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Watford 2 Arsenal 3 (06/03/2022) 07/03/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- It’s been a while, one suspects, since pre-match events at Vicarage Road were last the subject of international political scrutiny.  It seems unlikely, for instance, that the pre-match canine displays of the early eighties were the subject of discussion in the Kremlin, or that the US Senate has ever pondered the incongruous and yet fiercely defended choice of “Z-Cars” as run-out music.

These are strange times, however, and so here we are.  The Ukrainian flag displayed by the Rookery twice pre-match – first as teams entered the arena and second, hesitantly, as the teams alternated around the centre-circle in a co-ordinated show of solidarity with Ukraine – would not, it seems, have met the approval of Chinese broadcasters and by implication the Chinese government;  the former had declined to screen any Premier League matches this weekend in the light of such planned actions.  The flag display, whilst a fine thing and well co-ordinated, feels somehow inadequate in the circumstances.  It’s not quite standing in front of a tank, is it?  And yet the fact that a government feels strongly enough about controlling the narrative told to its people to effectively ban its broadcast is testament to the impact it can have – or at least that they believe it can have.  Well done all.

2- That there is any question over whether the Chinese government is paying any attention reflects our membership of the Premier League rather than any nefarious behaviour by the 1881.  I’m not really fussed either way whether people in China are watching our football but I WOULD rather we stayed up than not and achieving this is likely to necessitate winning a home game at some point.  Daughter 1 still hasn’t seen a win of any kind in over two years;  it feels like at least twice that long since we won a game here at Vicarage Road.

The flag display forms part of an increasingly busy pre-match schedule of rituals and statements.  Both the flag and the knee are important;  less so the absurdly pompous Premier League anthem and associated standing to attention that they sandwich, and which Daughter 2 quite reasonably ridicules from underneath her yellow placard.

Sally is here today and she’s new to all this.  I’m wisely explaining Roy Hodgson’s careful contain-and-destroy approach to football matches and warning that the game about to unfold might be on the stodgy side when Emmanuel Dennis finds the net within twenty seconds of the match kicking off.

The four of us enjoy our celebration comprehensively – for Daughter 1 in particular a Watford goal is a startling development – such that by the time we realise that the goal has been disallowed for a marginally mistimed and offside run, everyone else has passed through the four stages of grief and is refocused on the ongoing match.  Nonetheless, the stage has been set for a game that will prove far more open – and far more entertaining – than advertised.

3- We’re way past the point where anything other than the hard currency of points on the board matters a jot of course, but whether you’re resigned to the drop and thus no longer pressured by such things or holding out hope and desperately looking for green shoots there was stuff to enjoy here.  This run of (now) eight home defeats has been characterised by a limp impotence in front of goal but here there was dynamism and conviction  – if we missed Sarr’s spasmodic brilliance and King’s ability to hold an attack together then the next two cabs off the rank demonstrated that we’re not short of viable attacking options for all that it hasn’t quite worked overall.

Less enjoyable was the opening goal of the game scarcely five minutes after our false start.  Our own failings have to be evaluated in the context of the opposition’s quality of course, and if Arsenal felt get-attable throughout then their attacks flowed around us mercilessly, gobbling up our few mistakes unforgivingly en route.  The Gunners had been caught cold in the opening seconds and we were similarly dozy five minutes in as Saka and Odegaard played around our defence allowing the Norwegian to stroke the ball past Ben Foster.  Unusually under Hodgson, the goal made us look easy to play against although the movement of Arsenal – wearing a wannabe Rotherham United knockoff kit, possibly Chinese – exposed our tentativeness.

We were clearly on a more positive footing than has been the case at home though, where there’s no doubt that Stuff Needed To Change.  The home stands weren’t given time to settle into a sulky acceptance as we responded with an explosive second… and whilst Cucho’s finish was magnificent, Kiko’s overlap and cross fantastic and Dennis’ delayed lay off artful, as critical was our positive, ambitious intent.

