking solid and Sokratis returning soon, our German whippersnapper may well end up on the bench for a while.
- Cech’s injury was Leno’s opportunity to announce himself, and the German took it very well. This was not an easy game to come into. The Hornets had real presence in the box and the sun was constantly low and in Leno’s face, but he stood his ground well and made some vital saves to eventually win the game. Petr had already been important and Leno just took over from the Cech from the moment he stood between the poles. I loved the way he read the danger, made himself big and imposed himself on the attackers – he did not hide once.
- Ramsey was clearly affected by the contract withdrawal announcement. He did his best to get into the game but nothing worked for him. It was Ozil who came to get the ball of Xhaka-Torreira time and again and start attacks from midfield. Why was Aaron not doing this? He looked lost and often more in the way than anything else. Emery will have to decide whether to continue playing both Ozil and Rambo from the start, but on yesterday’s evidence, it is not looking good for the Welshman.
- Iwobi made the difference as soon as he came on for Ramsey. It gave the team much more balance: Iwobi is used as a winger who can stretch AND penetrate a defence with the ball. This allows Mesut to be the natural nr10 and it also creates more space for our main attackers, Auba and Laca. Iwobi’s wing-play gave us extra energy and it was from his cross into the box that we got in-front fortuitously. It was a difficult cross both for attackers and defenders: Laca failed to make contact and the defender made the wrong contact, and it was 1-0 to the Arsenal.
- The second goal was a beauty. Welbeck won the ball with an aggressive tackle and Iwobi and Laca combined superfast to free-up the hard-working Frenchman, who then showed Iwobi how a ball needs to be delivered into the box for an attacker: beautifully weighted and never leaving the grass. Mesut, who worked his socks-off all game and was involved in almost all of our attacking play, was there to convert the perfect pass with a snooker-precise left-foot shot between keeper and goal-post. 2-0 to the Arse and game over. As hard and present Mesut and Laca – both my MOTM – were, Auba had a difficult game. He struggled to get into game and fluffed a few chances that came his way. We need him on the pitch for the extra goal threat (and goals) but Emery has to work with him to make him more part of the team.
- Xhaka-Torreira looked solid and composed, and they had their work cut out yesterday against strong midfield opposition. Torreira is the more natural defender and his reading of the game – as in feeling where the danger will be next – is very impressive. Xhaka is good at moving the ball forward and finding the free man with his precision passes. Both have plenty of physicality and I just feel that the longer they play together the stronger a duo they will become. For the first time in a long time I felt the defenders were well-shielded in the middle, and long may it continue.