Tag Archives: Mohamed Elneny

Deeney’s Words Come Back to Haunt Him

Gathering for a corner

During the week the Sports Quiz took place at Vicarage Road.  The club usually try to get a couple of players to come along and, on this occasion, it was Deeney and Mariappa.  The former was livid when he didn’t identify all the Premier League players from their pixilated pictures.  As I often do on these occasions, I wondered how many premier league clubs would have the captain picking out raffle tickets on such an evening.  As we were on the next table, I took the chance to have a chat with the lovely Adrian Mariappa.  As usual, I asked about Lloyd Doyley.  I knew he was at Hemel now and just wanted to make sure that he was happy.  There was a smile and “Lloyd’s always happy”.

On Sunday, I left home bright and early and was in the pre-match pub before 11.  My party had not yet arrived, but the Norfolk/East Anglian Hornets were out in force, so I was welcomed into their fold, which is always great entertainment.

Team news was just the one change for the Hornets with Femenía in for Carrillo, so the starting line-up was Karnezis; Femenía, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Janmaat, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.   Interestingly, Bachmann filled the goalkeeping spot on the bench leading to a tweet from Gomes that indicated that he was not happy at that decision.  Arsenal’s line-up showed six changes from the team that started the Europa League match in midweek and they had more than one substitute with a shirt number in the 60s.  I guess Watford are not AC Milan.

Richarlison lines up a free kick

There was also a milestone in the commentary box as it was to be John Motson’s last live radio commentary.  I could only hope that Watford would give him something interesting to talk about (in a good way).

As we took our seats in the stand, it was notable that there were vast swathes of empty seats in the upper tier of the Emirates.

There had been a discussion pre-match about the line-up which indicated that Femenía was playing at right-back.  As the team lined up for kick-off, Pete commented ‘Femenía won’ as it became clear that Kiko was playing on the wing and Janmaat had taken up the defensive position.

The home side created a very early chance as a lovely passing move finished with Özil setting Aubameyang up to challenge Karnezis, the Watford keeper won that duel saving the shot with his legs.  Watford’s first chance came as Pereyra played the ball out to Richarlison whose shot was wide of the near post.  Arsenal took the lead in the eighth minute as an Özil free kick was headed home by Mustafi.  It was a simple goal and rather frustrating.

Holebas comes over to take a corner

Watford looked to break back quickly as Pereyra found Richarlison in space but, as so often recently, the youngster hesitated and the space was gone, so he played the ball back to Doucouré whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Cech.  At the other end a through ball found Kolašinac whose cross was just too far in front of Aubameyang who could only poke the ball wide of the near post.  Watford really should have equalised in the next passage of play as, first, Richarlison hit a free kick that was on target, Cech managed to push it out but only as far as Pereyra who, with the goal gaping, belted the ball high and wide of the target.  Arsenal could have increased their lead as Özil, who had been a menace all afternoon, was through on goal, but Mariappa managed to put him off and Karnezis was able to block the shot.  Nearly half an hour into the game the upper tier was still sparsely populated and the seats behind us were finally occupied by a young couple who were clearly not Watford fans.  Very strange as there was plenty of space for them in their own end.  The home side had another decent chance to take the lead as Aubameyang got the ball inside the box, but he was denied by a superb tackle from Mariappa.  At the other end, Richarlison and Pereyra combined again, this time the young Brazilian was provider playing a through ball to his colleague whose shot was blocked.  The visitors threatened again as Capoue found Femenía whose volley was deflected over the target.  The Hornets were finishing the half strongly and a decent break finished with a cross from Janmaat that was plucked out of the air by Cech.  The last chance of the half came as a lovely cross from Femenía was met by the head of Richarlison, but his effort was pushed around the post by Cech and the half time whistle went with the Hornets still trailing by the early goal.

When Watford conceded in the eighth minute, it looked as though it could be a long afternoon but, even though Arsenal had the better of the early exchanges, the Hornets had put in a strong show later in the half and really should have scored.  I hoped that we wouldn’t come to regret the missed chances.

