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Watford 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1 (05/09/2020) 05/09/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
5 comments

1- So everything’s new.  And everything’s weird.  And we know why… we know how we’ve gotten here but those things don’t bear any more dwelling on really.  This is “get on with it” time.

Thing is, the sands haven’t finished shifting yet.  The pieces are still moving and nobody quite knows how and where it’s going to end up.  Off the pitch the club are dealing with these uncertainties as much as anyone and trying to make it work and trying to make it fair.  No, there aren’t supporters in the stadia and yes it would be much better if that were possible. But no, waiting until that’s OK again before we start again isn’t an option, not if you want the game to survive in anything like the state we left it.  More to the point if we want the number of clubs that we left to be similar to what return as and when…

You get the picture.  Get on with it, in short.  And the club have done a pretty decent job of doing that… not stiffing people for season tickets as others have, trying to fast track a means of presenting TV streams that isn’t complete bobbins, trying to make everything fair.  They won’t get everything right, but they’re trying  to do it right and they’re not trying to fleece anyone.

2- On the pitch, at least, there is a point where the music stops.  There are a dizzying number of pieces still to fall into place until that happens so for now, Ivić is having a look at what he’s got and trying to mould it into shape.  Most obviously we have a very large number of senior players absent from today’s fixture.  Holebas has gone, Doucs has all but gone.  Cathcart and Sema are on international duty, Will Hughes is injured (but subject of unwelcome interest from Spurs themselves if the papers are to be believed) as, presumably, are Janmaat, Success and Deulofeu.  That leaves Troy, Caps, Sarr, Welbeck, Pussetto, Masina, Pereyra, Femenía, Mariappa, Suárez and Foster all missing in action.  Oh, and all the U23s that were brought in last summer, apparently superceded by other kids on the bench.

A lot of these guys will move on, and that’s why they’re not involved.  As an aside the fact that we have  players wanted by top flight clubs, clubs who have at least some money to spend might prove a good thing.  It might afford us some control, the ability to exercise some choice over who goes and therefore who stays.  It’s unlikely, after all, that they’ll all move on.  Ben Foster, for example, is plausibly absent to give the new man a proper look at Daniel Bachmann.  But the others…  as I say.  Many will leave.  But some will stay.  And in the meantime we’re building foundations on sand.  But not doing too bad a job of it on this evidence.

3- First off, it’s relatively easy to look good at wing-back.  You have licence to rampage forward, you can get away with quite a lot defensively that you wouldn’t with only two behind you.

Nonetheless, given that, our two “new” wingbacks do look very good indeed.  Ngakia and Estupiñán were both absolutely tremendous here, hammering forward at every opportunity and providing decent service and width (indeed, we could perhaps have done without the Ecuadorian giving Mourinho such a close-up of his talents).  Spurs had had the early possession, moved the ball around but not gotten terribly far with it.  As soon as we wrested possession we broke and cut through, often from wide.  A scything move from the right ended with Quina shooting high and wide.  We broke down the left and put a low, hard ball across which Gray was an inch from connecting with.

Of the other three at the back… Tim Sherwood lookalike Wilmot had a couple of awkward moments but generally took responsibility, sometimes looked elegant and sometimes ungainly but invariably got the job done.  Kabs, in the centre of the three, quietly effective.  Dawson, on the right, sulky, unfocused and aggravating.  As my brother texted, “he’s never just ‘meh’ is he?”, and here in a performance that was intense and punchy his apathy stood out in stark contrast, much as the team’s vigour contrasted with much of what we had seen since lockdown.

4- Another startling development was the amount of aggression on display.  Four bookings is pretty remarkable for a pre-season friendly;  of these the bulldog-like Dan Phillips earned what is unlikely to be the last of the season if he gets many more minutes and if these minutes involve him getting as compellingly in the face of the opposition as he did here.  João Pedro picked up his for a revenge hack on the cumbersome Dele Alli, who had the temerity to appear briefly affronted despite his own initial hench-job being well worth a card of a different colour, pre-season or no, minutes earlier.

Elsewhere in the midfield Tom Dele-Bashiru looked tidy and controlled, Nate Chalobah  had a couple of rusty moments but far more on which he looked like the omnipotent metronome of our mind’s eye. Tom Cleverley looked and played like a captain, and Domingos Quina was the effervescent box of tricks we want him to me, the climax being a vicious dipping drive from 25 yards that fooled Joe Hart.  More frequent from Quina was a trademark pirouette to find space whilst shovelling the ball with him in a circumference with the outside of his foot.  More of this and he’ll be a nailed on starter.

Up front, Andre Gray was relatively quiet but every Watford fan, wherever they are on the Andre Gray spectrum, will have uttered the phrase “he really needs a goal” at some point since lockdown.  He got that goal, albeit from the spot, and then burned brighter…  the move that lead to what looked like a hamstring pull saw him anticipate Spurs losing possession and put the burners on to stretch the space facilitating the pass that put him through to screw wide under pressure.  On came João Pedro who again looked hugely encouraging,  balletic but far more robust than his slight frame and eighteen years suggests he ought to be.  More to come there, one suspects.

5- The pieces are still moving, but this didn’t half look bad in that context.  We could perhaps do with some more heavyweight options to counterbalance the promising kids, who are going to need to be more than promising pretty damn quickly if they’re going to be playing many games.  To this end the recruitment of Murray looks hugely sensible, if only to provide that leadership (any bullying physicality off the bench a bonus).

And we beat Spurs.  No, not a full-strength Spurs, yes, a pre-season friendly and no, I’ve not spent too long dwelling on the detail.  It’s a pre-season friendly after all, and if you cared you probably watched it yourself.  But we beat Spurs, with a thing that has fun bits and gnarly bits and sparkly bits but is fundamentally a thing that isn’t fully formed yet.

We may need to be patient.  But the signs are good.  The indicator lever that will surely flip-flop between “We’re going to rip the league a new one” and “we’re going down, sack everyone” is in the former position.  For now.

Bring on the Boro.  Bring on football.

Yooorns.

Bachmann 3, Ngakia 4, *Estupiñán 4*, Dawson 1, Kabasele 3, Wilmot 3, Dele-Bashiru 3, Chalobah 3, Cleverley 4, Quina 4, Gray 3
Subs: João Pedro (for Gray, 52) 4, Sierralta (for Dawson, 59) 3, Phillips (for Chalobah, 59) 3, Murray (for Dele-Bashiru, 64) 3, Peñaranda (for Quina, 64) 2, Navarro (for Estupiñán, 70) 3, Crichlow (for Wilmot, 89) NA, Stevenson (for Cleverley, 89) NA, Agyakwa, Parkes

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 6 20/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

27- Christian Kabasele

I like Christian Kabasele.  He comes across as a decent bloke, and has a lot about him as a player… quick, strong, charismatic.

