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Watford 2 Arsenal 1 (14/10/2017) 15/10/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  The 1980s, then.  You’ll have a position, no doubt.  Mine tends to depend on what mood I’m in and who’s asking.  Dad’s rather dismissive attitude towards anything since the mid-seventies tends to rather force me into a defensive stance citing the icons of my childhood but there’s little reasonable argument in support of Thatcher, big hair bands or velour tracksuits.

This evening featured some 80s flashbacks of its own, some welcome and some less so.  In the latter category, the outbreak of fighting in the Rookery as some witless Arsenal incursion was met aggressively. This was far enough away from us not to be an immediate issue, but close enough for the always anxious Daughter 2 to dwell upon it despite all that happened after. Slightly depressing that the incursion of away fans in home ends that happens in all grounds at most games, mates sitting with mates and so on, is still necessarily low key because of idiots like these.

On the upside.  Well.  The 1980s was by and large a spectacular time to support Watford, as those of us fortunate enough (or unfortunate, depending on your point of view) to be impressionable during this period could testify.  We took on all comers.  We had guts, and style, and bravado.  We won games like this.

There’s another eighties nostalgia detail of course, but we’ll get to that…

2-  We’ve noted this before, but if you were to list the things you missed about the Second Division, floodlit matches at the Vic would be up there.  And no, this wasn’t strictly an evening game but the sun was on its way home for “Strictly” and beans on toast by kick-off and the marvellous focused intensity of such occasions was thick in the air.  The 1881’s latest magnificent flag shrouded the Rookery as the teams came out and then rattled back down the stand like an opening curtain on the spectacle.

Team news had revealed Andre Gray back in for Troy, Pereyra for the jet-lagged Carrillo and a switch to a back three with Miguel Britos returning to the fold.  As an aside, telling that already we look at such a change from Silva and trust it instinctively.  Mazzarri never earned that confidence.

The first half was absorbing, if not thrilling.  With Doucouré loping around the pitch and dictating our play we enjoyed more of the possession and territory…  but the visitors’ attacks had more menace about them.  This arose in part because the Gunners pressurised us high up the pitch and forced us to either move backwards or to resort to longer passes that didn’t suit Gray, once again willing and industrious but limited in his effectiveness.  Much of our penetration came through Richarlíson, Pereyra twisting to try to divert a cross goalwards, but we weren’t getting very far.  At the other end the three/five-man defence generally kept Arsenal at arm’s length, resisting the visitors’ efforts to stretch the play by switching flanks, but as the half went on they were getting closer than we were.  Elneny clouted narrowly over, Bellerín flicked a shot wide.  Five minutes before the break when we’d have gratefully taken all square at half time, Per Mertesacker crashed in Xhaka’s corner.  Aggravating…  we’d done enough, only to stuff up on a set piece.  Half time arrived to a backdrop of grumbles about about zonal marking.

3- In such circumstances, going behind avoidably shortly before half time to one of the big sides, you expect the match to pan out a certain way.  That it didn’t reflects upon both sides.  Our lot we’ll get to, though tales of guts and spirit and ability to hurt teams should already be a surprise to nobody.

But as for Arsenal…  it’s no mystery, and no great insight, but this side is completely gutless.  As ever, Troy put it best…

Ability, yes, even allowing for rested stars and injured defenders.  But no spirit, and no leaders.  No leaders for a long time, actually.  Not even the utterly likeable “BFG” Mertesacker, who showed class by treating Richarlíson’s cramp late on in the midst of what had built gradually to an onslaught in the second half.  Mertesacker is an experienced, respected player but he’s not a warrior.  Arsenal haven’t had one of them for an age.  And we have them in spades…

4- Not least the man who came off the bench on the hour for a tour de force.  Critically, Arsenal’s pressing game that had so disrupted our attempts to build an attack had dissipated instantly on their taking the lead.  Throughout the second period we had loads of space… but had still been struggling to make the ball stick.  Richarlíson, the one dependable source of penetration, did a sterling job in the wake of concerted attention, but the arrival of Deeney with that look in his eyes changed the game entirely.

