As I boarded the train at Euston on my way to the game, I assumed that it was standing room only as the vestibules were packed with blokes holding cans of beer. Not at all, the Arsenal lads were starting the day as they meant to go on but were very polite as they moved to let the tutting old woman through to take her seat. I thought I had timed things perfectly this week, but still managed to arrive at the West Herts before the doors opened. There had been a recent change in their catering that meant, on the last two visits, all food was delivered in styrofoam cartons with plastic cutlery. The horrors of adding to landfill meant that I bought lunch on the way to the game, only to find that they had reverted to using plates and metal cutlery. Hoorah!! Even better, after the brief loneliness of Tuesday evening, all the usual suspects were back in position.
Team news was that there were two changes from the Chelsea game. Both in defence and both enforced (Cathcart had a groin injury and Britos’s partner was about to give birth). So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kaboul, Prödl, Kabasele; Amrabat, Guedioura, Capoue, Behrami, Holebas; Deeney and Ighalo.
The first notable action of the game was a foul by Amrabat on Sánchez in the box. It was an age before the referee pointed to the spot which provoked fury among the home fans. It has to be said that, even from our vantage point just behind the goal, we didn’t really see the challenge and it appeared that the dramatic reaction by the Arsenal player had influenced the referee, but footage of the incident showed that it was the correct decision. Cazorla stepped up and sent Gomes the wrong way giving Arsenal an early lead and the Hornets a mountain to climb. Kevin Friend, the referee, didn’t endear himself to the home crowd as Walcott appeared to run into Prödl and the Austrian was shown a yellow card. Arsenal could have been two up as a cross from Bellerin was cleared off the line, then a shot from Walcott was saved. Watford’s first goal chance came following a break from Amrabat whose cross was almost turned home by Koscielny but Cech managed to keep it out. Deeney’s follow-up was just wide. Soon after, a shot-cum-cross from Amrabat landed on the roof of the net. Mr Friend had been very quick to blow his whistle for anything remotely resembling a challenge on an Arsenal player, so there was annoyance when Amrabat was knocked to the ground with no consequences. This was compounded when the next challenge on Nordin, which looked powder puff, was punished with a free kick. Watford had had a really good spell around the half hour culminating with a corner from Capoue that was headed just wide by Kabasele.
At the other end, Sánchez broke into the box and shot, but Gomes saved with his feet. Against the run of play, Arsenal increased their lead with five minutes of the half remaining, as Sanchez met a cross from Walcott, the shot appeared to have been cleared off the line but, for the second game running, the goalline technology indicated that a goal had been scored. The visitors could have been further ahead as Walcott had a shot from a tight angle saved by Gomes. The third goal came in time added on at the end of the half as Özil appeared out of nowhere to head a Sánchez cross home. It was a quality goal, but the scoreline was very harsh on the Hornets who had made a game of it once they had gone behind. My reaction at half time was “Please make it stop.” Most others among the home fans were booing the referee.
At the start of the second period we saw the introduction of Pereyra in place of Guedioura. The lad who sits next to me remarked, “Unless he can walk on water, I’m not sure that he can live up to these levels of expectation.” Soon after, the less heralded Janmaat replaced Kabasele. Watford had a great chance to pull one back after some great work from Ighalo who beat a couple of challenges before passing to Amrabat who found Capoue whose powerful shot was saved by Cech.
Watford finally made the breakthrough on 57 minutes as a shot from Capoue was blocked, but the ball dropped to Pereyra who beat Cech to score with his first shot for the Hornets. The home side could have pulled another one back when a lovely cross from Janmaat was met by Holebas whose shot required a good save from Cech to keep it out; Ighalo’s follow-up was blocked. Watford had another great chance as a throw was headed on by an Arsenal player to Ighalo whose overhead kick was only just over the bar. Amrabat’s last action of the game was a foul on Wilshere. As he was about to be substituted he ran off the pitch and had to be recalled from the depths of the dugout to be shown the yellow card. Well it made me smile. Success was the player who took his place, and he almost made an immediate impact as he met a corner from Capoue with a header that flew just wide. Pereyra, who had made an impressive debut, turned provider as he laid the ball off to Behrami who shot just wide. At the other end, there was a rare second half chance for the Gunners as a mistake from Kaboul allowed Sánchez a shot on goal, but a flying save from Gomes stopped it. As we reached time added on at the end of the second half, Arsenal received their first booking of the game as Wilshere was punished for a foul on Capoue. This was met by loud, ironic cheers from the Rookery faithful. In a game that was far from dirty, Watford had managed to amass 6 yellow cards while, Sánchez, who stats showed had committed the most fouls in the game, remained card-free.
The game finished to applause for the second half performance and boos for the officials. As the players congratulated each other, it was interesting to see Gomes and Cech deep in conversation and then swapping shirts.
It had been a very encouraging performance from the Watford lads, especially in the second half. Some commented that Arsenal were already three up at the start of the half so didn’t have to do much, but that seemed rather churlish and unfair to the guys who worked so hard and didn’t let their heads drop when 3 goals behind. Amrabat and Capoue continue to perform well and the new guys all looked good. If Pereyra didn’t actually walk on water he certainly showed why he is so widely admired within the game. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do once he gets to know his team mates. Ighalo also had an encouraging game creating a couple of decent chances, which was pleasing to see.
Sadly, there was also confirmation of the news that Vydra had moved to Derby, so those that believed he was saying goodbye as he was substituted on Tuesday were proved correct. This was rather disappointing if not surprising. I must admit that, while I have very fond memories of that stunning half season, I have been a little surprised at the hero’s welcome that he has had on every appearance this season. It is a real shame that he never built on the great start that he had. He has a chance of a new start at Derby. I wish him well and hope that he finally realizes his potential.
After the international break, we have the last of our run of nightmare games to start the season and it will be in the following run of games that we see what this team is capable of. On the basis of this performance, I am very much looking forward to it.