Thing is, having criticised Craig Dawson for being too conspicuous as a defender I’m going to now criticise Kabasele for the opposite.  Kabs isn’t a youngster, he’s 29 years old… but he went missing in the tail end of the season when we needed experienced heads to drag the team onwards.  To an extent it’s unreasonable to criticise him for what is a failing of the defence as a whole, but he was another who seemed to be swept along with the fate of the team rather than affecting it too much.  Disappointing from a player who had previously been becoming an increasingly assertive part of the team.

Next Season:  His physical attributes mean that he’s probably the most likely of our defenders to be picked off.  I’d be happy enough if he stayed, but happy enough also if we got good money for him.

29- Étienne Capoue

Here’s a rare thing, I guess.  A senior player who didn’t let themselves down in 2019-20.  No, he didn’t reach the heights of the previous season, but over the years with us Capoue has matured from a good game/bad game flickety player to an absolute monster who dominates more games than he doesn’t.

And last season he was still, largely, a force for good.  Yes, you’d have wanted more…  but he was still a vital cog of the side, perhaps the most significant single cog bar Troy.  You can add his end of season hammy to the list of things that might have tipped the balance…  the lack of his heavyweight presence from West Ham, Man City, even Arsenal was painfully visible.

Next Season:  An advantage, perhaps, of our situation is that we have a large number of desirable, poachable assets.  An almost indecent number given the kids attracting glances in Spain.  So… maybe that affords us a little control over who we keep and who goes, subject to the players themselves of course.  It’s not like we have a couple of big assets only, who would have to go.  And maybe, just maybe, at 32 and with two years left, we’ll get away with Capoue.  Which wouldn’t half be a result.

33- Ignacio Pussetto

We don’t really know yet, is the short answer;  his seven appearances for the Hornets all came off the bench and accounted for barely an hour’s worth of football between them.  Perhaps this in itself isn’t surprising;  signed for a relatively small fee and without fanfare from Udinese, this smacked of a “might come in useful” deal that was relatively easy to execute.

He looks dogged and pugnacious, from what little we’ve seen, certainly not a delicate flower of a wide man, but he was only used once after the lockdown in what became increasingly conservative team selections.

Next Season:  Pussetto could plausibly be one for the future, in which case we’ll see him get more game time this coming season, or a short-term attempt to bolster a struggling squad which didn’t quite work out and has already ended.  Time will tell.

37- Roberto Pereyra

When Roberto Pereyra arrived from Juventus a year into our Premier League spell his signing reflected where we were, how far we had come.  Yes, there was a previous Udinese connection…  but nonetheless we were signing an Argentine international midfielder.  From Juventus.  Not a bit part player, but someone who’d made nearly 70 appearances over two seasons in Turin.  An artist, not a functional player.  Having stayed up in 2015/16, this was a statement.

If, as seems likely, these are the last days of Pereyra’s Watford career then his departure similarly tells a story.  A fabulously talented player who has contributed an awful lot during his time at Vicarage Road but whose final year meandered alarmingly to the point where someone with the ability to make the difference was affecting games far too infrequently.

The reductive version of events is that Pereyra is lazy;  that he hasn’t been putting a shift in for the last twelve months, and spasmodically before that.  I don’t think that’s quite fair;  his problems have tended to be in his head, sure, but lack of conviction, of confidence have been the problem rather than effort. For all his occasional flamboyance Pereyra appears to be a slightly nervous character, affected as he was by his bad injury early in his Watford career and cowed by the pressure of the situation.  The outcome was the same…  frustratingly ineffectual performances from a player capable of such a lot more, but even then he ended the season as our third highest score in all comps behind only Troy and Sarr.  Disappointing.

Next Season:  Assuming that Bobby does leave he shouldn’t be remembered for his disappointing final season.  For three years he was a bold, clever, tough, flamboyant force for good, and a sign of how far we’d come.

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 5 17/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
8 comments

22- Isaac Success

So there’s a big part of me that wants to say…  here’s a big chance for Isaac.  A season in the Championship, perhaps overdue.  A chance to finally prove his worth, to make good his potential.  For me, he’s always been a better striker than a wide man.  Born to play the lone front man role, or the centre of a three holding the ball up, letting things roll off him.  Here’s his chance.

Thing is, he’s had a few chances has Isaac.  Cruelly perhaps it was bad luck rather than anything else that denied him this season;  his groin injury in August coincided with Troy’s absence, an achilles injury ruled him out after the restart when we badly needed some kind of relief for his captain.  But he’s started one Premier League game since the start of last year.  Time’s running out.

Next Season:  Strikers being strikers there’ll always be someone, somewhere willing to take a punt.  He’s got three years left on his contract though, so it’s going to cost someone some money for him to move on.  I’m not convinced that Isaac hanging around would be such a bad thing.

23 – Ismaïla Sarr

This is the bit of being relegated that’s hardest to put a brave face on.  Ismaïla Sarr may have started slowly, looked like a young child on his first day at big school quite a lot of the time, looked like a young child sulking about being made to stay in and do his homework quite a lot of the rest of the time…

But beyond that he was brilliant.  Quick, aggressive, bold, positive, and at his best completely uncontainable.

That “his best” was only intermittent wasn’t entirely his fault…  as we stumbled towards the end of the season the entire team malfunctioned and Sarr was self-evidently the biggest threat and watched accordingly.

But the trajectory, the direction of travel is startling.  Had we been in the Premier League this coming season we’d have been drooling at the another season of Sarr.

Next Season: As it is, we await what is surely inevitable with a degree of resignation.  And try not to get too excited when Sarr announces that he would happily play in the Championship if no bid is accepted, and the club declare that they aren’t in the position of needing to sell.  Because in both cases that’s what you’d expect them to say, right? Right?

25- José Holebas

Oddly, for such a long-serving, remarkable and colourful character there’s very little to say here, simply because it’s been said already.  Said by plenty of us as José made a characteristically huffy exit (you’d have been disappointed if it was any other way), packing his bags on social media as the season drew to a close.

But let’s say it anyway.  As we prepared for life in the Premier League in 2015 you would’t have put money on José being one of the new signings who stuck around for five years (Capoue the other).  His arrival saw him first denying all knowledge of the transfer, then insisting that he didn’t want to come, then visibly sulking as Nathan Aké was preferred at left back for much of that first season.

Despite this, despite (or because) of always seeming to be in a strop, Holebas became a cult hero.  It wasn’t all on his attitude either…  he was 31 when he signed for Watford and yet thundered up and down the left flank whenever asked to for five years, put in a wicked cross, was booked 41 times (the first an hour into his debut at Goodison) and sent off twice (one rescinded).  He scored six goals, five of which in victories including a winning goal at Boro and a decisive goal against Palace, and covered at centre back against Manchester City of all things, alongside Valon Behrami.

His final season was odd, since you kind of felt that the bloody mindedness we were lacking, particularly after the restart, was contained in high concentration in this hugely competitive full back.  There was discussion that his “legs had gone”, but for me this was expectation based on his advancing years unsubstantiated by what was going on on the pitch.  His final Premier League start was at Southampton in November, his final appearance off the bench against the same opposition at Vicarage Road when, fittingly, his brief cameo provided an assist in the shape of a fizzing cross turned into his own goal by Jan Bednarek.

