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Arsenal 2 Watford 0 (29/08/2018) 30/09/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- It’s an indicator of how far our feet are under the table that this is all so familiar now.  Four of the five visits to the Emirates since promotion and the environs are now as familiar as Borough Market pre-Millwall, as the cricket club at Turf Moor, as the discarded bin bags spewing their contents all over the pavements between Norwood Junction and Selhurst Park.

The forecourt of Highbury and Islington tube station has become a regular rendez-vous point, sun-bathed today, the walk down Holloway Road frequent enough to be able to recognise the invasion of cafes, coffee shops and student accommodation that local resident Kieron describes.

Familiar, too, are the bowels of a stadium built to comfortably accommodate its capacity.  Plenty of space to hang around pre-match, no need to queue for anything much with contactless-only refreshment trolleys.

Familiar, finally, is the bloody terrible view from the cinema seats nine rows back from the corner flag in the shallow bowl.  It all looks lovely.  Unless you actually want to watch the football.

2- What we do get a decent view of is Marc Navarro first Premier League 45 at right-back, the first change to the side this season thanks to Daryl Janmaat’s knee problem.  He does a decent enough job, though as the Hornets dominate territory in the opening fifteen minutes he appears to be taken by surprise by Arsenal’s pressure, a couple of balls back towards Ben Foster asking slightly more of the keeper than might have been ideal.  Defensively however he’s solid, and more than once he makes a significant intervention in denying the home side – on one occasion alive to the lurking threat of Aubameyang as he cuts out a far post cross.

It’s an intense, compelling, boisterous game of football.  Both sides are pressing hard and high, both are holding a high defensive line, both want to win.  Much as we force the home side onto the back foot early on they twice threaten through Alexandre Lacazette;  on the first occasion he is caught in the penalty area by Kabasele, stumbles, thinks about it, and goes down unconvincingly late.  We get away with it.  Shortly afterwards Lacazette robs Craig Cathcart but dinks his effort wide over the onrushing Foster. We get away with it again but… Arsenal are getting away with stuff too. Troy gets on the end of a deep cross and cushions a header back to Will Hughes who drives wide. Kabasele thumps a header that’s blocked on the line. Nil nil at the break is just fine, we’re giving it some.

3- As, incidentally, are Arsenal. The now notorious “cojones” comment of a year or so ago was questionable in terms of whether candidly sharing such opinions was altogether helpful given that we would be playing the same side later in the season but beyond reasonable dispute in terms of veracity. Arsenal had a soft centre, and had had such for a long time. Not our problem of course, but signs here that the Gunners are no longer so overawed by physical confrontation. Whatever the undercurrent of “we should be beating the likes of Watford”, the reality beyond such unhelpful preconceptions is that we came at Arsenal with verve and power and they may have rode their luck once or twice but they held us off and got the break in the end. Not a traditionally Arsenal performance, and the combative Lucas Torreira was at the heart of the change; like Troy, he was slightly harshly booked in the opening period, Troy for stretching for a loose ball in a challenge with Cech, Torreira for a foul that stymied a breakaway.

Troy, meanwhile, has been grabbing headlines once again this week with comments regarding Watford’s management of the gravitationally challenged one. Once again, the real question is not the reasonableness of what he was saying. Any team with any intelligence would pay close attention to Zaha, particularly given his propensity for reacting so favourably to it, and whilst purity of spirit simply oozes from those bin bags en route to Selhurst Park (witness: Ian Holloway, Saša Ćurčić etc) any other club would give some thought to whether there’s an alternative to the same player bootering him over and over again for sustainability reasons.

The question, of course, is whether it’s really helpful for Troy to be saying those things publicly. The answer is no.

4- The Gunners had grown stronger as the first half had progressed, and the start of the second saw more pressure from the home side. It may be a case, again, of perception warping in line with a suspected narrative but we looked tired during this spell, ragged even, and you feared for how long we could keep Arsenal at arm’s length.

So the fact that we came back so strongly was as impressive as it was unexpected. Arsenal’s sub keeper Bernd Leno, on shortly before the break for the injured Cech, could probably have hoped for gentler introductions to the Premier League and looked anxious initially in the second period. Our first chance came from one of a number of wicked deliveries from Jose Holebas, this from a set piece in which Troy ghosted in to attack the ball at the near side of the penalty area and with the delicate touch with which those who never watch him play wouldn’t associate him flicked a shot inside Leno’s left hand post. The German was equal to it, pushing it wide for the corner; from the set piece Nacho Monreal, who had lost his rag late in the first half and not found it again, had a wrestling match with Andre Gray before Leno punched away unconvincingly. This seemed to spur us on.

Andre Gray was keen to profit from Arsenal’s high line and was popped through it by Troy Deeney only to see his effort smothered by Leno. He was removed two minutes later and replaced by Isaac Success, increasingly the player we thought we’d signed after his debut here two years ago, replaced him and he too was put through by Deeney, burning away from his marker but taking an ever so slightly too heavy a touch forcing him slightly wide. His dinked chip was far more convincing than Lacazette’s at the same end in the first half, but still only skimmed the outside of the post on its way out.  As the energy ramped up Torreira and Deeney, both on yellows, clashed after a late Torreira tackle.  A less sensible ref than Anthony Taylor could have sent either off.

5- So, yeah. Then Arsenal scored, twice. A bit of luck for their first perhaps, but Cathcart wouldn’t have been there if we hadn’t been under pressure. So Arsenal win the game and we record our second defeat, each of which against a traditionally “top six” side.

Naturally there’s a tendency to say “well, we should have taken our chances”. Certainly this is true. Thing is, until such a time as we’re winning every week there will always be something that isn’t quite right. Very much first world problems these. Facts are that we’ve played nine games this season now across the League and the League Cup. Each game has been thoroughly enjoyable, and in each game – if with varying consistency across ninety minutes and to varying degrees – we’ve played well.

