Arsenal 1 – 2 Watford
Having thrashed Southampton in the cup, Arsène recalled the first team and was rewarded with one of the worst performances of his reign. While it might seem trite and superficial to label this as ‘Groundhog Day’, it is exactly that. A repeat of previous misdemeanours in this sort of fixture. A mid-table lumbering up to the Emirates, not in the best of form themselves, but playing the match with more determination and organisation than us.
Conceding the opening goal is something of a party piece for us since moving to the Emirates but conceding two in the opening fifteen minutes? Not even Barcelona managed to score twice, that quickly.
The warning signs were there; we can see that with hindsight. Burnley were the most recent exponents of the massed defence, but we found ways through them; we couldn’t do the same with Watford. Not through want of trying for about 30 minutes in the second half. We didn’t manage a single shot on target in the first half, a statistic of which we should be utterly ashamed. This, after all, is a team which was beaten by Millwall at the weekend.
Both of Watford’s goals were our fault. Aaron Ramsey is copping a lot of flak this morning, but the goals are down to him. The Welshman contributed but by was no means solely responsible, and nothing like the extent to which is being pilloried. The wall jumped, it clipped him on the way through. The free kick in the first place was conceded rashly by Mustafi. The second? Let’s put it this way; Hell will freeze over before Gabriel takes another throw-in.
The point is that we didn’t lose because of one player; they were all useless in the first half. Complacency or arrogance, different stems of the same plant. We lost because all of the players under-performed for forty-five minutes, well, an hour if we’re honest.
Alex Iwobi guided an excellent finish into the corner to give us hope, but the game was up when Lucas Perez rattled the crossbar from close range. That was the moment which in an instant gives you hope, but you know that was *it*, the one chance to draw level.
Post-match, Arsène told the press that the players weren’t mentally ready for the physical battle, a curious admission given that it’s his job to make sure that they are. He made certain we knew that they had been told about the problems Watford could cause, about how they couldn’t be taken lightly. Which raises awkward questions about whether the players listen to him anymore.
I’m sure the press corps won’t take him to task about that or the contradiction with his assertion that the players were mentally ready before the game. We either have a squad full of outstanding poker players or a manager whose grasp of their personalities is rather limited.
It was more than a bad day at the office, this was the day the title hopes were truly buried. Even a win at Chelsea won’t revive. The doctor just called the time of death for those dreams for another season.