He may not have wanted to come, he may have left in a strop, but he was huge fun during the five years in between.

Next Season:  Latest rumours have him returning to Olympiacos.  Greek refs will be bracing themselves.

26- Ben Foster

So seeing as we’ve got to mid-August and nobody’s mentioned it it seems that we’ve quietly forgotten about Player of the Season this time around.  Had we not done so, it seems likely that Ben Foster would have achieved the questionable feat of twice receiving the award on relegation from the Premier League – and thirteen years apart to boot.

Thing is, he really didn’t start the season well.  I remember coming out of Goodison Park being quite worried about the goalkeeping situation (although that was a year ago today if you’re reading this piece on the day that it’s published so forgive my memory for fading a bit).

During the season he picked up dramatically and kept us in games and scorelines respectable. He’s also clearly a tremendous bloke, and was heroic off pitch as much as on it.

There have still been a few mistakes though.  And, well, nobody comes out of this season with an unblemished record.  But still…

Next Season:  Plenty of clubs have been linked with an interest in Ben both before he signed a new contract and since.  When West Brom went down he claimed to be on the verge of quitting the game;  it will be interesting to see what he decides this time.  If he stays, we’re all the stronger for it.

 

 

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 4 13/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

17- João Pedro

It’s a smart trick, but despite having been at the club since January and despite the odd cameo João Pedro has retained the sort of mythical does-he-actually-exist status that mooted signings like Sergei Clescenco and Jerren Nixon once possessed, back in the day.  Odd that he’s only 18 still in a way, since his mythology seems to date back at least eighteen years.  Perhaps in a sense he’s a Promised One as spoken of in legend.

All in all it’s difficult to make a judgement, beyond that his cameos have been tantalising.  A skidding, impossible run and shot that nearly started his career with a bang against Tranmere.  A tidy lay-off against Southampton.  A breathtaking slalom against Arsenal.  Beyond that, we’ll see.

Next Season:  That Arsenal performance made you wonder quite why he’d been kept so tightly under wraps when we’d been crying out for impetus, often on that left hand side, in the run in.  One can only hope and expect that we see more of him this time around.

18- Andre Gray

When I was sixteen, my first girlfriend dumped me.  We’d been going out for about a month.  I was devastated, and still am a little bit more than thirty years later.  But I went to town on being dumped.   I was much better at being dumped than I had been at going out with her.  I was born to sulk, waiting for something suitably monumental to sulk about.

You can see where this is going, I hope. Andre Gray is not a bad striker.  He’s scored some valuable goals in his Watford career; ten of the thirteen before this season have been decisive in earning results.  But even in his more successful spells there’s been a sulker waiting to get out.  The goal at Newcastle which he celebrated angrily at St James Park only three stuttering months into his Watford career told that story lucidly.

And this season, when the shit really hit the fan and we needed Gray to dig us out of a hole with other strikers unavailable he struggled.  No surprise, he’s rarely looked comfortable in a lone role or without Troy alongside.  But he struggled.  And never looked more in his skin.

Next Season:  It has been argued that Andre would thrive in the Championship, that he’s one of the large group of strikers plenty good enough for this level but not at the level of the tier above.  Whether after three years he will be testing that theory at Vicarage Road remains to be seen.

19- Will Hughes

A relatively straightforward one this.  No need for context or mitigation or on-the-other-hands.  Will Hughes was one of the stars of the season, such as it was, and the star of the post-lockdown run.  Again, a low bar.  Nonetheless, in the more withdrawn position that gave greater release to the snapping and snarling alongside the industry and the deftness, Hughes thrived.

I still struggle to believe that we signed Will Hughes, Premier League side or otherwise.  He was always talked about as destined for a club like Liverpool…  a lesser Liverpool at the time, perhaps, but nonetheless, Hughes was a great catch at the time that we caught him, injury record or otherwise.  Now, he looks like a captain.

Next Season:  No of course we’d choose to keep him.  As above, if Troy moves on he’s the most obvious next cab off the rank for the armband.  But there are lots of average-sized clubs in the country and those of them who have risen to the top of the pile didn’t do so by being bloody stupid.  Do hope that Will likes Hertfordshire.

20- Domingos Quina

Whatever you’d have predicted from Quina last season, it wasn’t this. In your wildest dreams, he’d build on the season before and establish himself.  He’d flex his outrageous skills, overcome the tendency to get bogged down in a crowded midfield and become a favourite.  Or he’d go out on loan and wreak havoc somewhere.  Or maybe he’d pick up an injury and be sidelined, one twist too many.

Not this.  Not disappearing into irrelevance.  Four Premier League cameos of less than ten minutes each under three different managers.  Admittedly we’re blessed in midfield, relatively speaking.  But that none of our head coaches this year saw fit to give him a run says rather a lot.

Next Season:  Quina is only twenty, but in leaving West Ham as he did is clearly a man in a hurry.  You’ve got to hope that he finds a way to channel that ability, and that he does so at Vicarage Road.

21- Kiko Femenía

Little mystery here either.  You know what you’re getting with Kiko…  if Gary Neville’s “he’s a footballer, but not a defender” is destined to be his epitaph it’s not something that we didn’t already know.

Kiko is dogged and brave.  He will show for things, he doesn’t hide, even when things aren’t going well.  He’s viciously quick and has extraordinary stamina.  He’s about as adept at defending the far post as an ear of asparagus.

In short, he’s a wing back.  When afforded a run in that position, allowed to trade off his assets without his startled brand of defending being exposed, he’s looked better than good.  But it doesn’t seem that that our long-term plan requires wing backs.

Next Season:  Kiko is an asset even if we’re not playing with wingbacks.  On the left, on the right, at the back, in midfield.  The rumours are that he’s looking to head back to Spain.  Our loss.  Probably.

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 3 10/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
9 comments

11- Adam Masina

Adam Masina is a decent left back.  He’s an athlete.  He’s diligent.  He doesn’t hide.  He’s a tidy footballer.

But…  I don’t know.  Perhaps I’m too wedded to a particular, probably out-of-date stereotype.  I just want a bit more welly in my left back.  A bit more oomph.  Masina is a tentative footballer, a tentative individual.  At 6’2″ he should be a more intimidating opponent than he is.

And yet his background, his upbringing demonstrate his strength of character.  I just wish there was a bit more evidence of it on the pitch.  Masina established himself in the side at the start of 2020 but was carried along with the side’s problems rather than ever looking like the solution to them.  At best he’s looked decent.  At worst he’s looked frightened.

Next Season:  With Holebas departed he’s the only senior left back at the time of writing.  There’s a decent player there, but he needs some competition.

