Arsenal embarrassed themselves against Watford on Tuesday night, as they put in a truly awful performance.
The lineup was as expected, apart from the inclusion of Gabriel ahead of Hector Bellerin. Given an extended rest no doubt. Danny Welbeck was not included but this was no surprise. Wenger has said during his press conference that they are still managing his knee. Two games in three days is still beyond him at the moment.
Surprisingly, Watford started the better of the two sides as they looked to try and grab a quick one they could defend. Within 10 minutes they had it.
Former Spurs man, Younnes Kaboul, took a potshot from range. Hoping to take advantage of a greasy pitch, he also got a hand from Aaron Ramsey as it deflected off him. Cech had no chance.
If that was bad, within three minutes it was worse. Etienne Capoue found himself impersonating Lionel Messi thanks to a clueless Arsenal defence and a bewildered Ramsey. His shot was saved by Cech who came from his line, but that found Troy Deeny alone in a sea of Arsenal shirts. It was a tap-in.
Before this match, Arsenal hadn’t conceded a single goal in the first 15 minutes of a Premier League game.
It was quite the shambles and, perhaps more frustrating, I couldn’t even get properly angry about it all. Have you seen the state of the real world?
Aaron Ramsey’s hamstrings had enough before 20 were on the clock and few were gutted. His partnership with Granit Xhaka works. Francis Coquelin is brilliant with Santi Cazorla. But put those two together? No, thank you. He’s now set for another spell on the sidelines as they try and work out why his upper legs are made of silly string. Who cares that he was our only fit and available central midfielder ahead of Chelsea, right? Ramsey isn’t the problem, Coquelin is, but that’s a discussion for another day.
As the whole match unfolded in the most frustrating, yet bitterly familiar manner, Nacho Monreal got booked for simulation just to mix it up a bit. Gabriel had been booked not long before for a poor tackle. He was everybody’s bet to be sent off before the end of the game.
Before Arsenal could fashion one decent chance, Watford came close to a third. And a fourth. It was that bad.
The half ended without the Watford keeper having to do anything worth talking about and an irate fanbase booing them from the pitch.
Things had been so peaceful all day, even though it was deadline day and we weren’t buying anyone. It was like we’d found harmony amongst ourselves on the back of the second string’s demolition of Southampton.
If you had to explain to someone who wasn’t watching just how bad Arsenal were in the first half, you’d highlight the score and then tell them that they made a substitution at half-time. A rare sight, indeed. But Theo Walcott replaced Olivier Giroud for the second half, shifting Alexis into the centre.
We were immediately better.
Theo should have pulled one back but hit right at the keeper. Arsenal were finally harrying and pressing. We had speed and intensity, all the things that were missing in the first half. Iwobi found his skills and tested Gomes, Alexis stopped impersonating Bendtner and Watford were creaking.
It was the youngster who got Arsenal on to the scoresheet. Picked out by Alexis, who looked to have been fouled in the box moments before, Iwobi’s side-foot trickled into the corner.
Arsenal weren’t so much banging on Watford’s door as taking a hatchet to it, but thanks to Andre Marriner allowing Watford to kick and nip at will, they were staying strong and the goal onslaught we thought was coming never arrived.
On as a sub, Lucas almost drew Arsenal level with a little over five minutes of normal time remaining. An absolute belter with his left foot from inside the box that almost broke the bar, it was not to be.
The damage from the first half was too great.
Arsenal now find themselves heading to Chelsea with their title hopes, once again, drifting away on a wind of their own making.
Full analysis on site tomorrow.