Deeney and Mustafi

Arsenal had the first chance of the second half with a shot from distance from Xhaka that Karnezis caught at the second attempt.  Watford then had a decent chance as a ball from Doucouré was headed on by Richarlison to Femenía whose volley was blocked.  The first caution of the game was earned by Mustafi who stopped Richarlison escaping by tripping him.  The Hornets had another decent chance as Capoue dinked the ball to Femenía whose shot was deflected wide.  After a bright start to the half by the Hornets, it was frustrating to see the home side increase their lead as Mkhitaryan launched a counter attack before playing a through ball to Aubameyang who rounded Karnezis and scored.  Watford had a chance to pull one back as Pereyra ran into the box and encountered two Arsenal defenders so leapt between them and was adjudged to have been fouled.  From our (rather good) vantage point, it appeared to be a very soft penalty.  As Deeney stepped up to take it, I had a feeling of dread with the word ‘cohones’ going through my head.  The Arsenal fans behind the goal were on their feet jeering trying to put Troy off and, sure enough, Cech went the right way and the shot was at a decent height for the keeper who made his first penalty save for the Gunners.  Interestingly Deeney’s miss got a bigger cheer from the home crowd than either of the Arsenal goals that preceded it.  While nobody was looking, Gracia made his first change bringing Hughes on for Femenia, who had put in a very impressive performance.

Okaka, Deeney and Mariappa gather for a corner

Watford could then have conceded a penalty themselves as Mariappa made a rather robust tackle on Mkhitaryan, but the referee gave nothing.  Richarlison again had a chance to pull one back for the visitors, but he didn’t take the early shot and was closed down.  In the pub before the game, Pete had been talking about the bet that he had laid which required both teams to score and both Deeney and Holebas to be booked.  Jose kindly fulfilled his part of that bargain with a foul on Mkhitaryan.  There was a substitution for each side at that point as Welbeck came on for Iwobi for the home side and Okaka replaced Pereyra for the visitors.  Watford had a great chance to reduce the deficit when a Richarlison cross was knocked on to Janmaat but the shot was poor and cleared the bar.  Arsenal then scored a third that was totally undeserved with a shot from distance from Mkhitaryan that bounced off Karnezis, who probably should have done better with it.  Holebas then did his best to get sent off with a red mist moment as he charged in to a challenge but, thankfully, was unable to inflict the intended damage, so stayed on the field. Each side made further changes with Chambers and Wilshere replacing Mustafi and Mkhitaryan for Arsenal and Britos coming on for Janmaat for the Hornets.  The Arsenal fans finally started a chant and, needless to say, it was to goad the Watford captain with “Deeney, what’s the score?”  Watford continued to try to get a goal back as a cross from Mariappa reached Okaka, who stabbed the ball goalwards but it was easy for Cech.  At the other end, Karnezis was called into action to block a shot from distance from Welbeck.  Richarlison again broke forward, his initial shot was blocked, the ball rebounded back to him but he was closed down before he could finish.  The final chance of the game fell to Prödl in a great position, but he belted the ball over the bar.  It was that sort of afternoon for the Hornets.

Capoue and Holebas prepare for a free kick

It was a rather odd game.  Arsenal played better than they had of late and Özil and Aubameyang were a menace all afternoon.  But Watford had some great spells of play and a confident Richarlison could have had a hat-trick.  If Deeney had scored the penalty at 2-0, it would likely have been a different outcome, but we were left to rue our misses.  It didn’t feel like a 3-0 defeat, the score greatly flattered the home side.  But, with Bournemouth losing to Tottenham later that afternoon, we finished the weekend in the top half of the table so there were no complaints.  With a trip to Liverpool on St Patrick’s day, I am not expecting any points next week, so we can just look forward to our upcoming run of home games and hope that we finish in style.  After the disappointing ends to the past couple of seasons, we deserve a decent finish.

 

Silencing the Gunners

Richarlison inspired by a cuddle from my niece

My niece was unwell last week, so was home from university for a few days to recuperate.  She decided to make a trip to St Albans and found herself captured on Heurelho Gomes’ Instagram live.  A cuddle from both Richarlison and Gomes certainly helped hasten her recovery, the photos with them were gorgeous and made her aunt smile.  I don’t have a photo with Richarlison yet!

The evening kick-off on Saturday meant that I was arriving in the West Herts at the time that I am usually leaving for the ground.  An odd and unsettling feeling, but the other Watford fans in the bar reassured me that I hadn’t misunderstood the kick-off time.  Given the two away games and the international break, this was the first home game since Toddy passed away, so it was a sombre crowd that gathered.  There was a huge contingent of Norfolk Horns in attendance and Toddy’s son, Chris, came along, which was just lovely.  I doubt he has ever been hugged so much before.  Glasses were raised, happy memories exchanged and there was a determination to sing our hearts out for Toddy as well as the lads.