14- Nathaniel Chalobah

So easy to forget about Nathaniel Chalobah.  For all that he featured in more than half of our league games he was too often a placeholder, visibly holding the fort until Caps, or Doucs, or whoever got back.  Since returning from his heartbreaking knee injury he’s too rarely resembled the force of nature that we enjoyed all too briefly after he first signed.

It’s a lack of assertiveness in part, but also a lack of joy.  There was an effortless swagger about Chalobah at his best that hasn’t been seen enough recently.  He’s mobile now, he’s fit – he was in every Premier League squad bar one from August onwards.  He’s physically much stronger than the spindly boy who played for us in the Zola season. He now needs to get some of that joy back.

Next Season:  With midfield departures surely likely over the summer, now is Nathaniel’s time.  He needs to start dragging games along again, not merely riding the waves.

15- Craig Cathcart

It’s generally recognised that our defence needs surgery.  That being the case, some defenders will need to move on…   they might be decent players, but the wrong age, the wrong sort of player, in need of a change of scene.  Not good enough, even.  None of these statements applies to Craig Cathcart.

Without a shadow of a doubt our most accomplished defender.  His form had its first big wobble in the past season (whose didn’t), but he remains the master of being in the right place at the right time.  Unfussy, unflashy, merely very competent, and increasingly adept and deft at the other end of the pitch also.  The only caveat is that, oddly, Nigel Pearson barely used him after the lockdown when he’d played ever League game up to that point barring his thigh injury in September.  If it was merely a selection decision it was an odd one.  Otherwise, one of the bits that ain’t broken, and don’t need fixing.

Next Season:  Of the three centre backs (Dawson, Kabasele) of similar age and stature, Cathcart’s the one least likely to be poached and likeliest to stay – assuming he wants to stay.

16- Abdoulaye Doucouré

One of my other hats involves me donning the rather grandiose title of Assistant Researcher (Watford) for a well known football management computer game.  This exercise involves a thoroughly nourishing management of statistical records within the manufacturer’s database, and ongoing assessment of the capabilities of the playing squad in particular from the most established players through to the scholars.

A big reset happens every summer where I have to calibrate these ratings according to the Head Researchers’ assessment of the squad’s relative strength.  This, before you ask, the only reason why Watford aren’t up there competing with Barcelona and Bayern in your simulations.  But a central question in performing this exercise is how to distinguish form from class.

Case in point.  We know that Abdoulaye Doucouré is a brilliant footballer.  Amongst the neatest of the Pozzo purchases for Watford, he’s an absolute powerhouse, an all-rounder who would not look out of place in almost any Premier League midfield.  And yet…  last season was pretty miserable.  There were odd performances, sure…  Liverpool was one, you remember Sarr and Troy but Doucs was extraordinary.  That goal at Brighton.  And.  Ummm.

After the lockdown in particular, when we needed our big players to dig in, our stars to shine, he was one of those who we needed more from.  He’s capable of dominating a game, has done so many times for us over previous seasons, but was too often a bystander in these final fixtures.  An outstanding footballer.  Just not quite often enough.

Next Season:  His move, with the benefit of hindsight, is at least a year overdue.  We’ll probably pay for that financially, but it’s not hard to see that thought dominating his conduct in the final weeks.  If he wanted to stay and was committed, brilliant – he can dominate a Premier League game and would stamp all over the Championship.  Can’t see it though.  Shame if it ends this way.

 

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 2 06/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
7 comments

7- Gerard Deulofeu

Things being as close as they turned out to be, there are any number of “if only” moments.  Moments which, had the wind been blowing in a different direction might have changed, you know, how it ended.  You’ll have your own favourites, we could drive ourselves crazy thinking along those lines;  Bournemouth will no doubt have a similar list.

But Geri collapsing in pain in the Liverpool game was a big one.  For all that the game exploded beyond our most ambitious hopes thereafter, the loss of Deulofeu lingered at the back of your mind as a “yes, but…”, the knowledge that this could be quite expensive ever so slightly tarnishing the enjoyment of the evening.  So it proved.  We were startlingly more effective with the twin threats of Sarr and Deulofeu either side of Deeney, so much harder to defend against.

He’d joined Watford to play regular football, displaying a degree of humility and self-awareness that not all young graduates of the Barcelona school might possess.  “Why on earth is Gerard Deulofeu playing for Watford” was a mantra borne of highlights reels, but over his two years in the first team at Vicarage Road that regular start saw him become more disciplined, more dependable, more of a leader.  We needed him to stand up at the start of the season when, for much of the time, he was our forward line and he did a better job of it than you’d have credited a year or two earlier.

And if he still has good days and bad days then the former more than fund the latter.  At his best he’s a gem, quick and clever and brave.  You’re not trying hard enough to enjoy the journey if you can’t appreciate the good bits.

Next Season:  But if “Why on earth is Gerard Deulofeu playing for Watford” didn’t stand up to scrutiny, “Why on earth is Gerard Deulofeu playing in the Championship” is not credible.  There are few players less obviously suited to that challenge.  Sadly, that aborted evening against Liverpool seems likely to be his last in a Watford shirt.

8- Tom Cleverley

Tom Cleverley is tremendous.  Honest bloke, honest footballer.  Does simple things well, can play in a number of positions, invariably improves the mentality of any team that he features for.  Calms things down.  At his best, for me, in an attacking central position that he’s been afforded too rarely in his career… he attacks the box really well, he makes things happen, and he’s a leader.

He’s also injured a lot.  No escaping this.  Three and a half seasons back at Vicarage Road now and only in his first half-season on loan under Walter Mazzarri has he had a clear run.  That he’s almost always involved, either from the start or off the bench, says a lot but nonetheless.  Three full seasons, all capsized by injury one way or another.

This might go either way.  His injury record means he’s less likely to be attractive to scavengers (though quite how this will all work in the panicked frenzy that must surely be coming is anyone’s guess at the moment) and with Doucs  and Caps amongst the candidates to be picked off that’s a good thing.  If he can stay fit.

Next Season:  You fancy he might stick around.  Good Thing.

9- Troy Deeney

Few indeed are the players who spend ten years at a club “nowadays”.  Fewer still those who hadn’t been associated with the club as a youth, brought up and based locally.  Fewer still whose ten years have been quite as eventful.

Troy has done the lot, really.  He started off as a bit-part back-up, was fielded on the right wing for a bit, evolved as a central striker, spent time inside (in more than one respect), was given a chance and took it.  Came back more focused, more professional, a force of nature.  No coincidence that the first Pozzo team clicked into gear almost as soon as he rejoined the fray at Huddersfield.  He then became a prolific goalscorer with 66 in all comps over the next three seasons, captained us into the Premier League and decamped there to become almost a household name, a celebrity.

And than celebrity status has put a few off, I think.  I don’t think he’s courted controversy particularly, he’s just been frank and direct and a bit less guarded than he should have been once or twice… but he certainly has an eye on a future in the media and his willingness to give an engaging and entertaining opinion feeds those opportunities.