Mertesacker’s first league start for eighteen months has been cited as a silver lining for the visitors, but he was completely unable to cope with Deeney despite his six inch advantage, and very quickly looked like a player who was out of practice.  Troy was in full battle mode, relishing every confrontation, setting down a challenge and finding no takers.  He added glue to our attacking play and those around him thrived on it.

Arsenal weren’t out of it.  Özil came off the bench and was soon significant in counter-attacks that could have seen us put to bed by Iwobi, denied by Gomes, or by the German himself who fluffed a good chance on his weaker foot. But we were on the front foot by midway through the half, to the extent that even a 1-0 defeat would likely have been met with an ovation.  We didn’t roll over, we gave it some.

But we didn’t lose 1-0.  Because from Özil’s miss, we broke…

5- Whether you think it was a penalty depends rather on who you support, I suspect.  Certainly, the definitive condemnation of Richarlíson that accompanies even the more even handed of Arsenal reports already up on the web are ludicrous, since TV replays don’t reveal the extent of the contact, the extent to which he was tripped or exaggerated.

What’s beyond doubt is that tickets win raffles, and so forth.  Richarlíson had been running at Bellerín all night – that doesn’t earn him the right to a penalty if no contact was made, but it does increase the chances of his marker getting his timing wrong just once.  The Brazilian’s treatment this evening was less brutal than it has been in other games where, equally, he has gotten up again and kept going but nonetheless, his irrepressible refusal to take or give his marker a breather means stuff like this will happen.

Arsène Wenger would have done well to remember the penalty Alexis Sanchez earned in generous circumstances in this fixture last season before bleating too much about this one, but I don’t begrudge him his moan.  Indeed, he contributed to what could hardly have been a more comprehensive eighties tribute had he brought Kenny Sansom on to sit on his arse at left back whilst David Bardsley was jetted in from the US to sprint past him.  Again.  The other thing about the eighties, of course, is that We Always Beat The Arsenal….  P14 W9 D1 L4, if you’re counting, that including an FA Cup Quarter Final in our first season up in the second tier, and a relegation season.  This is now our third win in four.

6- Only one team was going to win this.  That’s not to say that it was always coming… indeed when Étienne Capoue’s drive thudded off Mertesacker’s chest and onto a post we’d clocked that this probably wasn’t going to happen, and when Carrillo rushed a good opening to fire over we’d resigned ourselves to a very respectable point.

So the winner was a thing of beauty in it’s scruffiness, exactly the sort of goal that Arsenal would never have scored.  There was finesse in there too, the unstoppable Deeney with the presence of mind to pull back from wide… but mostly it was pinball and determination and bloody-mindedness.  What a joy it was that it was Cleverley, so meriting and so needing a goal, who clouted the decisive strike through the debris of Arsenal’s defence in a manner that recalled his captain against Leicester four years earlier.  The roof came off;  I had a rush of blood and almost fainted.  Daughters one and two screamed uncontrollably.

7- The mood post-match was special, reflecting the value in this win above “mere” three points.  Hands were shaken in the concourse, embraces were shared.  Grins and salutes, no need to articulate this.  Bloody come on.

We go to Stamford Bridge now knowing that even a defeat is likely to leave us in the top six a quarter of the way through the season.  No flash in the pan, this.  Enjoy…


Gomes 4, Femenía 3, Holebas 5, Mariappa 4, Kabasele 4, Britos 3, Doucouré 5, Cleverley 5, Pereyra 4, Richarlíson 4, Gray 3

Subs:  *Deeney (for Gray, 63) 5*, Carrillo (for Mariappa, 63) 3, Capoue (for Pereyra, 81) 0, Janmaat, Wagué, Watson, Karnezis



1. Roger Smith - 15/10/2017

A thrilling report of a thrilling game. Thank you.

2. Robin - 15/10/2017

Back to the 80s indeed. Not just because we always beat the Arsenal, but because, with justification, we fear no-one and expect to get something from every opponent. Except City, of course.

