Watford stun shambolic Arsenal to dent fragile title hopes
On a night when Chelsea and Spurs both dropped points, the Gunners conspire to lose at home for the first time since August
Arsenal 1 Watford 2
On a crucial night in the title race, shambolic Arsenal suffered their first home league defeat since they lost to Liverpool on the opening day of the season, and against a Watford side without a victory in their last seven league outings.
Arsenal failed to do what the likes of Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Stoke and Sunderland have managed in the last few weeks and take points of the Hornets.
The only glimmer of comfort for the Gunners was that elsewhere in the Premier League on Tuesday night other results were relatively forgiving.
League leaders Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at Liverpool and Tottenham only picked up a point at Sunderland. It means the Gunners slip to third in the table behind Spurs and are now nine points behind Chelsea.
It makes Arsenal's trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday all the more critical, as anything but victory over the Blues would effectively end the Gunners title challenge for another year.
As for Watford, the precious three points moves them eight points clear of the relegation zone and ends a 29-year losing league streak at Arsenal. Maggie Thatcher was still in power when the Hornets last won in north London, and few expected them to emerge victorious against a side who last lost in the league on 18 December.
But the signs have been there for a while that Arsenal are a side only ever a few minutes away from disaster. At the start of last month they allowed Bournemouth a three goal start before fighting back for a draw in the second half, and the 2-1 win over Burnley ten days ago came courtesy of a controversial penalty eight minutes into stoppage time.
The fact is this Arsenal side are mediocre, a team without strong men, a club without inspirational leaders, and frankly one shudders at the thought of their trip to Germany in a fortnight to play Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League.
If the Gunners produce a first half as disorganised and disinterested as last night, they will be destroyed by the Germans.
Arsenal fans couldn't quite believe what they were witnessing as former Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul fired home from outside the area, his shot deflecting off Aaron Ramsey and past Petr Cech. Three minutes later Etienne Capoue was given the freedom of the Emirates turf by the Arsenal defence, and although his initial shot was well parried by Cech, the rebound landed at the feet of the unmarked Troy Deeney, who slotted the ball home.
Two nil down after 13 minutes, the Emirates was stunned and the fightback only began in the second half. Even then it was frantic but shapeless with too many passes going astray and too often the well-organised, muscular Watford defence hustling the Arsenal players off the ball. At times it felt like men against boys.
Alex Iwobi pulled a goal back when he got on the end of Alexis Sanchez's cross but Watford deserved their win, and Arsenal deserve to be ridiculed for their performance.
"It's frustrating and the players will have to learn from that and respond very well and very quickly in a very convincing way," said Arsene Wenger, who watched the game from the stands thanks to his four match touchline ban.
Alluding to the robust approach of the Watford team, the Arsenal manager admitted: "It looked mentally that we were not ready for the physical challenges... We were warned that Watford would make it very physical. I don't know if we subconsciously thought we could just turn up and it would be OK."
As for the importance of the trip to Chelsea on Saturday, Wenger said: "We want to respond and win the game of course. First, we have to analyse why we didn't start well. There are some situations in our team which were not completely clear at the start of the game, and we have to analyse that well."