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Watford 0 Arsenal 3 (17/10/2015) 18/10/2015

Posted by Ian Grant in Match reports.
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1. During the week, I had cause to reflect on the way that the world changes and, perhaps, leaves you trailing behind. I heard welcome word of a familiar name from the past, someone whose voice used to bring me essential news of events at Vicarage Road in the early nineties. At that time, I spent my Saturday afternoons in my Brighton bedroom chasing an elusive signal from Capital Gold for its live reports; it was one step up from the unbearable tension of waiting for CEEFAX to tick round to Page 3/3 to see whether anything had changed.

These days, it’s almost impossible to imagine that a game in the second tier of English football could take place in such a near-total vacuum, that it could create so few ripples. That faint signal, that distant voice amid the interference, was my only source of information beyond a scoreline and a league position. It was my sole connection to the club. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here and writing this.

The Internet changed everything, of course. Money changed it too. It feels as if there’s been a really fundamental shift even since we were last here in 2007: there’s now so much live coverage available that being at the ground feels like being in the eye of the storm, a slightly unnerving lack of continual analysis, explanation and wanton opinionating. It’s the one place where football can still lose itself in the moment, but you’re still acutely aware of the watching eyes of the world, of the live updates and live streams and live betting and live tweeting and live advertising and live image right negotation and live stat processing and live everything else. It’s probably a lot like being in the studio audience for Strictly or something.

2. “Oh look, it’s Arsenal!” you think, in the same way you might if you passed, say, Dermot O’Leary in the street. Except I get the impression that Dermot O’Leary is a reasonably good egg who might not mind if you smiled and said hello*, whereas Arsenal have long since transcended those kind of everyday niceties and would undoubtedly consider any acknowledgement of your existence beneath them. They’re very much, you know, in the cloud. They’re a football club in the same way that U2 at Wembley is a rock’n’roll gig…that is, very much so or not at all, depending on your point of view. (Go on, have a guess.) Except that they aren’t U2, obviously. They’re some b-list stadium atrocity, overwrought and overblown. They’re Muse.

3. There’s something hugely appealing about sticking it up one of these corporate monoliths, of course, even if we’re hardly an independent trader ourselves these days. It’d be lovely if you didn’t have to queue for fifteen minutes in the newsagents, but this is the first of these fixtures and weariness has yet to set in. There’s a certain thrill in the prospect of seeing your team truly tested too, in looking at an opposition line-up with an involuntary intake of breath. In knowing that the chance of doing something truly memorable is balanced by the risk of being completely, and very publicly, embarrassed.

4. For five minutes, maybe ten, the prospects don’t look terribly good. You always hope that you might catch them in one of their introspective moods, weighed down by their own sense of entitlement, but Arsenal start at a quite absurd tempo, pinging the ball around at a pace which we simply haven’t experienced before and cannot remotely live with. No sooner than we’ve managed to win the ball back than we’ve lost it again and we’re chasing again. The gap is not merely in quality but in intent: they’re quicker to everything, faster to make better decisions, stronger in the challenge. We can’t get near them…and even when we do, we can’t get the ball off players used to doing their work in extremely tight spaces. It’s not as if you can just plough them into the advertising hoardings any more; it’s not as if you can opt to play them on a ploughed field either. Their game, their rules. Walcott glances a wasteful header at Gomes, who then has to punch away a curling shot from the irresistible Sanchez. We’re just not in it.

5. When Troy Deeney determinedly bundles an opponent off the ball to win a throw on the halfway line, his efforts are met with a huge ovation from a crowd looking for straws to clutch at. But it’s only a throw on the halfway line, nothing more.

Except it isn’t. That’s where it starts, and what remains of the first hour is a thrilling demonstration of how to knock a team like Arsenal right out of its stride: Deeney’s bullish efforts are quickly reinforced by Capoue and Watson in midfield, by Anya in an advanced position out on the right of the supporting three, by Ighalo up top. We get a foothold in the centre circle (both holding midfielders have magnificent, if very different, games) and start giving it what can only be described as a right go. Deeney smacks in a drive after wrestling himself free of a defender, then Koscielny has to clear to prevent Ighalo from finishing a break after excellent work from Capoue. Vicarage Road explodes in response. Come on.

You’ll see few better goalless halves of football than this one. Goalless because Ramsey somehow scooped a chance over the bar from close range, because Ighalo scuffed wide when sent clear, because Nyom dived in to clear as Sanchez readied himself to score, because any number of nearlies weren’t quite. Beyond the goalmouths, the contest ebbed and flowed beautifully: they’re still Arsenal, with all of their extraordinary riches, but they’re no longer having it all their own way. Crucially, we carry a tangible threat in the final third which prevents them from settling things down for any length of time; we’re direct and quick and aggressive, and they don’t like it up ’em. It just needs a goal. It deserves a goal. It’s bloody brilliant.

