Football Features

Watford 0-1 Arsenal: Winners & losers as Deeney’s style backfires

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:26, 15 April 2019

Watford entertained Arsenal on Monday night, with so much riding on the game.

For the hosts, who recently booked a place in this season’s FA Cup final against Manchester City, they’re aiming to finish this Premier League campaign as best of the rest.

As for Arsenal, even though Europa League success is still possible, there’s a small matter of a top-four place. Unai Emery’s men, though, haven’t exactly been the best travellers of late in English football’s top division.

But, on this day, it was the north Londoners who came out on top.

A 0-1 victory, courtesy of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was their first triumph on the road since leaving Huddersfield with a 1-2 win back in February and second in ten outings.

Watford, by contrast, will rue going a man down moments after falling behind. Defeat ended a three-match winning streak at home, but there’s plenty of football left to play.

Naturally, there were individual winners and losers. Here are tonight’s.

Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

On his day he’s among the league’s best strikers, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t found the net as frequently as he would like of late. Heading into Vicarage Road, he had only bagged two goals across his previous seven Premier League appearances. That run also included a missed penalty away to arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur, which likely would have given the Gunners all three points.

Form is temporary, as they say, and the Gabonese marksman was at his lively best tonight. Constantly on the move, he second-guessed a Daryl Janmaat backpass to rob the Watford goalkeeper of possession and put his side in front. Cue his trademark front flip celebration.

This effort also happened to be Aubameyang’s first on the road since Arsenal drew 1-1 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Boxing Day 2018.

Loser: Troy Deeney

All eyes were on Troy Deeney in the build-up. The outspoken centre-forward, who wears his heart on his sleeve, was the main protagonist in this fixture last season. After trailing to Arsenal, he would lead Watford’s comeback by equalising from the penalty spot before a 90th-minute winner from Tom Cleverley. Post-match, the Brummie native would ignite controversy by suggesting their opponents lacked “cojones”, a slur Gunners supporters (and players/staff) would not have forgotten.

Combined with the occasion, some may have seen Deeney’s in-your-face playing style as a powder keg waiting to go off ahead of this one. But, no one could have foreseen what actually transpired. A minute after Aubameyang put the visitors in front, referee Craig Pawson showed Deeney a straight red (his second in 134 Premier League games) – after a raised arm caught the face of Arsenal’s tenacious midfielder Lucas Torreira. Harsh, for some; an understandable decision for others.

Winner: Arsenal’s away day support

It’s not been easy following Arsenal on the road of late. Going into this game, the Gunners won just one of their last nine away Premier League matches. That rare piece of joy came at the expense of Huddersfield Town (1-2), who haven’t exactly been formidable. From those remaining outings, there were five defeats, including the humbling 5-1 loss at Anfield and meek 1-0 surrender across Stanley Park against Everton.

It started off so differently under Emery. His opening five games away from the Emirates yielded four victories, all on the bounce, following a narrow 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge. But they would soon come unstuck, with two wins and five defeats from the subsequent 11 outings – a far cry from their perfect home record of 2019. With a top-four finish on the line, every type of win is welcome, but ending their away-day slump – and, incredibly, keeping their first clean sheet on the road this season – is also worth a mini celebration.

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Loser: Ben Foster

Ben Foster has been nothing short of great for Watford this season. However, the events of this evening against Arsenal won’t find their way into any of the former West Brom goalkeeper’s highlight reels.

As Foster received standard backpass from Janmaat in the 10th minute, Aubameyang would pounce to force an error before slotting home.

Mistakes happen, but this is a moment he’ll want to forget quickly.

Winner: Watford’s spirit

It’s not always easy playing against ten men. Arsenal found that out. Having gone a goal down and seen their captain storm off for an early bath, one expected Watford to collapse like a paper boat.

The proceeding events were anything but. Javi Gracia’s men rallied, with everyone near playing out of their skin, and maintained an onslaught on Bernd Leno’s goal. Adam Masina, from left-back, came the closest to equalising, his stunning long-range strike rattling of the crossbar. Yes, they lost, but Watford can take heart from this performance.

Loser: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s time at Arsenal can be summarised as sometimes good, and sometimes not so. A frustrating ankle injury ensured he’d missed a chunk of games midway this season, but there were early encouraging signs on his return, where he registered two goals and three assists in his first three games back.

He’s started five of Arsenal’s last seven league matches before visiting Watford, and this was a game in which he should have found the net; the Armenian forward saw a weak attempt saved by Foster before the hour mark. Soon after there would be two woeful long-range attempts, which his manager would not have been impressed by.

Winner: Shkodran Mustafi

He’s not exactly the most popular member of Arsenal’s first-team among supporters but Shkodran Mustafi put on a standout performance at Vicarage Road one that should buy him some temporary love.

Shkodran Mustafi is not always the most popular player among Arsenal fans, a fact owing to high-profile errors such as the penalty conceded against Tottenham in the recent North London derby draw.

Tonight, however, he was solid. The World Cup winner contested seven aerial duels and came out on top in every battle.

This is the highest number of headers any Arsenal player has won without being bested himself in a single Premier League game this season.