Sunday’s match against Watford proved to be something of a milestone for manager Mikel Arteta. This would be his 100th game in charge of the club he once captained, heading into the game, he already had the 2nd best run in the club’s history after 100 games and was looking to add another notch to the list.
There was only one change from the side that beat Leicester City 0-2 last weekend, with Thomas Partey dropping out with a tight groin, allowing Ainsley Maitland-Niles to drop into a midfield pivot alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga, who has been filling in for the injured Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal started less frantically than they had in recent weeks. Part of what has typified Arsenal’s approach in recent weeks has been their rather shockingly quick starts, pressing high up the field and pushing the opponents into some easy mistakes.
Sunday was a little different. Watford proved a slightly tougher nut to crack. Watford were prepared to go in hard on Arsenal were needed and didn’t hesitate to make any kind of tackle that would be needed, even if it meant conceding dangerous free-kicks, especially since the defended them so well.
Arsenal found themselves seemingly a goal ahead early on. Terrific work in midfield from Ainsley Maitland-Niles allowed him to dink a sweet ball into Alexandre Lacazette, who’s shot was well saved by Ben Foster, however, the loose ball fell to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though the forward fumbled the touch and Bukayo Saka turned in the loose ball.
However, given the position of the goalkeeper, Saka was deemed to be offside and the goal was chalked off.
Arsenal had another chance later in the half, after a complete clothesline tackle from Danny Rose on Lacazette, led to Kevin Friend giving a penalty.
Aubameyang stepped up to take and, much as he did against Aston Villa, he missed, though this time, he wasn’t quick enough to turn in the rebound.
Arsenal finished the half somehow at 0-0.
The second half saw Watford step into gear a bit more, but Arsenal still assumed a dominance over the visitors and they soon found some luck.
A bit of Watford playacting (a feature throughout the game) meant that Danny Rose kicked the ball into touch. However, Arsenal did not give the ball back and played on. Sensing approaching danger, Watford’s number 23 Ismaïla Sarr smashed into Ainsley Maitland-Niles, which would surely have been a free-kick in the visitor’s favour, but alas, play continued and Ben White’s mazy run sored on for Emile Smith Rowe to smash a superb finish into the bottom corner from outside the box.
It was a dubiously awarded goal and it was bizarre that neither Kevin Friend or VAR intervened.
Arsenal hung on for a while after that.
Some unfortunate decision-making from Aaron Ramsdale allowed Joshua King to have an open goal, but the forward missed from an admittedly tight angle.
But the controversy was not done yet as Juraj Kucka was sent off for a foul on Nuno Tavares, that VAR should have overturned.
Arsenal were happy to hear the final whistle blow, though Claudio Ranieri evidently was not as he began an exchange of words with Mikel Arteta on the touchline, but in the end, Arsenal, somewhat dubiously, claim all 3 points heading into the international break.
It was a good performance from Arsenal, not as clean as their previous weeks, but if their 0-0 draw with Brighton was an example of how to draw ugly, then Sunday was how to win ugly.
It was, however, an exceptionally poor dayfor Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who not only missed the penalty, but also prevented Martin Ødegaard from recording his first Emirates goal. His presence was welcome in the high-press, but his touches, passing and overall goal threat were abundantly poor.
Conversely, it was an assured and accomplished performance in the middle of the park from Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The youngster, so nearly out the door in the summer, turned in a very good performance in the absence of Thomas Partey. He was first to every ball and he was aggressively fighting for the ball back whenever he could. Arsenal simply would not have held on were it not for him.
Elsewhere, the backline begins to look more and more settled. Kieran Tierney’s absence has been well compensated for by Nuno Tavares, with Gabriel Magalhães and Ben White forming a formidable defensive pairing and Takehiro Tomiyasu looking exceptionally good in the full-back role and formidable in the air.
Arsenal’s next opponent is Liverpool, a game that Arsenal are not expected to even draw, let alone win, but in their current run of form, there is no reason they couldn’t go to Anfield full of confidence. Jürgen Klopp’s team are ins fizzling form, but there isn’t a better time for Arsenal to visit, as they claim their 10th unbeaten match in a row heading into yet another unecessary international break.
32.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
4.) Ben White
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
7.) Bukayo Saka (Martinelli 93′)
10.) Emile Smith Rowe (Elneny 86′)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Ødegaard 69′)
1.) Bernd Leno
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Martin Ødegaard
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
1.) Ben Foster
21.) Kuko Femenía
15.) Craig Cathcart (Fletcher 94′)
13.) Nicolas N’Koulou
3.) Danny Rose
19.) Moussa Sissoko (c)
23.) Ismaïla Sarr
33.) Juraj Kucka 🔴
18.) Ozan Tufan (Joao Pedro 62′)
25.) Emmanuel Dennis (Hernández 74′)
7.) Joshua King
26.) Daniel Bachmann
2.) Jeremy Ngakia
11.) Adam Masina
5.) William Troost-Ekong
8.) Tom Cleverley
10.) Joao Pedro
31.) Francisco Sierralta
29.) Cuco Hernández
17.) Ashley Fletcher