6. The second half offers another fifteen minutes of this stirring, inspiring attempt at flying a hang-glider to the moon before reality comes crashing in. Those fifteen minutes are pretty special, though. As the sun sets, the manager’s name echoes around the ground, the chant drifting from end to end as if carried on the wind; mobile phones light up the home stands. There’s something really rather magical about it all, something surreal too. The team rolls towards the Rookery in slow, steady waves which don’t seem to meet with much resistance. It’s as if everyone’s fallen into a dream.

You had to be there. It was lovely. It was us, at our best.

7. We’re rudely awoken by a slap in the face. No room for romance in the Premier League; cut that out, you lot. As we drop off for a crucial second, Arsenal smuggle Ozil behind the lines, Sanchez finishing the job. You know it’s all over as soon as you see the ball hit the net. It shouldn’t be, perhaps, but it is. There’s nothing left: we’ve given it all, not a chance that we can pick ourselves up and go again. Arsenal are far, far too good to let the lead slip and have little pity for our tiring legs. The remaining half hour is painful and tedious and inevitable and not worth bothering with here. I don’t care, you don’t care; let’s leave it for others to pick over, especially if they’re foolish enough to judge a game by its end result.

8. We should be bloody proud of what went before. More than that, we should take it with us: we need that to be more than just a one-off performance in a cup tie, more than valiance in defeat. When I saw us last, against Palace, we looked a side capable of holding our own, compact and competent and yet distinctly uninspiring. Here, there was a real threat, some complete commitment, some belief in ourselves. There is no way of guaranteeing a win against substantially stronger opponents, but there are plenty of games to come in which this kind of sound and fury, this new-found positive spirit, could do some serious damage. In short, we need to be this at it against Stoke and West Ham and Leicester.

* I may be wrong, of course. He might be a complete bastard. Leave me with my dreams intact, though, reader. We all need our little comforts.

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Comments»

1. Lou W - 18/10/2015

I said on Twitter this was the first game that reminded me of the last time up, and got yelled at royally. I actually meant it as encouraging.The last time up it seemed week after week we showed valiant effort and got nothing for it, leaving me both proud and disappointed. Credit to our progress that it took to nine games in and a game against Arsenal for me to feel that way this year. We are better, and fortunately we don’t play the likes of them every time out.

A personal story concerning the modern times. As recently as 15 years ago I was working in Washington, D.C., and I would walk over to a newsstand near the White House every week where I knew I could find and buy a London paper just to check the table. Beyond that there was little contact with WFC and the seasons were a blur. Nowadays I am in Atlanta and can listen to Jon Marks in my ear via my phone while getting the groceries done, and have full match reports and updates from the club site, this site, the Observer and so many others. And now thanks to the promotion even watch the team every week as well. Glorious time to be alive… but boy do I miss being there in person.

Adam Segal - 22/10/2015

Right there with you in South Florida!

Tybalt - 01/11/2015

Similarly for this Canadian. I can get… Everything. It’s disconcerting.

2. aizedlittlemozart - 18/10/2015

brilliant write up. gooner here and wishing you good luck for the rest of your campaign. linked this page on twitter too, hope that’s okay with you?

Ian Grant - 18/10/2015

Thanks very much. Yes, absolutely fine…although I’ll obviously hold you responsible for any of your fellow Gooners who don’t take it in quite the same spirit! Good luck to you too.

3. NickB - 18/10/2015

Great report as always, particularly liked the music analogy – you were right first time, they absolutely are those tax avoiding kings of bombast, only with a zillion times more talent, sadly.
Talking of remoteness in olden days, I often resorted to phoning Ron Rollitt for the result of night games I couldn’t get to, as well as waiting until the Sunday paper came to get the result from a Saturday night game at Torquay!

NickB - 19/10/2015

That’s the one; I remember very clearly staring hopelessly at the results column waiting for it to change – we hadn’t lost in ages and it hurt terribly.
And to Adrian lower down, thanks for the magnificent simile ‘Like watching a close relative being slapped around the face’: worthy of ig himself.

4. Old Git - 18/10/2015

Yes, we lost 2-1. I think Endean (who else?) scored our goal. I still remember waiting for the Sunday paper to arrive and creeping downstairs in my jimjams to meet the shock of horror and dismay on seeing we had lost. In those days there was no other way of getting the scores of away night matches and, ig, the Capital Gold latest score reports are, to some of us, a recent innovation.
Midweek away matches were the worst, because you would have to tune in at 9.55 to the Radio 2 sports news and hope that they would deign to announce the scores of lower division matches. If not, there would be the agony of a sleepless night waiting for the morning paper to arrive.
Happy days!