Watching from my US hotel room, my only complaint was about how long it took Silva to bring on Deeney. It was clear long before the Arsenal goal that Gray wasn’t getting anything out of the game and that Deeney was needed. And although he presents it as “putting it about”, it’s (obviously) so much more than that, in particular his ability to consistently provide *controlled* lay-offs whether with head, chest or backside.

On the penalty (and I think supported by the replays), it looked like a clear push in the back. Far from the first time – indeed that seemed to be a key feature of Arsenal’s “pressing” game, with several freekicks given (and several not) for clear pushes.

3. Neil M - 15/10/2017

It’s hard not to keep reading Arsenal-centric web sites that all claim that it was clearly a dive from Richarlison and demanding that retrospective action should be taken against him, despite pretty clear evidence shown on MOTD that Bellerin had his arm in Richarlisons back. 20 years ago it wouldn’t have been a penalty but times have changed and now (following years of pressure from Wenger and his ilk) it has to be a penalty, even Arsenal super-fan Ian Wright admitted as much. It seems to me that it is ridiculous that there is any discussion of the veracity of the referees decision and Wenger should be ashamed of himself for suggesting there was a problem it.

The Watford of the 80’s is clearly back and the Premier League is better for it. Graham Taylor would be proud, I know I am.

4. Marc Sampson - 15/10/2017

Wouldn’t you love to see another 80’s throwback where a young Watford winger stars in an England V Brazil match in November!

Matt Rowson - 15/10/2017

Good call

5. harefield hornet - 15/10/2017

The other re-emerging flashback to the 80’s is the shifting attitude towards us of the big London clubs supporters including some members of my own family. Gone are the condescending messages of goodwill and patronising “ooh Watford are doing well” type remarks that were received over the past couple of years. As Corporal Jones always said “they don’t like it up em!? Long may they moan!

6. Old Git - 16/10/2017

One great thing about following the ‘Orns is that we do not have a sense of entitlement. We deserved that point against Liverpool, we deserved to beat United last season and we deserved to win the game on Saturday. Each of those results triggered howls of indignation and pathetic excuses (offside! foul! dive!) from opponents who believed they should just turn up to claim the three points.

And when we lose to supposedly inferior sides (which we regularly do, e.g. the First Round of the League Cup each year) we do not whinge, rant, blame referees, the fixture list etc etc. We just shrug, feel no pain (well, maybe a little bit), and wait for the next match.
And although I try do be a good person, I do so enjoy the heartfelt agonies of Arsene Wenger, whose face is wracked with pain and despair with hilarious regularity, as for the umpteenth time, his teams of straw capitulate to sides who (cliché alert) ‘wanted it more.’

When we play Stoke in two weeks, we will be expected by the pundits and the bookies to win. But despite this amazing start, none of us are taking anything for granted.

At least, I’m not….

7. simmos - 16/10/2017

Eloquent as ever and agreed with entirely except for one small issue; did Capoue do so little that he deserved a 0 in your ratings or was it that he just wasn’t on the pitch long enough? I thought he did well when coming on and was involved in the pinball which resulted in the winner. I would have said he deserved a 3 at the least.

Matt Rowson - 16/10/2017

I’ve adhered to old BSaD rules which ig devised, possibly arbitrarily, in 1995ish. Anyone playing less than 15 mins gets a 0, meaning not long enough to get a rating. Otherwise, yes, 0 would be harsh. Thx

Peter - 16/10/2017

so that’s no score rather than a score of 0

Matt Rowson - 16/10/2017

yes. Your point being?

8. JohnF - 17/10/2017

Wenger and some of the pundits were complaining about the penalty and moaning about the Ozil “miss” but if Ozil had scored that would have been a travesty as he was at least a yard offside. The assistant referee was well behind play but we had a great view and the fans in the Elton John Stand were certainly letting him know. At least BBC’s MoD commentary spotted it.

Great win and one for bloody minded determination and never giving up.

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