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Watford 1 Arsenal 3 (27/08/2016) 28/08/2016

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I’m a right grumpy bastard in the summer. I don’t do heat anyway… how do you walk to work in sunshine, even relatively tame 8.30am sunshine, with a laptop bag and not get there ready to go home again?  Football is many things, amongst which it’s something to work towards at such points.  At points where you’ve got to work feeling hot and flustered, or been confronted about a piece of work that you’d completely forgotten about or just feeling a bit low, the prospect of playing Arsenal, or whoever, at the weekend is something to put a spring in your step.  Come on.

2- So giving away a penalty after less than ten minutes was a bit of a pisser.  It featured a slow motion dawning, a realisation amongst the crowd after an oddly protracted, delayed award complicated by Sanchez lying prone in the penalty area and…has he given a penalty or is he calling the physio?  Was there a foul?  Is it our free kick? Cazorla seems convinced, he… he’s given a penalty.  Oh f***.

The week’s anticipation fizzles out there and then.  There’s brief, half-hearted straw-clinging as a succession of delaying tactics hold up the penalty but there was never any suggestion that it wouldn’t be converted.  It was a game-defining moment;  Arsenal, as the build-up to the game on Radio 5 had reiterated, needed the result.  The penalty gave doubts and anxiety no opportunity to take root, and much as what followed later in the half could have perhaps been avoided the pattern of the game unravelled from this point.  For fifteen minutes or so we weren’t in it at all, chasing the play, the out-ball a thump up to Troy to flick on to nothing, ragged.  Then we grabbed a foothold, pushed on, pushed Arsenal back.  Kabasele’s header from a set piece was angled narrowly wide.  We were giving it some.  Until Arsenal broke, ruthlessly, seeing an opportunity to shake off the “we haven’t won yet” monkey and taking it.  It was over the line, then it wasn’t, but there was no doubt as to what the technology verdict would be.  Mercilessly it was three before the break as all semblance of resilient defence crumbled.  Game over.

3- Going back to that penalty call, two thoughts having seen it again.  First, this was always a risk.  That Nordin would be caught in a defensive situation that he wasn’t adapted to and that it would cost us.  No doubt that he’s done a sterling job as a converted wing-back but there are some bits that he’s better at than others.  The wing-back roles always looked like priorities for recruitment given our mooted change in formation, they’re positions that the 3-5-2 asks an awful lot of.  Amrabat’s conversion is a success on balance, but even if he continues to improve and adapt to the role such mistakes are inevitable – this one was expensive.

And the other thought was that it was clearly a penalty on review, as was clear at the time from social media feedback provided by those who’d seen a replay.  Not everyone uses social media as a check in such situations of course and amongst those living the moment was the Despairing Young Man from ig’s Chelsea report last week who let Sanchez and referee Friend know in concise and repetitive terms what he suspected about their sexual habits for the rest of the half.

Nonetheless, Friend deserves no sympathy.  The standard of refereeing seems to me to have improved pretty dramatically in the top flight, certainly since the bizarre days of the 1999/2000 season but Kevin Friend is a throwback, a peacock, the headmaster’s son who owns the ball.  His display was extraordinarily unbalanced and provocative, one of many second half highlights being Nordin Amrabat being harshly penalised for a foul on Wilshere and, being about to be substituted, walking off angrily remonstrating at the referee to be summoned to the pitch to receive one of an extraordinary number of yellow cards for the homeside, still chuntering.  Difficult not to sympathise.

4- Half time had been pretty grim.  Much as these things can happen against such high quality sides, particularly quality sides in need of a win who get the relief of an early penalty, nobody was looking forward to the second half.  Despairing Young Man failed to reappear for the second half and frankly I’d have taken that at the break, anything else was a bonus.  Instead, what followed was hugely encouraging.

Our league games to date have been remarkable in that none of our army of impressive new recruits had started.  Here we saw an array of new talent gradually introduced.  Kabasele and Kaboul started the game and despite the calamity at the end of the first half both impressed;  Kaboul looks great with the ball at his feet, and if he looked a little slow to be playing one of the two wide roles that bear significant responsibility in covering our attacking wing backs this must surely be mitigated by the knowledge that he will in general be competing with Prödl for the central role.

