Two late goals from Craig Cathcart and Mesut Ozil were enough to secure the three points and extend our winning streak in the league to five games. We knew this game was going to tough. This season, Watford have added endurance and control to their physicality and they came to the Emirates intent on winning. Similar to the Everton, the Hornets would have come away perplexed by their loss.
This is our longest sequence of wins since the tail end of the 2016-17 season. How we are playing is not pretty, but crucially, we are getting the results. We have a lot to work on in attack and defence if we are to keep up with the pack chasing top four, but there are a few positives we can take encouragement from:
1. Unai Emery knows how to make a good substitution
As Arsenal fans we had become accustomed to waiting until 70’ for substitutions to appear, but Emery is much more decisive, not only with his timing, but also with who gets the chop. On 63’, he hauled off the very poor Aaron Ramsey for Alex Iwobi who improved the cohesiveness of our attack. The Nigerian changed the dynamic of the game and provided the key contribution that led to the opening goal.
10 of our 14 league goals this season have come in the second half, many due to notable contributions from substitutions. The manager’s ability to change the game is encouraging, but plan-A has to involve us starting games with similar conviction.
2. We have some very promising youngsters
I have already spoken about the impact of Alex Iwobi, but there were equally encouraging performances from Bernd Leno and from Rob Holding. The young German keeper entered the game under difficult circumstances when Petr Cech was forced off with a hamstring injury. However, he made a string of top class saves and looked assured against a very physical side. Rob Holding, who started for the first time this season, was also outstanding. I was impressed by his positioning and composure in dealing with two mobile and powerful strikers. Also, he is notably ambidextrous demonstrating impressive control and distribution with his weaker left foot. A John Terry in the making perhaps.
3. No crazy individual errors
We weren’t great defensivley, but Watford had to earn their chances. We competed well for the second ball and the team appeared just as focused on defence as attack. In recent years we would have lost this game. The tenacious Lucas Torreira put in another solid performance and matched a very solid Watford midfield pairing of Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré.
So, although there is much room for improvement, there are some encouraging signs. I’m confident our attacking personnel will rediscover the fluidity they demonstrated under Arsene Wenger. However, to speed up that process Emery has to admit defeat with his intent to play Aaron Ramsey at number 10 and Mesut Ozil on the right.
Man of the match: Alex Iwobi
Iwobi was excellent and showed a hunger and drive reminiscent of when he first burst onto the scene. Unai Emery seems to have rekindled his fire. I wrote in the summer of how his peers have surpassed him, but if he continues in this vein of form, he’ll quickly close that gap.
This Thursday we travel to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag in our second Europa league match, before taking on Fulham at Craven Cottage at the weekend. To go into the international break with a 9-game winning streak would be a huge achievement for the new manager. The 2,500 mile trip to Azerbaijan is not ideal, especially with the injuries we are starting to collect. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is unable to travel due to political tensions between his home country and Azerbaijan and we cant afford to lose Leno or another defender. We always knew the Europa would test our squad, but I didn’t expect the test to come this early. Despite that we should have too much quality for the opposition.
Prediction: Qarabag 1 – 3 Arsenal