So this season, when he’s struggled for fitness it’s come back to bite him and the notoriously short memories of football supporters have come to the fore. Not that he’s gotten stick from Watford particularly… but when watching a man struggling to return from injury in a fumbling side, when clearly struggling physically but putting himself through it because – frankly – we had no alternative, he deserved more slack than he got.  His force of personality was achingly visible when he wasn’t in the team, particularly at the start of the season when any kind of leadership was lacking, and as discussed further up he was a full-throttle part of our better performances.

Next Season:  But with one season on his contract, clearly falling into the “higher earner” bracket it’s not hard to see Troy leaving this summer.  I’d fancy him more at a West Brom rather than a Spurs, Troy likes being the man and wouldn’t be so under Mourinho.  But if I’m wrong and he stays I’d be delighted.  Against the odds, he’s become incontrovertibly a Premier League star.  Another, however, for whom fitness has to be a concern.

10- Danny Welbeck

Good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.

I was so excited when we signed Danny Welbeck.  Proven quality.  An added weapon, albeit adding to a forward line low in numbers.  A worker, a grifter, a likeable guy.  Tom Cleverley’s best mate.  The sort of guy you include in a World Cup Squad because you know he won’t sulk about not starting, he’ll put in a shift, he’ll support the squad.  What a great signing.  Assuming he stays fit.

Ah.  That was the gamble, of course.  And as it turns out we haven’t quite seen the best of Danny Welbeck.   What we’ve seen has been ok, occasionally pretty good… but a tentative individual has had to twice come back from injury this season, the first time an injury sustained many months earlier at Arsenal.  Both times he’s gradually picked up speed, picked up sharpness.  But not quite gotten there the first time, and only for a handful of games looked the real deal as the season ended.

He’s clearly a top forward.  Assuming he can stay fit.

Next Season:  A fit (!) Danny Welbeck would rip up the Championship.  His profile, and the annual panic about lack of striking options in the bottom half of the Premier League mean that someone will take a punt, one suspects.

End of Term Report 2020 – Part 1 03/08/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
12 comments

1- Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes, baby.

Here’s the thing.  Heurelho Gomes has played in one Premier League game since January 2018. In 2018/19 he was a prominent figure in our FA Cup run, but this season his on-pitch role was restricted to the League Cup.  In a way his role has been a bit like Steve Sherwood’s under Tony Coton in the eighties, a relic of a previous era.

And yet.  And yet.  When it was all finished.  After the frustration of the post-lockdown performances, the unwanted and bitter spotlight offered by Pearson’s sacking, the hand-wringing and outrage as we fumbled our fate  and left it in others’ hands, after the final whistle at Arsenal, after all of that there was Gomes in tears.  And suddenly, for me, perspective changed.  The performances were no less awful, our relegation no less miserable.  But I was no longer looking at the team in frustration, with anger at having been let down.

Certainly we could have, should have been better.  But these were the same guys who a year ago were celebrating surely the most successful Watford season in thirty years, being heralded as perhaps the best Watford squad of all time.  Seven of those that played at Arsenal played in the Cup Semi Final against Wolves.  Things haven’t gone well since, the lustre has tarnished, plenty have underperformed, the team has underperformed.  But these are still our guys.  Don’t look at those pics of Gomes in tears and tell me they’re all a disgrace, that they’ve all let us down.  I’ve had days, weeks, at work when I’ve been a bit shit too, frankly.  Fortunately those who govern my fortunes aren’t as fickle and merciless as football supporters.

Heurelho Gomes was once a very good goalkeeper.  With the passing of years he’s probably not at that level any more (though it’s hard to judge…).  He remains a tremendous bloke, quite obviously a credit to the club and a guy who everyone benefits from being around.  One of us.

Next Season:  Seems that it’s really it this time, although there had been rumour of a further extension being offered.  If that had happened the club would have been all the better for it.   As it is Gomes deserves to leave with overflowing credit in the bank.  Obrigado, Heurelho.

2- Daryl Janmaat

I think we missed Daryl Janmaat this season.  His Watford career has been relatively low key really – rarely singled out for praise or criticism particularly.  But whilst he’s been fallible at right-back – like Kiko, he tends to prefer going forwards than backwards – he’s a solid option and a strong character.

In the first half of the season, before picking up the injury at Norwich that would ultimately curtail his campaign, he was one of the few players to perform at a consistently high level.  Of the nine games he featured in only two – Wolves away and Chelsea at home – ended in defeat.  There’s a bloody-mindedness in him that was painfully lacking in the squad elsewhere in the season, that would have been useful, and his fine cross to set up Doucs at Spurs was one of precious few from the full-back positions.

Next Season:  With Kiko seemingly looking to head back to Spain and some doubts over his fitness following injury there are reasons to believe Janmaat might stick around.  He was notoriously less than enamoured at dropping to the Championship with Newcastle in 2016 however, has often been quoted as hankering after a return to the Netherlands and as an older and slightly injury-prone option might be another that gets shipped quietly out.  I think that would be a shame.

4- Craig Dawson

It concerns me when defenders are conspicuous.  This isn’t entirely rational…  a defender can be both outstanding and conspicuous, or can be conspicuous for if not positive then certainly entertaining reasons (hello José).  But a defender who is conspicuous on both his good days and his bad days feels like a risk, and Dawson falls into that category.

Where any assessment of Dawson is harsh is that he suffers from having only been associated with the club for one bad season without it being reasonable to hold him accountable for it.  He’s not drastically inferior to Cathcart or Kabs overall, but he’s never been associated with a successful Watford side and therefore doesn’t have the brownie points to trade off.  This isn’t necessarily insurmountable in itself…  in 1987 Mark Morris was brought in by Dave Bassett, asked to lumber around midfield for a bit and bore the brunt, along with Trevor Senior and his manager, for the realisation that we weren’t good any more but ended up finishing second behind McClelland in the player of the season ranking having switched back to his natural central defensive role.

Dawson comes across as a decent bloke and is certainly a potent and intimidating attacking weapon at set pieces.  He occasionally looks ponderous in defence however, as if his concentration goes every now and then, and that’s not a winning attribute.

Next Season:  Like Cathcart and Kabs he’s signed to a long-term deal, but is probably the likeliest of the three to move on after a difficult first year.

5- Sebastian Prödl

Yes, I know.  But it seemed wrong to forget about Seb’s departure and not book-end his Watford career which ended formally in January more than eighteen months after he’d last managed a full ninety minutes in the Premier League.  There’s your issue, really.  There’s no question that a reliable Seb would have been a useful thing this season, a season when leadership at the back has been so lacking.  Indeed his Premier League involvement this year told the same story, brought into the first team by Quique having been largely unused by Javí he looked terrific at the heart of a three-man back line in a formation that neutralised Sheffield United, and then hobbled off injured just before the hour mark.  His last appearance was in the League Cup defeat at Goodison three weeks later.  This time he lasted 65 minutes.

