It appears that every game Watford plays is a test. Earlier this year it was Crystal Palace and Wilfried Zaha. The Hornets impressed against Harry Kane and Spurs, coming from behind to win. The game against Manchester United was a bit disappointing in the opening half, but they came on strong in the final 45 minutes. This week, it was the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal, who came into the game with a four game winning streak under new manager, Unai Emery.
As with every game, expectations have been very high for the Golden Boys, Aside from a few halves of football (Man United, Fulham) they have played outstanding on the season. Unlike last season under Marco Silva, this is a united team that has remained positive and appear to have a real team camaraderie about them. Something that I never saw last year with Silva in charge.
Another observation, last year we seemed to channel our play through Richarlison, who is looked more like an individual star in the making, then a team player. This season without the Brazilian at Everton and Silva gone, the Hornets have truly come together under Javi Gracia, as the team has bought into his philosophy and coaching style.
There were many thing to be positive about, ahead of Arsenal. Watford was in the top four of the Premier League, we were near the top in attack and defense, something we didn’t appear to have last season. We were fairly free scoring,from an attacking perspective, as Troy Deeney, Andre Gray and Roberto Pereyra had all been scoring in the early weeks, an area we struggled with last season.
While Arsenal controlled possession of the game, it was Watford on the front foot for much of the game. For nearly 80 minutes, the Golden Boys were just that, golden. There were some big missed opportunities that could have turned the game for the Hornets. Will Hughes, early sent a volley wide of Peter Cech. Pereyra sent a curling shot just wide. Issac Success came even closer, after he was brought on for Gray in the 72′. The Nigerian broke on a great through ball and was one on one with Bernd Leno. Success went for a small dink over the German, but the ball was sent just wide of the post.
These sort of opportunities have been difficult to watch, but the Hornets still played very well in a losing effort. It wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that a defensive lapse and possibly fatigue came back to nip Watford.
The introduction of Alex Iwobi in the 77′ was the catalyst Arsenal needed to kick the offense into another gear. He was key to both goals on the days, as his pace down the right side, late in the game was a bit too much for Jose Holebas to deal with. A nice ball sent in from the flank, bound for Alexandre Lacazette, who got tangled up with Craig Cathcart, just to Ben Foster’s near post. The ball took an unlucky couse and careened off Cathcart’s foot, through Foster’s legs to give the Gunners a 1-0 lead.
Just two minutes later, it was Iwobi leading the attack, finding Lacazette ahead of him on the right flank, centering the ball to a wide open, Mesut Ozil who tapped the ball past Foster to put the game away for Arsenal, 2-0.
Looking back on the game, it was another well played contest and good effort by the Hornets. “I’m very upset for my players because I think they deserved a better result today,” said Gracia in the post-game. “We had a very good performance with more shots, more shots on target, a lot of clear chances to score but if you don’t score you can lose. I think we deserved more, but we try to improve, the little things we can improve.”
One area of concern, Gracia’s use of substitutes. We’ve seen it over seven games that he’s delayed in replacing players who have put in a good shift. This week, the 34-year-old legs of Holebas could not keep pace with Iwobi. In the midfield, there could have been a call to replace Etienne Capoue with the likes of Ken Sema or Nathaniel Chalobah, just to get some fresh legs on the pitch.
The introduction of Isaac Success has been good, even time he’s come on to the pitch in place of Gray. He’s big, strong and fast, a great addition to our strike force, but a compromise between Deeney and Gray. Gracia has been impressed with the Nigerian, “Success now is not the same Success I knew when I arrived. When I arrived he started to train after being injured. He went on loan to Malaga and he started this pre-season training really well.”
Aura around the Vic continues to be positive, the lads played well enough to win and will look to turn their fortunes around next week home to Bournemouth.