Team news was three changes with Britos, Pereyra and Gray coming in for Capoue, Carrillo and Deeney.  So the starting line-up was Gomes; Kabasele, Mariappa, Britos; Femenía, Doucouré, Cleverley, Holebas; Pereyra, Gray, Richarlison.  A change in formation to 3-4-3.  The Watford connection at Arsenal came in the shape of former loanee, Hector Bellerin.

Holebas preparing for a throw-in

We arrived in the Rookery to find that the large flag was already in place.  It certainly looked magnificent in the photos.  Well done, yet again, to the 1881 for a fantastic display.

The first action of the game anywhere near the goal came as an Arsenal cross was missed by the head of Lacazette before being headed clear.  At the other end a cut back from Richarlison was blocked by Mertesacker before it reached Gray.  A better chance for the Hornets came as Holebas found Doucouré on the left, he delivered a decent cross that was headed just wide by Pereyra.  Twenty minutes into the game, there was more action in the stands than on the pitch as it appeared to kick off for the second time in the Rookery, presumably due to the presence of away fans in the home stand.  I hoped that the Arsenal fan who was sitting next to me would get the message about making his allegiance obvious.  Back on the pitch, Femenía crossed for Richarlison, but the ball was too far in front of the Brazilian and he was unable to apply the finish.  Then Richarlison got his head to a ball in the midfield before racing towards the penalty area, but Bellerin was able to get back to stop him from shooting.

Mariappa, Pereyra and Richarlison in the box

Arsenal’s first goal attempt came just before the half hour as Elneny tried a shot from distance that flew just over the bar.  Then Welbeck received the ball in the box in a dangerous position, but was stopped by a terrific block from Holebas.  The visitors came closer as Iwobi tried a curling shot, but Gomes was equal to it.  At this point the bloke behind us, who spends 90 minutes loudly spouting drivel, commented, “You’ve got to be more intelligent.”  Oh, the irony!   Watford threatened as a cross was met by Richarlison, but the header was poor and flew wide.  Some good work from Holebas led to a corner, the delivery from Xhaka was met by Mertesacker who was allowed a free header which he hit past Gomes to put the visitors in the lead.  Arsenal had their tails up now as Xhaka tried a shot that was blocked, Bellerin shot wide from the follow-up.  Xhaka threatened again, but this time his shot was caught by Gomes.  In time added on at the end of the half, Pereyra crossed for Richarlison, he crossed back in to the box, but Cech gathered.

It had been a fairly dull first half, the goal being the only shot on target.  Arsenal were slightly fortunate to have the lead, but had made the most of their chance from a set piece.

Celebrating Deeney’s penalty

Watford started the second half well and Richarlison was the first to threaten as he cut in from the left and curled a shot just wide of the target.  A lovely ball over the top from Cleverley to Gray deserved more than to be cut out by Mertesacker.  A cross from Holebas had to be tipped wide by Cech as Doucouré was challenging.  Wenger made the first personnel change on the hour, bringing Özil on for Welbeck.  There were shouts from the Rookery for a penalty as there appeared to be a handball in the box, but the referee blew up for an earlier free kick.  Silva then made a tactical change bringing Deeney and Carrillo on for Gray and Mariappa, who had been excellent yet again, and changing to 4 at the back.  Arsenal had a great chance of a second goal as a shot from Iwobi was flying in until Gomes made a fingertip save to keep it out.  Arsenal’s second change saw Giroud come on in place of Lacazette.  Özil really should have scored a second for the visitors as he found himself in space with only Gomes to beat, but the Watford keeper kept him out.  At the other end, Richarlison broke into the box where he was tripped by Bellerin and the referee pointed to the spot.  My Arsenal-supporting neighbour didn’t do himself any favours at this point by indicating that he thought it was a dive.  I may have made him feel less than welcome.  Deeney stepped up, sent Cech the wrong way and levelled the scores.