Pereyra warmed up at the break.  No pressure, Roberto, but if someone going to come on at 3-0 down having been hailed as The Answer by his coach, let alone the support, you’d back someone with a (kind-of) mohican.  Expectation was so high that it’s difficult to conceive of something that would meet that expectation without being worthy of a Roy of the Rovers strip, but my word he came very close.  It’s like when you trade up in Masters League on Pro Evo (I’m talking about 5 years ago, it’s a long time since I was down with the kids) and suddenly have a much much better player in the side.  Deft, clever, quick but industrious he looked every bit the part.  The mouth waters.

He gobbled up a loose ball to narrow the deficit too; by then we’d moved to 4-3-3 with Janmaat coming on as right back behind Amrabat.  He looked decent too, quick and aggressive with an ability to deliver curling crosses from deeper than the touchline.  And finally Success, an extraordinary specimen who looks like a heavyweight boxer but moves like an ice skater.  Our attacking play for much of the rest of the half was fabulous and potent, albeit against an Arsenal side who were never quite put under enough pressure by the scoreline.

5- The fixture list, in a sense, hasn’t been kind as I’m sure you’ve noticed.  One point from these three games isn’t far short of par; you’d take a point at West Ham and anything from United is a bonus on current form which gives us two points, say, after five games and the need to win at Burnley and the more obviously winnable games that follow.

On the other hand.  It was always going to take time to bed these players in.  The Pozzo approach has traditionally been to be cautious in this regard, Quique’s immediate blooding of Jurado a year ago the exception rather than the rule.  We have, on the evidence of this second half, quite an array of talent, without having seen Sinclair, for instance, in competitive action yet.  We have two weeks further to sort things out and two more games to bed things in, games which at any stage of the season would be challenging.

And then we’re up and running for those winnable games.  And on this evidence, running like a train with defences scattering in our wake.  Keep the faith.  This could be fun.


1. Joe - 28/08/2016

I shouldnt be suprised, i knew it was coming as it always does, but still i’m shocked by the online criticism of Watford, Mazzari and Pozzos. This week i’ve seen someone claiming pozzos dont care, they dont spend enough, mazzari should be sacked and a claim we dont have a recruitment plan.

Its like a monty python version of being a football fan with our roman owners.

The only suprising thing should be that i am suprised.

2. The53rdCard - 28/08/2016

As ever, greatly enjoyable.

3. thehornet35 - 28/08/2016

Thanks as ever for the write-up Matt. Like you I was hovering around at half time a little stunned and not really looking forward to a downbeat Watford probably being hit for five or six to a rampant Arsenal.

And then, it suddenly became a rollickingly good game. If any of those chances had gone in after we had clawed one back I think Arsenal would really have struggled. As you so eloquently put, the new boys looked so so promising.

I couldn’t have hoped for a better half from pererya, the way he demanded the ball, was equally as able to ping about one touch passes as he was to run and beat a man, and that was on the edge of our box or in the attacking third.

I sit in the Graham Taylor and Janmaat was right in front of me. Again, comfortable on the ball, tidy in possession and crucially tidy in position.

The second half left me feeling very happy, probably undeservedly so having lost 3-1 at home, but it’s about the bigger picture. And to win the second half in the manner we did having seen them slump off at half time in utter despair also gives me encouragement about Mazzarri’s ability to motivate.

It’s still in the ‘free hit’ zone of West Ham away and Man Utd at home, but I actually, dare I say it, feel more upbeat about this season than I did the last, even if we ultimately finish below 13th, we have recruited what appears to be on the face of it, some real quality.

4. Harefield Hornet - 28/08/2016

Great summary. In my view the season doesn’t really begin before the dreaded transfer window closes and we know where we are with the squad. Sad about Vydra but extremely encouraged by the new recruits. Pereya’s tracking back and tackling impressed me as much as his forward play.

5. Roger Smith - 28/08/2016

Don’t be too hard on Amrabat. Mazzari was forced to make two late changes to the back line, and they’d never played together before. So the wing back found himself making a last ditch challenge in central defence. In the second half, Arsenal were cruising, but if we’d scored the second that our play deserved, they may have found it difficult to step up a gear. As for the ref, a similar number of fouls by each side (many on us, though, when we had a clear advantage) but seven bookings against one! You could not make it up, but unfortunately you don’t have to.