So, a fit and reliable Seb would have been an asset.  He hasn’t seemed to be able to stay fit, though, and he’s the sort of bloke who needed to be playing to stay match sharp in any case.  He was never going to be the sort of bloke who’d be handy off the bench.

Next Season:  Seb signed an eighteen month contract with Udinese within a week of leaving Vicarage Road.  He’s yet to feature for their first team.

6- Adrian Mariappa

I don’t really get that there’s any debate about Adrian Mariappa.  Had we remained in the Premier League… there might have been an argument that he’s no longer of the required standard.  But only might have been.  The issue with Mapps has never really been Mapps, it’s been that the paucity of options has left him more prominent and more involved than might have been ideal.  Even then, what’s not to like about a player who is home grown, has been involved in however many promotions, however many cup runs, lead by example, captained the side at however many levels and – here’s the clincher – re-signed for the Hornets four years ago expecting to play a back up role.

Someone prepared to play a back-up role who is versatile, home grown, a great influence and utterly competent is an asset.  The more so after what is likely to be a turbulent summer, you need some kind of constant.  It’s eight years since Mapps played in the Championship and he was 25 then not 33, but looked a class above the rest of the side in Sean Dyche’s season.  I’d keep him, no question.

Next Season: Given that Mapps’ contract extension expired on Friday we’re likely to learn about the lay of the land here sooner rather than later.  What happens here might depend on the futures of other defenders, several of whom as above have long contracts but Mapps is a leader, and an asset.

 

Helping Hands 2019/2020 30/07/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

The annual review of where the goals came from reveals, first of all, that there really weren’t very many of them were there?

Second thing is quite how many of them came from Deulofeu and Sarr.  Painfully obvious when looking back at the path of our season that we were vastly more effective with the two of them and Troy in tandem.  This only happened ten times from the start, all Premier League games of which we won 5 (Man United, Wolves, the tonkings of Villa and Bournemouth, and, you know, the famous one) and lost only 2 (the creditable performance at Anfield and Mullins’ first game at Leicester).  We only won three other League games of the remaining 28… both games against Norwich and the fightback against Newcastle.

Sarr, visibly, took some time to warm up, used cautiously as he settled in his first assist didn’t arrive until December.  Also significant that we won almost all of the games he assisted in, Arsenal on the final day being the exception reflecting the degree to which his form fluctuated and the team’s reflected it.

Elsewhere, rare to see a centre-back in joint third, Kabs doing a good line in flick ons but the other real message is the lack of threat from elsewhere in the team in stark contrast to last season.  José Holebas was the top assister then and we missed his contribution;  his one assist this season came in his final game for the ‘orns, five minutes after his introductin against Southampton.  His replacement, Adam Masina, didn’t manage an assist all season but this lack of supply reflects the team’s limitations as much as his own; Kiko also managed only one and that from a penalty earned by aggressive running against Newcastle rather than a cross.  The regular midfield trio of Capoue, Doucouré, Hughes managed only six between them compared to fourteen last season, if from a slightly larger number of games.

All of which is a different way of telling us what we already knew, I guess.  That the crown jewels, if they go, take a lot of the goal threat with them, and that we’re going to need to have slightly more variety about us if we’re going to thrive next season.  For comparison, in our promotion season ten players earned more than three assists compared to two this time (from six more games over league and cup).

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Deulofeu 7 25+5 4 ARS (H), SWA (H – LC), CHE (H), NOR (A), WOL (H), AST (A), EVE(H)
Sarr 6 23+7 6 MAU (H), WOL (H), BOU (A), LIV (H), NEW (H), ARS (A)
Deeney 3 26+1 10 AST (H), EVE (H), LIV (H)
Kabasele 3 29+2 0 COV (H – LC), MAU (H), LEI (H)
Doucouré 3 37+2 4 AST (H), BOU (A), LIV (H)
Success 2 2+5 0 COV (H – LC), COV (H – LC)
Chalobah 2 14+12 1 SHU (A), TRA (H – FAC)
Pereyra 2 21+11 5 ARS (H), SWA (H – LC)
Capoue 2 30 0 AST (H), NOR (H)
Janmaat 1 9+1 1 TOT (A)
Welbeck 1 10+10 3 ARS (A)
Gray 1 11+16 2 TRA (H – FAC)
Holebas 1 12+3 1 SOT (H)
Femenía 1 27+2 0 NEW (H)
Hughes 1 28+3 1 WHU (H)
Bennetts 0 0+1 0
Dalby 0 0+1 0
Hinds 0 0+1 1
Peñaranda 0 0+1 1
Wise 0 0+1 0
Pussetto 0 0+7 0
Hungbo 0 1 0
Barrett 0 1+1 0
Whelan 0 1+1 0
João Pedro 0 1+4 0
Bachmann 0 2 0
Spencer-Adams 0 2 0
Dele-Bashiru 0 2+1 1
Gomes 0 3 0
Prödl 0 3 0
Foulquier 0 3+2 0
Quina 0 5+4 0
Cleverley 0 11+8 1
Mariappa 0 18+5 0
Masina 0 22+6 1
Dawson 0 27+3 2
Cathcart 0 29+1 0
Foster 0 38 0

Check out the 2018-19, 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

The List 2020. 27/07/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
12 comments

The List.  Every player to have been linked with moves in or out since the closure of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Previous windows’ lists linked at foot of article.  Which are signings for the top flight, which are signings for the Championship and which are complete red herrings?  You decide…

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Running Total: 56

IN

Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge)
Luka Reischl (RB Salzburg)
Bastos (Lazio)*
Durukhan Toköz (Beşiktaş)
Marash Kumbulla (Hellas Verona)                  – joined Roma on loan
Samuel Bastien (Standard Liège)
Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiacos)*                   – joined Galatasaray
Krépin Diatta (Club Brugge)
Rodrigo de Paul (Udinese)
Hassane Kamara (Reims)*                                      – joined Nice
Pape Gueye (Le Havre)*                              – signed, then sold to Marseille
Kwadwo Asamoah (Inter)
Mbaye Diagne (Galatasaray)
Hamari Traoré (Rennes)
Mohammed Salisu (Real Valladolid)                     – joined Southampton
Matty Longstaff (Newcastle)
Jeremy Ngakia (West Ham)                                       – SIGNED
Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth)                                – joined Newcastle
Yacine Gourari-Tebaa (Metz)
Tiemoué Bakayoko (Chelsea)
Cédric Kipré (Wigan Athletic)                                 – joined West Brom
Ivan Toney (Peterborough)                                   – joined Brentford
Branimir Kalaica (Benfica)
Lucas Veríssimo (Santos)
Wu Lei (Espanyol)
Bruno Viana (Braga)
Ryan Manning (QPR)*
Juan Agustin Musso (Udinese)
Sebastian Andersson (Union Berlin)                   – joined Köln
Chey Dunkley (Wigan Athletic)                          – joined Sheff Wednesday
Kevin Danso (Augsburg)                       – joined Fortuna Düsseldorf on loan
Kim Min-Jae (Beijing Gouan)*
Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic)                        – joined Fulham
Selim Amallah (Standard Liège)
Fabio Borini (Unattached – ex Verona)*
Rhian Brewster (Liverpool)
Dimitris Giannoulis (PAOK)
Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors)
Francisco Sierralta (Udinese)                                    SIGNED
Alfie Mawson (Fulham)                       – joined Bristol City on loan
William Troost-Ekong (Udinese)
Stipe Perica (Udinese)                                   SIGNED
Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton)*
Fernando Forestieri (Unattached)                        – joined Udinese
Nahuel Molina (Boca Juniors)                              – joined Udinese
Matt Grimes (Swansea)
Oriol Busquets (Barcelona)
Sam Hutchinson (Unattached – ex Sheff Wed)     – joined Paphos
Jesse Joronen (Brescia)
Jhon Chancellor (Brescia)
Robin Olsen (Roma)*
Jean-Clair Todibo (Barcelona)*
Idrissa Doumbia (Sporting Lisbon)
Joe Morrell (Bristol City)
Stefan Johansen (Fulham)
Unai Núñez (Athletic Bilbao)