Another mad celebration with fists in the way

Watford had a great chance for a second soon after as Richarlison broke into the box again, but his shot hit the side netting.  A dangerous looking Arsenal attack was stopped by Britos who calmly came away with the ball.  Silva made his final change as Pereyra, who looked exhausted, was replaced by Capoue.  The Frenchman was soon in action with a shot that came off the head of Mertesacker and rebounded off the post.  The last substitution for the visitors saw Holding replace Koscielny.  Richarlison had another decent chance as he received a throw from Holebas, turned and volleyed over the bar.  Richarlison then found Carrillo whose shot was also too high.  A rare second half chance for Arsenal came from a corner, Britos headed the ball clear but only as far as Monreal who, thankfully, shot over the bar.  But the momentum was with the home side and when the fourth official indicated 4 minutes of time added on, the Vicarage Road faithful roared their encouragement.  The winner wasn’t pretty, but who cares.  There was a bit of pinball in the box as a series of shots were blocked before the ball fell to Cleverley who powered it into the roof of the net causing total pandemonium in the Rookery.  There were screams and hugs and smiles.  The Arsenal fan redeemed himself as he said that we deserved it as we’d been the better team in the second half.  The visitors had a chance to grab a point as a cross from Özil was met by the head of Giroud, but Gomes gathered safely and the final whistle went to confirm the win for the Hornets.

Doucoure and Mariappa

There were joyous scenes at the final whistle.  Phones were out with the Premier League table displayed showing Watford in the heady heights of fourth.  There were breathless discussions, heads shaking and “How good was that?”  The people that sit around us have been there for more years than I care to remember and we have suffered some very bad times together, so it is lovely to see all these people smiling and enjoying the football as much as we are.

We were being driven home by an Arsenal fan, who did his best to bring us down by telling us that the television verdict was that Richarlison had dived and could well face a retrospective ban.  I have to say that hadn’t been my view from behind the goal and the footage on Match of the Day certainly appeared to show contact.  It may have been a soft penalty, but it seemed legitimate.  When we arrived back at my sister’s she told us that Troy had given his shirt to a little lad who looked absolutely delighted (I have seen the footage on Twitter and the boy and his Dad couldn’t have looked happier).  We then listened in interest as Troy spoke with great honesty and insight about the game and his career.  I was highly amused to hear that his son, Myles, had texted that he hated him after scoring against his team, Arsenal.

Carrillo

It was a magnificent performance.  Yet another last minute goal, the third in successive games, underlines the resilience of this team.  The football is a joy to watch and the players are all working as a team.  It is hard to pick players out, but Cleverley has been a rock for weeks now and it was lovely to see him get a goal to crown an impressive performance.  Deeney also deserves praise.  He could have sulked being left out of the team, but he came on and made a difference, Arsenal found his physical presence hard to cope with and he wasn’t going to miss that penalty.

After we lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final in 2007, I was invited on to Radio Five for a programme that featured Rogan Taylor, on which I bemoaned the fact that the young Watford fans of today would never experience the highs that I had following the Watford team in the early 80s.  It turns out that I was wrong and I couldn’t be happier.

Pereyra Strikes in a Game of Two Halves

Defending a corner

Defending a corner

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.

Guedioura and Kaboul

Guedioura and Kaboul

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.

Capoue takes a corner

Capoue takes a corner

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.

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

Congratulating the new boy, Pereyra, on his goal

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.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

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.

A Day to Forget at the Emirates

Welcome to the Clock End

Welcome to the Clock End

Groundhog Day.  Three weeks after the trip to the Emirates for the FA Cup match, we were back in the league.  We arrived for pre match drinks to see a couple of early arrivals and, as time went on, others arrived and we gathered a good group before leaving for the game.  My niece, Amelia, was present for the pre-match festivities and I looked at her surrounded by all the old folk and commented, “This is the worst part of your day.”  How wrong I was.

On the tube to Arsenal, I met a former colleague.  After catching up on our career moves since last we met, he asked my prediction for the game.  “We won’t win.”

Arsenal’s new home is a bit of an oddity.  As you emerge from Arsenal station, it feels like a proper old school ground with narrow streets and lots of food outlets, as well as the requisite ticket touts.  Then you turn a corner and are faced with the bright shiny new stadium, which is an estate in and of itself.  As you walk past the statues and the celebratory cladding on the stadium, you have to weave in and out of the tourists taking selfies, something that would never have happened when we were regulars in the 80s.  We made our way to the away turnstiles to be greeted with a sign welcoming us.  Again, I couldn’t help thinking that wouldn’t have happened in the 80s.

Daddy and mascot Myles

Daddy and mascot Myles

As we found our seats in the stand, one immediately apparent difference from the cup game was that, due to the smaller allocation, we were only allocated seats in the lower tier, which has very shallow raking and would not be my choice.  Our one benefit was that we were near the corner flag so at least had some view of the game.

Team news was that Flores had made three changes bringing Prödl, Watson and Abdi in for Britos, Behrami and Jurado.  So the starting line-up was Gomes, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Suárez, Watson, Capoue, Deeney, Abdi and Ighalo.  Former loanee, Hector Bellerin, started for the Gunners and it has been a delight to see him establishing himself in the first team as that has been a rare experience for our former loanees from the ‘Top 4’.