4- As against Palace, we played some of our best and most assertive football at 1-1, lending weight to the argument that our fragile confidence is a critical handicap.  Worth a glance once again at the paucity of vocal leaders in the team… but being positive, at least there are more green shoots there should you care to look for them.  Dennis came closest, forcing Ramsdale into a slightly untidy stop.  Sissoko lined up a shot from distance, and if it never threatened the target it was at least in the right postcode.  More progress.

Hugely disappointing, then, to concede  again on the half hour.  Tom Cleverley was caught with less time than he thought he had by a lively Saka, whose quickfire exchange with Lacazette and sharp finish put the Gunners/Millers ahead.  Much ire at Cleverley for what was a conspicuous and expensive error, but such are the risks of playing out from the back.  That we were doing so was surely unavoidable – our reformed three man attack was fun and relatively effective, but whilst João Pedro’s decent afternoon included a worthy competitiveness there wasn’t a target man amongst them.  There were voices over my shoulder who’d been bellowing “just bloody clear it” in panic at every suggestion of pressure at the back as early as the tenth minute – thirty minutes would still have been early to be pumping balls blindly into the void.

5- 3-2 sounds tight and exciting;  it was probably the right scoreline but it never felt like a close thing, not from the point when Martinelli capitalised on another snappy move to club a shot into the top corner from outside the area.

From there we threw punches, and Arsenal looked vulnerable but seven home defeats on the hop require more than just a bit of positivity from 3-1 down against a leading side.  João Pedro skipped his way down the left and into the area before going down under challenge;  Craig Pawson shrugged, Cathal responded bluntly in the negative to my own VAR request.  Cucho’s welcome relentlessness saw him catch what looked like an unwitting flail of an arm from an Arsenal defender before remonstrating loud and long at the lack of subsequent censure.  A sharp move from left to right concluded with Dennis being smothered out of space;  Kiko was involved again as he whistled a low ball to the far post which Dennis couldn’t connect properly with as the goal gaped.

In the midst of this, Hodgson removed Louza in favour of Edo Kayembe.  The Moroccan international hadn’t had his most dominant game, but such has been his impact on the level of creativity in the midfield that the reception of the change was loud and aggressive, a chant in support of Louza on his exit far exceeding in volume any recognition that he received during the match.  At the time it was possible that Louza had a knock;  there was also an argument for saying that by pushing further forward with width coming from buccaneering fullbacks a solid midfield had more value than a creative one.  Either way, more significant than the decision itself was the reaction to it.

A second Watford goal came nonetheless, capping a stoic performance from Moussa Sissoko has he received a ball from Cucho, made the most of the luck of the bounce in navigating Ben White and finished tidily past Ramsdale.

In the closing minutes there were components of a comeback, but not the whole package which sums up our season nicely, I suppose.  A spirited cameo from the bench from Samuel Kalu which showcased both the sparkle that persuaded us to sign him and the questionable decision making that has perhaps restricted his input until now.  Kieran Tierney revealed what a horrible little scrotum he is by providing the crowning pieces of gamesmanship to an Arsenal repertoire that had been encouraged by a lazy performance from referee Craig Pawson.  And that was that.

It’s still not “done”.  The likeliest outcome is that we’ll get relegated of course, there are all sorts of shortcomings which aren’t going to get fixed by the end of the season.  To reiterate however we don’t need to be good.  We just need to be less bad than three others.  There’s a long grey area spanning from “maybe” through “probably” to “definitely” and that’s where we are but the biggest obstacle remains the lack of a home win.  Four of the five left are against the teams directly above us.  If we hit form, it’s doable.  But it needs to come soon.

Wolves on Thursday would be nice.

Yoorns.

Foster 3, Femenía 3, *Kamara 4*, Samir 3, Cathcart 3, Louza 3, Sissoko 4, Cleverley 3, João Pedro 3, Hernández 4, Dennis 3
Subs: Kayembe (for Louza, 64) 3, Kalu (for Cleverley,  89) NA, Sema, Etebo, Kabasele, Sierralta, Masina, Kucka, Bachmann

Comments»

1. Graham French - 07/03/2022

” a wannabe Rotherham United knockoff kit – possibly Chinese” – wonderful!

