Sunday, October 18, 2015

Watford win backs up heroics against United

Momentum in sport can be one of those strange, unquantifiable things that can make a big difference in the outcome of matches. When you or your team has it, you have to make the most of it, that’s why it was pretty frustrating to have an international break straight after Arsenal took Manchester United apart at the beginning of October. That meant that the visit to Watford took on a bit of extra significance for Arsenal. The win against Manchester United was sensational, but it shouldn’t be a one-off, so the first challenge for Arsene Wenger’s team was to back it up with a win at Vicarage Road.
The international break did, however, give Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey a chance to get in to some goal scoring form, which they took into the game on Saturday, while Alexis Sanchez continued his hot streak for Chile in the time away from Arsenal. They all found the net in the 3-0 triumph, but the scoreline didn’t reflect how the Gunners had to show plenty of steel to see off a determined Watford side. The hosts had only conceded one goal at home all season, and that was a penalty, so it was never going to be easy for Arsenal to overrun the opposition.
For the first hour of the match, while Petr Cech hadn’t been too busy in the Arsenal goal, it was a very tight game. Arsenal had created from good openings, but the spark and intensity that was evident against Manchester United wasn’t quite there. Watford were able to get men back behind the ball when Arsenal were in possession and were rarely stretched. That was until one of Watford’s two holding midfielders was caught upfield for one of the first times in the game.
Etienne Capoue attempted to win a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area by going over under a nothing challenge from Francis Coquelin, and with him on the ground, the Gunners seized the opportunity by sweeping to the other of the pitch. Alexis Sanchez was at the heart of the break before Santi Cazorla took over and slid a delightful reverse pass into the area for Mesut Ozil. The German looked to have been fouled as he tried to get in on goal but Alexis saved the referee from having to make a decision about a penalty by finishing via the post. 10 goals in six games for club and country speaks for itself.
Forget injury concerns, if he’s fit enough to be on the pitch and keeps scoring like that then there’s no way he can be left out. Thierry Henry has spoken numerous times since leaving of how many times he’d play for Arsenal when in pain, but still find ways to contribute and score. Similar could be true of Alexis.
Having broken the deadlock, Arsenal sensed an opportunity to kill the match off. Just as they had done against Manchester United by scoring three goals in a short period of time, Arsenal killed off the Hornets in a similar fashion. Theo Walcott, who worked hard but struggled to find much space in behind the home defence, was replaced by Olivier Giroud and the Frenchman looked boosted by his international brace for France. After less than five minutes on the field, he swept home from Mesut Ozil’s excellent cut-back to double Arsenal’s advantage.
For all the improvement this season from Theo Walcott, Giroud has more Premier League goals and has a very decent record considering how many games he’s scored in when coming off the bench. While I expect Walcott to start in the Champions League on Tuesday, the competition up front is beginning to bring the best out of both Walcott and Giroud.
Arsenal’s third goal wasn’t long in coming after Giroud’s strike as Aaron Ramsey was able to follow up a goal-scoring international break by scoring his first goal of the season for Arsenal. He’d wasted a couple of presentable chances in the first half, and did require a deflection to get the ball past Heurelho Gomes, but Ramsey continued to get in dangerous positions by drifting inside from the right hand side. On this occasion, his movement inside allowed Hector Bellerin to storm forward from full-back and the slide the ball in to the Welshman, who managed to find the net.
Along with the goal scorers, there were excellent performances from Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, who both produced decisive contributions at a key point in the game when the score was still 0-0. The German, in particular, does seem to be finding a good groove this season and seems to have a better understanding with those around him. With him linking up the combination play between Cazorla, Alexis, Ramsey and others, there is plenty of reason to believe that Arsenal are good enough to really challenge for the title this year.
The team selection from Arsene Wenger was a sign of the importance the Frenchman placed on the match despite the late return of some from international duty, and the impending visit of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Premier League does feel more competitive this year and the improvement of other teams makes it harder to rest players ahead of big European matches, and with qualification out of the Champions League group seeming like a long shot, I think Arsene Wenger was right to effectively prioritise three points against the Hornets over the match with Munich. With no fresh injuries picked up against Watford, I expect a similar team to line-up on Tuesday night when the German champions arrive in London, but it was the right decision to make sure that the European game was proceeded by three points by picking the best available team.
It was only Watford, but it was another step for Arsenal to prove that they are ready for a title challenge this season. It was a completely different match to the one the Gunners faced against Manchester United, but they handled the situation well by grinding the opponent down and punishing Watford when the game became stretched and opened up in the second half. The same Arsenal line-up has managed to win in different ways in the last two matches, but both performances have yielded 3-0 wins. That can only bode well for the rest of the season.