As the teams came out I didn’t see the Watford mascot and it was only as they were kicking about that it was apparent that Myles Deeney had accompanied his Dad on to the pitch.  I was a bit disappointed that the only photo that I had was of the two of them walking away from me for the coin toss.  The disappointment disappeared when I saw the photo of Myles with “Daddy 9” on his shirt.  How lovely.

Ake takes a throw

Ake takes a throw

The Arsenal onslaught started in the first minute with the first real threat on goal being an early cross that was taken off the head of Welbeck by Cathcart.  But the Gunners were ahead on 4 minutes as a cross from Iwobi found Sánchez in space, Gomes saved the header but Alexis buried the rebound.  It was not a good start but, even that early in the game, it had been coming.  Watford spirits rose briefly as Suárez went on a run but his cross went begging as there was nobody in the box to meet it.  Arsenal had another decent chance, but this time Monreal headed a cross from Sánchez over the bar.  Then Welbeck broke into the box but his shot was between the legs of Nyom, which slowed it, allowing Gomes to gather easily.  Arsenal could have been two up when Welbeck played the ball back to Iwobi but his shot was stopped by a terrific save from Gomes who tipped it clear.  Arsenal had yet another chance as Özil played the ball back to Welbeck whose shot was deflected just wide.  So, with 15 minutes gone, the home side could have been three goals ahead.  Watford finally had an attempt on goal as Deeney connected with a cross from Nyom, but the shot was straight at Ospina.  Arsenal threatened again from a free kick that Sánchez curled over the wall and Gomes had to push to safety.  Just before the half hour, Suárez found Deeney who played a ball over the top to Ighalo but the Nigerian was offside.

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

Watson lays the ball off to Guedioura

At the other end, Welbeck squared a ball for Sánchez, but Cathcart was on hand to clear.  A rare foray into the Arsenal half saw Nyom cross for Abdi who was stretching to meet the ball and couldn’t manage a shot.  Arsenal had completely dominated the half but, just as it appeared that we would reach half time trailing by a single goal, Sánchez received the ball in space in the Watford box before cutting it back to Iwobi who buried the ball past Gomes.   Watford did try to strike back but Watson’s header down to Deeney found the striker in an offside position.  Flores made a substitution just before half time as Anya replaced Capoue who, due to his history with Spurs, left the field to boos from the home fans.  Arsenal had a late chance to increase their lead but Iwobi’s shot from outside the box was easy for Gomes.

It had been a terrible half for the Hornets who had shown next to nothing, but were being taken apart by an excellent Arsenal team.  Last Tuesday I joined Jeff Stelling’s Men United March for Prostate Cancer UK, where we walked from Kenilworth Road to the Vic via Clarence Park.  The From the Rookery End guys had arranged to meet me for an interview at half time so I had little time to brood.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Due to the interview, I missed the start of the second half.  As I returned to my seat, I witnessed Anya winning a corner, but it was a poor delivery from the normally reliable Watson.  Soon after Amrabat, who had replaced Ighalo at the start of the half, went on a decent run but shot wide of the near post.  The home side then increased their lead as a shot from Bellerin took a nasty deflection to beat Gomes.  The Gunners had a great chance to increase their lead further a couple of minutes later but Iwobi’s shot came back off the crossbar and Özil put the rebound wide.  Gomes was in action again soon after as, first, a shot from Özil was saved by his feet, then a curling shot from Sánchez was parried, finally a header from Welbeck that flew straight into the keeper’s arms.   There was a brief respite for Watford fans as Suárez found Amrabat, but he was at a narrow angle when he shot so it drifted out for a throw.  Watford’s best chance of the game came on 56 minutes as Deeney met a Watson free kick with a header on to Prödl whose header was cleared off the line by Monreal.  The clearance fell to Aké whose shot was wide of the far post.  The first booking of the game went to Nyom for a kick on Özil that was borne of frustration.  There was a substitution for each side on 69 minutes as Abdi made way for Guédioura while Giroud replaced Welbeck.  The Arsenal substitution provoked the comment from the guys behind me that it wasn’t getting any easier.

