Football Features

“Architects of their own downfall” – Five things learned as Arsenal squander two-goal lead at Watford

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:47, 15 September 2019

Quique Sánchez Flores marked his Watford return by coming from two goals behind to draw 2-2 with Arsenal at Vicarage Road.

His fellow countryman Unai Emery was left in a state of shock at full-time wondering how the Gunners threw away two valuable points.

But in reality they only had themselves to blame. In what is becoming a slow theme, his men gifted their hosts belief as well as a share of the spoils.

Questions will continue regarding the direction of Arsenal under his leadership, but for now Flores can celebrate a sweet homecoming. With the dust beginning to settle, here are five things we learned from this encounter….

1. Same old story

Simply put, Arsenal snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. They were the architects of their own downfall. Matteo Guendouzi, who recently earned an international call-up with France, was culpable giving away the ball twice but the Hornets couldn’t profit.

That did, however, change eight minutes after the break when Sokratis was caught out following a short goal kick, leading to Tom Cleverley halving the deficit. All of this added up to 14 errors leading to a goal since the beginning of last season – that’s more than any Premier League side.

It didn’t end there, moments before the end David Luiz gave away yet another penalty for Roberto Pereyra to convert, that’s now 10 spot kicks given away since August 2018. Such a return is worrying; this was error number three already this campaign, again more than any side (albeit level with Sheffield United), for a club hoping to challenge for a championship soon this is unacceptable.

Emery earlier in the weekend came under some criticism from ex-Arsenal striker Alan Smith who claimed some of his players are confused by his tactics. Old habits die hard, and this is one bad trait Arsenal must eradicate from their game if they are to ever trouble runaway leaders Liverpool and Man City.

2. Quique Sanchez Flores bounce

They say never go back. However, when it comes to Flores, he never really wanted to leave Watford who restored him back at the helm days before Arsenal visited Hertfordshire. Football being a results game ensured he was under pressure to deliver from the start. The native of Madrid couldn’t have started his second spell in a more entertaining fashion.

His side were all over the Gunners like a cheap suit, registering 30 shots to their seven, on another day they would have completed a stunning comeback and secured all three points. But this performance shouldn’t be underestimated. Watford were in need of a pick me up following a disastrous start to 2019/20 and this draw from nowhere ensures they did not suffer five consecutive home defeats in the top-flight for the first since April 1988.

3. Aubameyang continues to prove his worth

The mark of a quality goalscorer is having the knack of scoring in the most unlikely of situations. No one worth their salt can question Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s talent and the Gabonese marksman was at it again five months after his last visit to Vicarage Road.

Arsenal’s number 14 once more benefited from the opposition not paying attention; at the backend of last season it was goalkeeper Ben Foster who briefly didn’t stop him, and this afternoon his teammates were patiently waiting for a whistle that never came.

Will Hughes felt he was impeded, so did those near him in yellow-and-black, but referee Anthony Taylor saw it differently. The ball found its way to Sead Kolasinac who teed up Aubameyang and he did the rest.

10 minutes later Kolasinac’s opposite number Ainsley Maitland-Niles provided the former Borussia Dortmund marksman for his second. This effort was the culmination of 20 passes, the most for a single Premier League goal so far this season.

These strikes, his fourth and fifth of the season, mean Aubameyang has now contributed to 46 goals – scoring 37 himself and creating a further nine – since his Premier League debut. To put that into some perspective, only Mohamed Salah (53) has been involved in more goals during that period.

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4. Run Deulofeu Run

Javi Gracia brought compatriot Gerard Deulofeu to Watford and he’s not looked back since. Going into the weekend the Spanish winger had bagged 13 goals across 44 outings in all competitions as well as creating a further six for his teammates. He would be the first to admit this season hasn’t seen him play near to his optimum level.

But he looked a man-possessed in the opening salvo; continually attacking Arsenal’s defence with his tail up. His teammates kept feeding him the ball and Deulofeu responded by completing seven take-ons, which was more than anyone on the pitch – including Nicolas Pepe (3).

Aside from his relentless dribbling Deulofeu was a constant thorn on Bernd Leno’s goal; attempting five shots with three of those working the German shot-stopper. He did, though, provide the ‘assist’ for Cleverley’s goal: Sokratis’ attempted pass to Guendouzi was cut off by the Spaniard and the ball fell to the ex-Man Utd midfielder, who instinctively slammed home.

5. Diamond in the rough

Conspicuous by his absence so far this season was enigmatic playmaker Mesut Ozil who often found himself not playing in certain away games last season. Emery, given the enviable task of returning the glory days back to Arsenal, made it very clear that the decision to omit Ozil fundamentally stemmed from his reluctance to provide defensive cover.

However, some have argued you would be simply wasting his talents by engulfing him with more responsibilities than creating scoring opportunities, which is evidently the German’s greatest strength.

The lack of Alexandre Lacazette, who is recovering from a serious ankle injury, enabled Ozil to claim a place in Arsenal’s midfield diamond: Ozil behind Aubameyang and Pepe. Then behind the German was Granit Xhaka sitting in front of the back-four, leaving Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos as their central midfielders.

A tentative beginning made way for Arsenal grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, a highlight being Ozil’s neat through ball for Maitland-Niles who squared it to Aubameyang for his second of the game, but from then on everything started to unravel.