I’d maintain that Cathcart and Kabasele is the best central defensive partnership we’ve had in the 35+ years that I’ve been watching, and that midfield isn’t far off a comparable accolade, particularly when one considers strength in depth.

So really, defeat or otherwise, there’s very little to be upset about. The fact is that Spurs and Arsenal have crowed over the last week over a penalty shoot-out win against a reserve side wrongly reduced to ten men, and a helter-skelter league game that would have skidded off in another direction had we grabbed the first goal. There’s plenty of relief mixed up in that.

Now we need to turn good performances back in to wins. And there are few teams you’d wish defeat on more than next Saturday’s visitors. Bring it on.


Foster 3, Navarro 3, Holebas 4, Cathcart 3, Kabasele 4, Hughes 4, Doucouré 4, Capoue 4, Pereyra, 4, Gray 3, *Deeney 4*
Subs: Success (for Gray, 72) 3, Femenía (for Navarro, 84) 0, Mariappa, Masina, Sema, Chalobah, Gomes



1. PEDantic - 30/09/2018

Great report as usual, Matt. I’m surprised you criticise the view from Arsenal seats. Although they are on a shallow rake I’ve had much worse views at Liverpool, Everton (both restricted view in all but name), Fulham (front row below pitch level and out in the rain) and even Newcastle (back row above cloud level looking down on the ants below). Oh and West Ham (miles behind the goal line if you’re in the back tier.
As for the game and the season generally, like you I’m enjoying hugely the fact that we’re really competing with all teams we come up against.
I like the Cathcart/Kabasele combination too, they’re bang in form at the moment but better than, say, Terry/McClelland? Mmm…

Matt Rowson - 30/09/2018

West Ham is a different level of stupid altogether. Think the view higher up at Arsenal is not too bad but in front rows it’s useless. And McClelland is my all time favourite but I think this pair might be the best as above

2. Robert Hill - 30/09/2018

Our commitment is there for all to see, and the players are giving everything, and matched Arsenal. What I feel we have to question is our quality at times. We had very good chances to put Arsenal to bed, but didn’t take them, and there for me at the moment is our issues. I know that we have lived under the shadow of the bigger clubs for many years, but now we are challenging them at their level. You could tell by the way Arsenal reacted at the end of the game, who were mightily glad to get all 3 points. The effort and togetherness has been fantastic, but we still need that person who can pop the ball into the net when given a chance. No criticism of the players who are playing at very high levels at the moment, but I’m sure they will all be realising that to get into the top 6 and stay there, we will need to be more ruthless in front of goal. This season is going to be very interesting as to our future development. All very challenging and interesting.

3. Simoninoz - 01/10/2018

4 days in the UK and Simoninoz becomes SimonattheEmirates. It was a wonderful and exciting match with two teams playing fast and fair. If the game had ended ten minutes early it would have been one of the best nil nils of all time. Our club is in good shape.

4. reg - 01/10/2018

I think that Craig Cathcart would be the first to admit that he didn’t have his best game in a Watford shirt, dwelling on the ball in the first half for Lacazette to race away and mess up the chance and then scoring an own goal under pressure from the same player in a tight, even game in which the first goal proved to be hugely advantageous especially as it was scored so late. That is not to be unkind to Cathcart or to be unappreciative of the considerable contribution he has already made this season, it is to acknowledge that in the context of a Premier League game, when you have aspirations to operate at the upper end of that league, such mistakes can be the dividing line between drawing or winning and losing, especially when the own goal comes after the team has worked tirelessly and thrown everything at the opposition without managing to break through.
Two seasons ago when we played Arsenal at home they gave us a footballing lesson and were 3-0 up at half time, they weren’t so much on a different planet to us as in a different solar system. On the evidence of Saturday we might not quite yet be on the same planet as Arsenal, in that they are genuine challengers for a top four place whilst we aren’t, but by an almost miraculous quantum leap we seem to have landed on the planet next door.

Matt Rowson - 01/10/2018

Cathcart – the slip was bad, the own goal was sheer bad fortune. Nothing he could have done about that. One bad mistake, he was decent otherwise. As you imply, we can forgive him that.

5. Mike Smith - 01/10/2018

Great report as usual Matt.
I especially liked the preamble & your last sentence.
Agree with all the comments. Seems we are all of one accord. Playing some great football & competing with the best. This is probably the best squad I’ve seen in 60 years! On the TV every week too. Enjoy the ride.
Question: Why do the fans keep singing about that lot up the road? IMO I don’t think we’ll ever play them again in a league match.

Matt Rowson - 01/10/2018

I hadn’t noticed re the lot up the road – indeed we were discussing the other day how long it was since we’d heard such a chant. Not sure I’d be wanting to make such a prediction tho… in any case, any time is too soon.

6. Graham - 01/10/2018

Excellent report – thanks – gives us the flavour of proceedings as well as the ingredients. Altlhough the uniformity of the new ‘built all at once’ stadia is rather dull, Emirates is very attractive. Their crowd atmosphere was awful – Old Trafford all over again.Why do they bother ?
Somehow, we are now competing with the likes of Manure & Ar*en*l AT THEIR LEVEL. How did we get here ? And with more to come! Annoying that we didn’t pop 1 in and hold on, but to be expecting to win – wow!
I just hope I can last another 5 years – Stuparevic, Pedro, cucho – we will have a fantastic team all under 28 – except Kabasele.

7. tonyfirasse - 02/10/2018

Bit facetious perhaps, but haven’t results dipped since Javi started wearing a snazzy suit and tie???

Matt Rowson - 02/10/2018

Facetious is more than fine. One to keep an eye on…

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