OUT

Pervis Estupiñán (Atletico, Manchester United, Barcelona, Spurs, Osasuna, Liverpool, Chelsea, Villarreal, Brighton)
.                                                            joined Villarreal
Luis Suárez (Getafe, Valencia, Lazio, Napoli, Villarreal, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Atlético Madrid, Granada, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille)
Ben Foster (Spurs, Napoli, Real Betis, Celtic, Chelsea, Everton)
Isaac Success (Huddersfield)
Jaime Alvarado (Athletico Paranaense)     – joined Ath Paranaense on loan
Daniel Bachmann (Kilmarnock*)
Ismaïla Sarr (Liverpool, Wolves, Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Man United, Aston Villa, Borussia Dortmund)
Kiko Femenía (Valencia, Eibar, Valladolid, Getafe)
Danny Welbeck (Beşiktaş, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Fenerbahçe)
Gerard Deulofeu (Milan*, Valencia, Crystal Palace, Celta Vigo, Napoli*, Sevilla, Fulham, Fiorentina)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Arsenal*, Everton*, Fulham, Wolves, Tottenham, AS Monaco, Hertha BSC)
.                                                        – joined Everton
Troy Deeney (Tottenham*, Newcastle, West Brom, Fenerbahçe)
Cucho Hernández (Osasuna, Granada, SD Huesca)    – joined Getafe on loan
Ken Sema (Udinese*, Fiorentina)
Pontus Dahlberg (BK Häcken)                      – joined BK Häcken on loan
Roberto Pereyra (Udinese, River Plate, Sassuolo, Roma, Torino*, Sevilla)
Adam Masina (Genoa)
Ignacio Pussetto (Udinese)
Étienne Capoue (Valencia)
Marc Navarro (Valladolid)
Will Hughes (Tottenham)
Andre Gray (West Brom)
Craig Dawson (Burnley, Fulham, West Ham)

2020 January
2019 Summer January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer

Arsenal 3 Watford 2 (26/07/2020) 26/07/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
19 comments

1- My mate Kieron has on several occasions voiced the opinion that Watford are an exciting team to support in the grand scheme of things.  Not in the sense of the style of football being exciting, a consideration which as with every side ebbs and flows with the passing of time, but with simply by virtue of the amount of Stuff.  Even if we begin history after GT’s first reign (which is a pretty big “if”, those times being what they were) you’ve got 33 years that cover four promotions including two play-off wins and a League One (new money) title, five (now) relegations, three further failed play-off campaigns, a cup final, four further semi-finals, any number of brushes with financial calamity, eight seasons in the top flight, only two in the third tier, a Copa de Ibiza and Dominic Foley.  That’s not bad going by the standards of an average sized small-town team;  plenty of clubs of comparable size have had far less fun over the same period.  Kieron, a Bristol Rovers fan, would expand on this at length given half a chance.

But it’s been a while since we had something like this, a final day with relegation still in the balance.  We have a habit of doing relegation properly when we do it at all and our greatest escapes (1991, 1994) haven’t gone to the final day.  Only 1996 bears comparison and then… not really.  Then we were on thunderous form, trying to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.  Here, the reverse was true.  Then there was a massive sense of anticlimax as the first 20,000+ home crowd since relegation sat sullenly as results elsewhere relegated us anyway and Chelsea loanee Muzzy Izzet propelled Leicester into the play offs and towards promotion.  Here?  Here we gave ourselves a huge mountain to climb, did a reasonable job of climbing it anyway and then didn’t, leaving us in the ignominious position of finishing behind Bournemouth for good measure. In 1996 we dared to believe, propelled by GT’s explosive mini-series (nestled between his two epic screen plays).  In 2020 we had all but given up before kick-off.

2- All but given up.  Not quite.  Beyond doubt our relegation is down to our own failings, we’ll get to that.  But the dismay was borne of the last, miserable week;  you can rank the capitulation to West Ham, the departure of Pearson and the inevitable humbling by Man City as Villa beat Arsenal in whatever order you choose in terms of severity. By the time we got to kick off I’d looked at the league table again, and realised that it wouldn’t take much.  That Villa were perfectly capable of stuffing up.  Graeme Souness’ pre-match assessment made me almost bullish.

Ismaïla Sarr kicking off at the first whistle, forgetting the BLM kneeling ritual, was surely borne of a focus on the job in hand but wasn’t the best of portents.  Less still was a penalty conceded two minutes in when Craig Dawson jumped clumsily with Lacazette.  As an aside, the fact that there is all manner of other horrible and stupid nonsense going on in the world outside football doesn’t make VAR any less atrocious – as a concept, let alone in execution.  The hysterical demands for “accuracy” as the sole measure of adequacy remain a witlessly inappropriate guiding light.  Last season that wouldn’t have been a penalty or even an appeal.  Last season there wouldn’t have been a five minute interruption to the momentum of the game (admittedly limited two minutes in) as the officials understandably strove to make the right decision.  Football is a vibrant, high energy, high paced game fuelled by adrenaline.  It isn’t bloody cricket.

But VAR wasn’t responsible for the extraordinary defending that turned a one-goal deficit into a three-goal deficit after we’d initially done a credible job of responding to the opener.  Plenty to discuss here.  Plenty of factors.  Arsenal had a bit of luck, sure, and Aubameyang finished the third brilliantly but luck happens, and the ball shouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the Arsenal skipper.  Hayden Mullins’ bold team selection backfired a little here…  by effectively playing Pereyra in midfield instead of Cleverley (let alone the expensively hamstrung  Capoue) you gain things, maybe, and you lose things.  A bit of cover is one of the things you lose.  Also significant and scarcely mentioned is the ongoing absence of Daryl Janmaat, who started the season as well as anyone amidst the chaotic opening months.  Injured since November, Janmaat is hardly a bastion of defensive solidity himself but he is robust and he is bullish and he is less prone to being done at the right post as Kiko has been so often of late.  He’s also one who tends to roll his sleeves up when things get tough.