Guedioura taking a corner

Guedioura taking a corner

Almost immediately there was another decent chance for the visitors as Aké crossed for Deeney who turned and unleashed a shot that required a good save from Ospina to keep his clean sheet.  At the other end, an Arsenal corner was met by a header from Giroud, but Gomes was equal to it.  Wenger made another change bringing Walcott on for Iwobi.  Another brief moment of positivity from the visitors as a cross from Aké was met by an overhead kick by Deeney which Amrabat was just unable to reach and so the ball went out for a goal kick.  Arsenal’s final change saw Campbell replacing Sanchez.  Watford had been brighter since the break and Amrabat came charging into the Arsenal box with Anya alongside him, but his pass was disappointingly short and went out for a goal kick.  Elneny stopped a break by Amrabat and was booked for his trouble.  Watson played the free kick short to Guédioura whose shot was deflected wide.  From the corner, Guédioura hit a shot from distance that went just wide of the near post.  Another Watford chance went begging as a cross fom Amrabat reached Anya, who opted to head back across goal instead of trying to hit the target and the ball was cleared.  Arsenal scored their fourth goal on 90 minutes as Campbell crossed for Walcott who finished past Gomes.

Ake on the wing

Ake on the wing

It was a relief for the travelling support when the final whistle went and, despite the poor performance, the players were applauded off with chants of “Wemberley” ringing in their ears.  It is hard to critique a game like that as, bad as Watford were, they were playing an Arsenal team who were on fire and, we were never going to be able to compete with that.  Arsenal had shown plenty of skill in our cup game, but there had been a lack of organisation and leadership.  In this game, they fought for everything and their passing was incisive, meaning we had no chance.  As an Arsenal fan, you would have to ask why they couldn’t have put that performance in during the cup game, which was their last realistic chance of silverware.

We walked back down the Caledonian Road to convene for our post match drinks.  The game had not been fun to watch, but it was never one that we would expect to win so there were no recriminations.  It was the first real tonking that we had experienced and that fact alone makes this season a success so far.  I was also interested to note that, despite complaints of recent relegation form (and it has been awful), there are still three teams below us in the table who have a worse record over the last 10 games.  So, while we can’t be complacent, relegation still looks highly unlikely and we have a cup semi-final to look forward to.  However you look at this, it remains our most successful season since the 80s.

 

1987 All Over Again

The pre match huddle

The pre match huddle

The build-up to this game had been distinctly odd.  There was some annoyance when the draw for the quarter final paired us against the winner of the only game in the previous round that required a replay.  This irritation was exacerbated by the fact that there was a full Premier League programme in the midweek that the replay would normally have been played, meaning that we only knew our opponents late on the Tuesday night prior to the quarter final weekend.  Hearts, if not wallets, wanted an away tie at Hull, but Arsenal’s comprehensive win meant that wouldn’t be the case, so we had an easy journey but considerably more formidable opponents.  Watford committed to take an allocation of 9000 tickets which, with only 4 days to sell them, was a risk as they were committed to pay for them.  They also subsidised the cost of adult tickets in the upper tier, so made a financial commitment towards ensuring that a large number of fans followed the team and that faith was repayed with a high take up and only around 700 tickets remaining unsold.

Social media indicated that there was a lot of excitement building up before the tie.  But I was not relishing the prospect.  Much as I enjoyed reliving the 1987 win in the build-up to the match, while wondering how we escaped Highbury in one piece.  That win was not unexpected as we always beat Arsenal in those glory years.  This season they are a different proposition and, while they lack consistency, the comprehensive defeat at Vicarage Road filled me with pessimism for the outcome and meant that I awoke on Sunday morning with a feeling of impending doom.

Lovely Paddy Rice

Lovely Paddy Rice

The day did not start well as we arrived at the pre-match pub to find that they were only serving soft drinks until midday and we could not move on as this was the designated venue for distributing the tickets for the City ‘Orns.  Given the state of my nerves, a caffeinated beverage would not have been a good idea, so I was parched by the time all tickets had been collected and we only had time for a swift pint at Kings Cross before leaving for the match.  The tube journey was remarkable only for the delightfully polite and gracious Arsenal fans that we met on the way.  It is always a pleasure to go to an away ground and feel like a guest rather than the enemy.  On arrival at the stadium, as we walked around to get to the away turnstiles, I was drawn to the photo of lovely Pat Rice, a man who is, deservedly, a legend at both clubs.

As the inclusion of Pantilimon in goal had been announced earlier in the week, it was a surprise when Gomes was named in the starting line-up.  However this was corrected prior to kick-off, and there were 3 further changes from the last game with Cathcart, Behrami and Guedioura in for Holebas, Suarez and Amrabat.  So we started with Pantilimon, Aké, Cathcart, Prödl, Nyom, Behrami, Watson, Guedioura, Deeney, Capoue and Ighalo.