John M - 19/10/2015

Don’t remember what the game was, but, during the Furphy promotion season, there was a particularly important midweek away game I couldn’t attend (work). Remember sitting in tense anticipation in front of the ITV news for the result—and they didn’t broadcast it. Furious, I found the ITV number and phoned them to have a shout at someone, only to have the phone answered (finally, after a number of engaged attempts) by a resigned operator who told me she had already had numerous calls from irate Watford supporters. She told me the result and, as a bonus, the scorers. I should remember the game and result, but I can’t!
I should say happy days, but compared to the wonderful access we have now–no, they weren’t happy!

John M - 19/10/2015

Just to add, in those far off Furphy days, there was no local radio and BBC national radio would just as often not give lower league results as give them–and if they did it was in a begrudging, offhand fashion. Sometimes just ‘in division three Watford, Swindon and Doncaster won’
There was, apart from 10 o’clock television news, no other outlet to find out a result, and often we had to wait for the morning newspaper delivery. Sometimes, if we were lucky (once a season, unless we were top) we would see match highlights.
Oh, the joys of Sky and the Internet!

RGW - 21/10/2015

The worst one I remember was desperately trying to find the result of the game at Levski (an afternoon kickoff I think), which was completely ignored by Radio 2 (as was) and which was eventually shown at approaching midnight as 20 seconds of highlights right at the end of Sportsnight, in a “Oh some team we don’t care about had an astonishing win in the UEFA Cup” sort of way.

5. HB84 - 18/10/2015

8. Fully sums it up for me. Proud.
We used to sing so many times under GT ” proud of you” after defeats against the big guns on our way up…

Too right – we need to maintain this … Team and fans .. Into the next 4 games. 4 points for me out of that bundle and we are on track.

John M - 19/10/2015

Yes, in those days we were ALWAYS proud of our team and players. We applauded our team after the game when Forest, under Cloughie, knocked in a hatfull of goals against us (was it 7?) and we still played well. That was the game when Clough barged into Watford’s dressing room after the game and praised GT and the players for the way they played, despite the result. In some ways this game was like that. For sixty minutes they looked the part.

6. straightnochaser - 18/10/2015

A little humour exhibited with the choice of half-time ‘music’ at the ground too, according to my daughter without who I’d never have identified ‘Money Talks’ or ‘Price Tag’.

7. Simoninoz - 18/10/2015

For match reports and intelligent comment my brother used to mail me Oliver Phillips’ stuff on the back page of the Watford Observer; took 2 weeks to get to Sydney. Now I’ve got BHappy at the click of a mouse.

8. Adrian Patterson - 19/10/2015

Brilliantly written. When we went one-down I completely relaxed and my daughter stopped the strange tense noises she had been making for an hour knowing it was all over. It ended up like watching a close relative being slapped around the face, but for the first hour I just felt really proud of what we were doing. We looked like a strong mid table team, and after watching the the Keystone Cops defending in the Newcastle-Norwich game I felt very secure. Normally I start a week where we have just lost on a bit of a downer, not this week.

9. Goldenboy60 - 19/10/2015

Its all about putting the ball in the net.

We didn’t score in a 1st half where we created chances and you could argue that we deserved the lead. But because we didn’t I sort of knew what was coming.

Nothing different in that. If we can’t learn as supporters from the last 2 seasons in the Premier League then we are stupid.

YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR CHANCES OTHERWISE YOU LOSE.

And now its’ more unforgiving than it was last time.

JohnF - 19/10/2015

I agree. I am proud that we look competitive and no push over. The defence and midfield are so much better than before but goal scoring really look to be a problem and the concern is that attacking confidence will erode. Two things seem to be important and I’m sure that Flores is working on it, 1) we need to move the ball quicker to get behind defences and 2) the final pass/cross have to be much better, including from dead ball situations. The final point is that Igalho has to be prepared to pass the ball to better placed players, particularly Troy.

10. NickB - 19/10/2015

Hi Ian
Small point – would you mind moving my reply to Old Git beneath his comment, as otherwise it looks as though I’m talking to myself 🙂

Old Git - 19/10/2015

Who’s this bloke who is talking to himself?

NickB - 20/10/2015

Old age is a terrible thing…

11. Paul Caruso - 30/10/2015

Ah Mr Grant, the last two reports have been beautiful verse amongst the cacophonous din, ‘flying a hang-glider to the moon before reality comes crashing in’, how can we arrange for you and Bernard Butler to pen the next Morrissey album, splendid stuff.


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