More generally though, the failure to adequately resource the defence is one of the criticisms being flung at the club management that I have more sympathy with.  We know they tried – Dawson was transparently the best we were able to get, but the best we were able to get over several years of kinda making do at the back whilst more lavish signings have been made further forward.  Critically, whilst Dawson, Kabasele and Cathcart are demonstrably all capable of playing in Premier League defences (16 seasons as first-choice top flight defenders between them) none of them is a leader, an organiser.  They’re each David Holdsworth to your Glenn Roeder, Jay Demerit to your Neil Cox.  Wayne Brown to your Filippo Galli (shudder).  The best organiser we have is Mapps, who is a Watford legend but should really not have been as high up the options list as he was.

3- Dawson has been one of our more convincing individuals since lockdown but he isn’t your 7/10 every week kinda defender.  There are games where he is tremendous, the Burnley home game where they had to nobble him to navigate him springs to mind.  There are also games when he’s plain awful, and this was one of those.  Even when firmly in the front foot in the second half and Arsenal’s attacks, so effortlessly threatening in the first half, had dwindled to a half-arsed dribble Dawson looked precarious and awkward, once presenting the Gunners with a run on goal that they weren’t particularly looking for, on several other occasions being caught out of position.  Keith Dublin was an endearing distraction in an otherwise beige second-tier team.  Less fun in the Premier League.

As for Arsenal…  well as above, our relegation is all our own fault.  Indeed, it owes a lot to what has seemed a concerted effort to out-rubbish both Bournemouth and Villa (yay us!).  But we’ve been unlucky too.  Having our forward options fit and available for such a narrow window was cruel – Deeney, Sarr, Welbeck all injured early on,  Deulofeu towards the end.  The big wins, the famous wins all started with Sarr on the right, Deulofeu on the left and Troy down the middle; Pearson deserves credit for those of course, but surely no coincidence that our form has been so miserable when one of those cogs has been missing.   We’ve also had more than our fair share of bizarre and expensive VAR decisions (Deulofeu’s non-pen and Alli’s goal at Spurs, Newcastle’s equaliser at St James’ Park, Southampton’s bizarre goal at St Mary’s).  And sometimes the fixtures have not quite fallen for us…  how different would things have been had we played a pudgy Arsenal just after their semi-final instead of an irritated Man City leaving Villa to play them on the final day.

I won’t have been the only Hornet irritated by Arteta’s slightly pious assertion that he had a responsibility to field his strongest side, having demonstrably not done so against Villa a few days earlier.  In fairness to the Spaniard the Gunners were equally terrible here;  amidst all the hair pulling late in the first half as Bournemouth lead at Goodison (cheers for that Everton, nice one) it was unavoidable that even at 3-0 we were still kind of in it.  The thing wasn’t done, simply because Arsenal weren’t so much on the beach as lying in bed asleep not even arsed with the beach, eating Crunchy Nut Cornflakes out of the packet and binge watching “The Good Place” off Netflix (arbitrary example). That we were still in it was all the more evident when the lively Welbeck won a penalty and Troy drove it home.  From that point on I watched most of the game on my hands and knees bellowing at the screen.

4- And whilst the outcome is miserable, it would be wrong not to credit the side’s attacking zeal.  The fightback wins over Norwich and Newcastle showed character but none of this panache. Arsenal were accommodating, sure, but with Sarr, Deeney and Welbeck humming together for perhaps the first time since lockdown we could and perhaps should have made things a bit more anxious for Villa over in East London.  Sarr, clearly having been briefed to both run at players and to send his balls over to the far post, gave comfortably his most venomous performance since lockdown.  Troy was the fulcrum on the pitch that he is in our mind’s eye.  Welbeck now looks lean and hungry…  we’ll get onto “what happens next” to these players over the next few weeks, but given the brevity of the close season and the fact that he’s barely played for two years, you wonder if we’ll be able to hang on to him and quite what damage he might do in the Championship.

Welbeck’s goal was fabulous, Sarr free on the right again, firm low cross, brilliant attacking run from the former Gunner.  He almost scored another, a great backheel forcing an inspired save from Martinez.  Masina got underneath one, not as bad a miss as it looked but still a chance.  Deeney’s violent header took out Holding full in the face without getting a helpful deflection.  Another good chance he headed over.  We tripped and tiptoed our way around their penalty area and… yes, a quarter-arsed Arsenal but still Arsenal and we’re still more than giving them a game, deserving a point despite giving them a three goal head start of all things so how on earth are we getting relegated?

The game ended, almost cruelly, with João Pedro skating down the left against a startled Arsenal defence.  Cruel, because maybe this is all we’ll get to see of him on the left with Sarr on the right.  Wow.  And, no, we haven’t seen much of him and yes, some of those cameos (plus correspondence elsewhere from those who’ve watched his junior games) have suggested that he’s not quite robust enough yet.  But still.  Wow.

5- The Man City game was done as soon as they scored, and you’d have taken the current scoreline at any point as at the Etihad earlier in the season.  Not this one though.  Even with a minute to go a goal would have given us a chance, ignited belief, panicked an already accommodating Arsenal.  It didn’t happen.  And so we go down, despite and because of our best efforts.

What happens next?  We’ll see.  Actually we’ll see pretty quickly, since the new season starts in under seven weeks’ time.  I wonder who this suits.  Much has been said about the need for a major overhaul, but a major overhaul in a regular summer is a tall order let alone over an abbreviated close season with everyone playing wink murder.  I suspect that several of those whose names are on Twitter exit lists will still be with us come September 12th, and whilst we need some new stuff I suspect that might be a good thing.  Will Deulofeu pass a medical?  Will the Pozzo’s be able to hold out for what they deem Sarr to be worth?  Will anyone gamble on Welbeck?  We’ll find out very quickly.

Meanwhile, 2020 has been the worst year in many people’s memories for obvious reasons.  Certainly mine.  I could really have done with a shot in the arm from this, from being able to bellow in abandon at the TV screen at 17.45 for purely cathartic reasons.  But relegated or otherwise, this is still our club.  The club that looked after the hospital and the community during lockdown.  The place where you used to go with your family and your mates to feel part of something, and hopefully will soon go again.  The place that provides joy and anger and excitement and frustration and sadness and life for so many of us.

The club that’s the best club in the world, whatever division we’re in.

See you next season.  Yoorns.

Foster 3, Femenía 2, Masina 3, Dawson 1, Kabasele 2, Hughes 3, Doucouré 2, Pereyra 2, *Sarr 4*, Welbeck 3, Deeney 3
Subs: Mariappa (for Femenía, 47) 3, Chalobah (for Hughes, 81) NA, Cleverley (for Doucouré, 81) NA, João Pedro (for Pereyra, 88) NA, Cathcart, Quina, Pussetto, Gray, Gomes