Arsenal started the game very brightly, and crafted a chance in the first couple of minutes as Chambers put in a dangerous cross that was just missed by Sánchez.  Watford, in contrast, looked nervous and some sloppy play almost put us in trouble on 9 minutes as Watson gave the ball away, Prödl missed a chance to clear and allowed Sánchez to play a through ball to Giroud, but the flag was up before he slotted it past Pantilimon.  Watford’s first chance came soon after through Ighalo, but his shot was blocked.  Capoue had the next chance as a cross from Nyom was headed back by Deeney, but he was unable to shoot and, given his misfortune in front of goal, would probably have missed anyway.

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Guedioura and Nyom appearing pensive

Ighalo got the ball in the box again, but held onto it a little too long, losing out in a tackle when Deeney was in space.  For the home side, Chambers hit another cross, but this one was an easy catch for Pantilimon.  Gibbs was the next to threaten with a cross that caused some panic in the Watford box, but the danger was snuffed out by a decisive tackle from Aké.  Ighalo was frustrated again as he tried to latch on to a Deeney header, but the keeper, Ospina, was first to the ball.  Arsenal had been a constant danger down the right and Chambers threatened again, but his cross was safely gathered by Pantilimon.  At the other end, Guedioura whipped in a cross which was caught by Ospina, with Deeney lurking just behind him.  Then Capoue played a lovely ball to Ighalo and the man who never passes opted to play the ball towards Deeney, allowing Mertesacker to intercept, while every fan in the away end was devastated that, for once, he hadn’t gone for goal himself when it seemed the better option.  Just before the half hour, what appeared from our vantage point to be a 50-50 challenge in the middle of the pitch, left Deeney needing treatment.  Replays showed that Gabriel had launched a two footed tackle on the Watford captain, who was lucky to avoid serious injury while the Arsenal man was fortunate still to be on the pitch.  The home side had a decent chance to take the lead as a corner was cleared to Elneny who shot over the bar with a horrible miskick.  Capoue released Ighalo who, again, passed instead of shooting, this time a dreadful ball that rolled behind Deeney so the chance was gone.  One of our party declared that he was doing it deliberately so that nobody would ever again berate him for shooting instead of passing to a team mate.  Aké was nutmegged by Özil who found Elneny but the Egyptian, again, shot over from the edge of the box.  Arsenal had one last chance to go in at the break with a lead as Campbell got behind the defence, but Pantilimon was able to put him off and he fired over the target.

The celebration for Ighalo's goal

The celebration for Ighalo’s goal

So we reached the break goalless.  Arsenal had much the better of the first half and had looked very dangerous on the break.  There had been far too many misplaced passes from the Hornets.  Particular culprits were Prödl, who appeared to have put his boots on the wrong feet, and Guedioura, who was looking very rusty.  However the Gunners had failed to capitalize on the mistakes from Watford and neither goalkeeper had faced a shot worthy of the name.

The home side came out early for the second half and they had the first chance with a corner from Özil that was headed over by Giroud.  But it was Watford who took the lead on 50 minutes.  It started with a dangerous cross from Guedioura which was taken off the head of Deeney and put out for a throw-in, which Aké took, it was headed on by Deeney to Ighalo who held off the defender, turned and fired past Ospina to send the away end into rapture.  It was so good to see Ighalo on the score sheet again and a joy that the players were celebrating directly in front of the away fans.  The goal unnerved Arsenal and injected a new confidence into the visitors and Ighalo could have had a second soon after as a Nyom cross was headed down by Deeney but, this time, Ighalo shot over the bar.  Just before the hour, Deeney and Ighalo came storming up the field with a lovely exchange of passes, it was a great shame when a tackle stopped the break.