Matt Rowson - 28/08/2016

Not so late changes – Cathcart wasn’t available on Tuesday, and the Britos situation can’t have been completely unanticipated (sketchy on how these things work…).

I take your point, but I wasn’t trying to criticise Amrabat, for the most part he was excellent again. It’s just that if you ask a very attacking player to do the difficult wing-back’s jobs then situations like this are going to arise… no criticism of Mazzarri intended either, just unfortunate that it happened when it did.

6. Watford Gav - 28/08/2016

Great write up as usual Matt, looking forward to the season after Manure.

7. WD3 - 28/08/2016

I was despondent at half time, but surprisingly upbeat at 90 minutes despite a 1-3 defeat. The power of football…..

8. Adam Cummings - 28/08/2016

Having dozed through most of what was advertised as a Premier League game at The Hawthorns this afternoon, I can be fairly confident that there are at least three teams worse than us. Not one of the 27 players would get into a Watford team ahead of those who played for us yesterday.
As for the ref, I have a theory about those men in black such as Attwell and Friend who like to think they are on the way up. They favour the bigger sides so they get good reports and then get given the bigger games involving those teams. They are also trained by Mike Riley (the second worst ref I have ever seen after Roger Syles) to manage games not referee what they see. People may not like Mike Dean but he gives it as he sees it.

9. Moralee Reprehensible - 28/08/2016

Kevin Friend is, I am led to believe, one of those referees who likes to address Big Club players by their first names.

One can imagine the conversation: “Oh bad luck Alexis, once again you were so close to winning the ball, and the fact that a potential Watford break with defenders out of position was nipped in the bud was an utterly unintended consequence. Carry on!”

Of course he would have said this in Spanish, having learned the language in order to ingratiate himself still further in his fawning supplication.

10. Goldenboy60 - 28/08/2016

Arsenal came on a very determined mission. Lets face it, generally their players are better than ours, and their performance in the 1st half not only blew us away but would have scared the other top teams. Their neat passing (never giving the ball away), and their movement off the ball was sublime, and lets face it we couldn’t get near them, though they gave us so much respect, as they knew they would be in a proper game.

My thunk (Matt) at half time was, how are we going to deal with this, because I think it would be a real poignant match if we had been blown away in the 2nd half.

In that 2nd half we were the Arsenal of the 1st half, and though we lost the game, I was very proud of the way we ‘got at em’, and gave them a good run for the money. Good to see the spirit that went, “lets give them a real problem”, and so we did. If we had scored a 2nd, and we came very close many times, they would have been rocking back and Wenger would have been on the touchline very scared of the outcome.

So, the positives are: “we have some real ‘bollocks”, are not going to get bullied, and are going to give the big clubs some real scares. This in my opinion is a team that hasn’t really started yet, and shows some real purpose and quality.

The referee, well the less said the better. Arsenal can be as physical as anyone, and boy they had to be in the 2nd half to stop us. But how they can win the bookings 1-7 is beyond me. I think our team will grow, and grow, as the new players ‘bed in’.

Intriguing times ahead I think……… and yes i agree this season could be great fun.

11. MartinG - 29/08/2016

I have already enjoyed the games much more this season (Gillingham aside) than the second half of last season.
Deeney always seems to take time to work up to speed when he’s had a break of any kind so I think he’ll be back to normal soon.
Pereyra looked quality from the off. Success also looked like he could create havoc with direct running. So reasons to be cheerful.
And totally agree with Joe’s comment.

12. Old Git - 30/08/2016

Thanks Adam, for reminding us of Mike Riley, ’twas ever thus….

And I think you mean Rob Styles, as your worst ever ref. The fact you have renamed him as Roger, indicates there is some deep psychological trauma lurking in your memory caused by someone else called Roger….
I can’t think who, but the words ‘abject’ and ‘cretin’ come to mind.

Matt Rowson - 30/08/2016

Think Adam can’t have read this, or he wouldn’t forget…. Rob Styles. Not Robert. Not Bob. Rob.

Adam Cummings - 31/08/2016

I would like to say it was a typo pure and simple but clearly I have an aversion to even typing his name. Every time I drive close to Waterlooville my whole being shakes with horror at his memory.

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