Matt Rowson - 07/03/2022

🙂

2. John Anderson - 07/03/2022

Funnily enough, the first thing I said to the bloke next to me when the teams walked out was “why are Arsenal dressed as Rotherham?”

PEDantic - 07/03/2022

Was there any reason AT ALL for Arsenal wearing red shorts? Admittedly I’m from the old school that believes there should be no such thing as a second (or third or fourth) strip, just a change strip for use in the case of a colour clash, but this was just one of the many things that baffles me about modern football.

3. Harefield Hornet - 07/03/2022

I suppose if you have to lose – again! – then lose like that. At least we offered something credible going which is a welcome difference from other miserable home defeats. Arsenal seem to have found a bit of shithousery to go with their undoubted talent at last – so thanks for the memories Troy!! I much preferred the more crumbly Arsenal with the soft underbelly ! – like you say – not done yet but any escape now would be the stuff of legends. COYH!

4. Roger Smith - 07/03/2022

No mention that Martinelli’s goal stemmed from unfair advantage gained from a foul throw when Arteta left his area to act as ball boy.

Matt Rowson - 07/03/2022

No indeed. In the grand scheme of things, small potatoes.

Fez - 07/03/2022

Usual quality reporting, always worth the read.
As a former referee it irks me when officials ignore the actual laws of the game as happened with their third goal. Disallowed goal and Arteta given a yellow card was the correct response. It’s not an opinion nor is it a judgement call but a simple technical matter like, say, having too many players on the pitch. Similarly the timekeeping was woeful.

Small potatoes? Maybe, but they’re our only potatoes… and not for the first (nor second) time this season we have lost points due to officiating incompetence at technical aspects that aren’t forgiven at grass roots level but is apparently fine when we’re on the receiving end. Not holding my breath for an everton style letter of apology, neither.

5. David - 07/03/2022

I don’t think it was the glorious token at the beginning of the game or that I have reconciled myself to relegation but I really enjoyed the game.

6. Harefield Hornet - 08/03/2022

According to former referee Dermot Gallagher it is not an offence in any way to throw the ball back. It is however an offence to leave the technical area but this aspect is allegedly controlled by the fourth official – if he doesn’t take action then the other officials are powerless it would seem?

Fez - 08/03/2022

Mr Gallagher is incorrect. There is a “catch all” within Law 12: showing a lack of respect for the game. Arteta deliberately left the technical area to gain his team an unfair advantage. The correct decision would be for the goal to be disallowed, Arteta to be cautioned, and Arsenal to restart play with a throw in. All the more galling because apparently the 4th official said to Arteta: “you shouldn’t be allowed to do that” when in fact he isn’t!

Harefield Hornet - 09/03/2022

Crikey – shame nobody picked up on that rule on Sunday – might have gained us a point. Also goes to show there are plenty of ex ref and player pundits etc who are keen to give opinions without knowing the actual rules ?

Paul Morris - 09/03/2022

It’s such a human characteristic to assume that had the goal been disallowed, all else would still have proceeded as it did and we’d have got a point. In reality, we know the game would have played out differently, and I hate to say it, we would most probably have ended up with the same “null point”. It’s just sad that this is the kind of reasoning we are forced to cling to in the face of so much gloom at the Vic. this season.

Matt Rowson - 09/03/2022

Absolutely. See also the ghost goal many years ago. We were being hammered before it went in

7. robpayne79 - 08/03/2022

Great report as usual. Some definite improvement on show. I can understand Roy’s frustration with the response to taking Louza off, but for me he is the only midfielder we have that is capable of a defence splitting pass, or even consistently finding a yellow shirt with any kind of pass. So it felt like a negative move. I love Tom C, and Sissoko is a pretty likeable player, but their inability to retain possession has cost us all season. On the bright side I thought Pedro was superb yesterday, winning more than he has any right to in the air, and his effort and quick feet were a joy to watch. If (and it’s still just about an, ‘if,’ at this point) we go down, he would be the player I am most desperate to keep, other than Sarr, who let’s face it, won’t be playing in the championship next season whatever happens.

8. Harefield Hornet - 11/03/2022

Paul Morris (above) I did say “might” – wasn’t assuming anything !


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