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

Pantilimon lines up a goal kick

There was another great chance for the Nigerian as Capoue released Aké who broke forward and crossed for Ighalo but he couldn’t quite connect.  It wasn’t all Watford, though, as a cross from Campbell found Giroud whose close range shot was stopped by a decent save from Pantilimon.  The second goal was a thing of beauty.  Deeney did tremendously well to hold the ball up in the box then he passed it out to Guedioura and WELLY!!!  The shot nearly burst the net and would have knocked out someone in the upper tier if it had.  If the first goal celebration had been joyous, this one was truly mental and, suddenly, the Watford fans started thinking that we could actually win this, and those of us who had been calling for Adlene’s replacement were left with egg on our faces.  Arsenal had a rare second half foray into the Watford box as a Sánchez shot was deflected wide before Giroud’s volley from the corner missed the target.  Wenger had seen enough and made three substitutions with a quarter of the game remaining as Elneny, Campbell and Giroud were replaced by Iwobi, Welbeck and Walcott.  Soon after, Flores also rang the changes replacing Capoue and Guedioura, both of whom left the field to loud cheers from the travelling Hornets, with Anya and Abdi.  In between the substitutions, Özil had been booked for a late challenge on Behrami.

Deeney gets into position

Deeney gets into position

As the game entered the last 10 minutes, Gibbs had a chance to reduce the deficit, but his back header was straight at Pantilimon.  Flores made his final substitution replacing Ighalo with Amrabat as the home fans left the ground in droves.  Arsenal had a decent chance as Sánchez cut the ball back to Chambers but he shot well wide.  At this point, Lynn commented that it looked like it was our day.  My look of horror was greeted with, “I hope I haven’t jinxed it.”  So did I.  My heart was pounding at this point and I couldn’t bring myself to join in the chants of “Que sera, sera”.  Watford then threatened again as Anya released Amrabat who broke forward before cutting the ball back to Deeney whose shot was blocked.  Deeney then turned provider playing a through ball to Anya who tried a shot from a narrow angle, which was stopped by Ospina, when a pull back to Amrabat may have been a better decision.  The count down to the 90th minute was stopped short at 88 when Welbeck pulled a goal back with a close range shot past Pantilimon and the nervous tension in the away end went up a (large) notch.  It was a relief that the next attack came from the Hornets, but Amrabat’s shot from distance was well wide of the near post.  There was almost collective heart failure among the travelling fans as a shot from Iwobi rebounded off the inside of the post and hit Pantilimon before Welbeck turned the loose ball wide when he really should have buried it.

The celebration run towards the crowd

The celebration run towards the crowd

The fourth official indicated an additional four minutes, which was the minimum we could have expected.  Welbeck had another chance to equalize as he latched on to a long pass, but Prödl and Pantilimon combined to ensure that his shot was off target.  There was one final chance for Arsenal as a shot from Iwobi was deflected for a corner which came to nothing.  I didn’t hear the final whistle over the thumping of my heart, but I did see the referee catch the ball and the Watford bench belting on to the pitch and over to celebrate with the Watford fans.  Ighalo’s beaming smile was back, I don’t think I have ever seen him so happy, and Capoue was dancing joyously while I was trying to choke back happy tears.

The celebrations in the ground continued as the players finished the handshakes with the opposition and the officials and the hugs among themselves and the players lined up to do one of those German-style rush to the crowd celebrations, which clearly hadn’t been practiced so was endearingly rubbish which, strangely, added to the joy.  The advertising continued on the big screen in the ground and I couldn’t help but laugh when it flashed up “Next match: Arsenal vs Watford.”  They even played “Yellow” over the tannoy.  But I must give a special mention to the Arsenal fans who hadn’t left with 10 minutes to go as there was still a decent number who stayed to applaud the Watford players.

The Cally

The Cally

As we left the ground there was a large group singing and celebrating outside, which was all rather lovely.  We decided to walk back to King’s Cross (it was only a couple of miles and I am down to do 27 in a couple of weeks).  It seemed oddly fitting to pass a pub called “The Cally” and we were congratulated by numerous people on the way, all of whom I assumed were Spurs fans.  We arrived back to the pub to see a lot of familiar faces and a number of strangers in yellow, red and black who elicited big smiles.  Everyone there, in their own way, was trying to come to terms with what had just happened.  Because, the apparently one sided stats notwithstanding, we came away feeling that we had thoroughly deserved that victory as we had created (and finished) the best of the chances and had shown incredible strength of character in holding out after Arsenal scored.  I have seen too many Watford teams that would have collapsed at that point.

A day later, I have been congratulated by so many neutrals (as well as the odd lovely Arsenal fan) and have to keep pinching myself.  When I started following a small town club in the late 70s, I could never have known how much joy they would bring me.  We have had so many ups and downs over the years, they have made me ecstatic and broken my heart.  But, in March 2016, I find myself supporting a little club that appears to be about to have a second season in the Premier League and I am planning to attend my fifth FA Cup semi-final.  Plus we are doing this while still feeling that our owners respect the history of our small town club.  And that is just remarkable.