Yet again, we have been burned by our inability to start strongly.
Or rather our refusal to. We have seen the destruction our team can cause when we go at teams from the first whistle, yet we continue to hold back and invite pressure. We allow teams to breathe, to dictate – and the result is there for all to see.
This result though, is probably our worst this season. Watford were on the back of seven winless games. They were a lame dog, turning up to the home of title-chasing Arsenal. They would have been expecting an onslaught, to sit back and soak up the pressure, and hopefully pose a problem on the break.
Instead, our lack of impetus meant that the Hornets were given the freedom of The Emirates. Within ten minutes, they had grabbed the lead.
A free-kick given away needlessly by Gabriel meant that Younes Kaboul was given license to swing away with his boot. It knicked a deflection from Aaron Ramsey and it spun away from Cech’s despairing dive.
Watford had grabbed the initiative, as it seemed to all and sundry as if Arsenal really didn’t want to. Then, three minutes later saw Watford double their lead.
Etienne Capoue was bossing the centre of the park, and his drive toward Arsenal’s box was unhindered. He let fly and was denied by Cech, but he could only parry to Troy Deeney, who was waiting with intent three yards out.
Two goals to the good – and the only positive that could be grabbed was that it had happened so early in the game it allowed the Gunners plenty of time to get back into the game.
Instead, the rest of the half comprised of Watford going close to extending their lead.
This was insipid stuff from the home side. The half time whistle blew, and boos rang out from the stands. It was deserved.
The second half saw the expected and needed revival from Arsenal. Whatever Arsene had said in the dressing room worked, as the gears clicked and Watford were camped in their own third.
Chances for Alex Iwobi and second half sub Theo Walcott were saved, and Mesut Ozil was also denied by Gomes in the Watford goal.
Where were these players in the first half? Where was this vibrancy we can just choose to flick on and off? Why turn it off in the first place?
Arsenal did grab a goal, as Alexis crossed for Iwobi to put away the chance, but we would not grab an equaliser. Lucas Perez – who also came on in the second half for Francis Coquelin – was denied by the crossbar.
We now sit nine points behind Chelsea, and we play them in the weekend. If we play anything like this, then our title hopes are over before they have even began. As it stands, we are on the periphery. Win or bust at The Bridge.
There was plenty to ruminate on in this game, but here are five lessons we must learn from:
Coquelin and Ramsey do not work together still
Coquelin was hooked early, and that speaks volumes. It may be due to putting in extra attacking resources with Lucas, but Coquelin had a rare off-day where he didn’t do what he normally does, and that is to provide an extra line of defence. Then there is the partnership with Ramsey. It was devoid of pace, and the duo does not take it in tandem to attack and defend. The chemistry just isn’t there. Ramsey needs the right partner to allow his best play – but more often than not he is found wanting. Coquelin does the defensive work well – normally – but is severely limited everywhere else. He is a great squad option, but in terms of central midfield – we need an overhaul.
Gabriel has not evolved
The Brazilian is still the athletic but slow to react defender that we bought two years ago. He was rash then and he still is which is a massive weakness in this league. He can duke it out with the most physical strikers in the Premiership, but when it comes to defensive nous, positioning and using your head? Gabriel is found wanting.
Lucas and Theo need to start
The Spaniard has capitalised on every rare occasion he has taken to the field. Theo offers us something no one else does in our team. It is clear our attack needs a bit of a lift, and these two deserve a run in the side.
Bench Ozil and Alexis
Before you lynch me, please read what I have to say. These two players are capable of destroying anyone in European football almost single-handedly. So when they put in performances of which we have just witnessed, it is clear something is missing. Both were rested in the weekend, so fatigue is not an issue. It may have been just a bad game, but when Lucas, Theo and Welbeck are pushing for games as hard as they are right now, then maybe a wake-up call is needed. If a starting berth is guaranteed, then maybe displays will dip every now and then by 5%. Alexis has done more than most this season, so this latest game and his efforts really do seem far worse by comparison. Mesut Ozil flitted and passed and looked for openings, but where is that player that eviscerates defences with a single pass? Where have his goals gone? It is time to play players on form.
Cech back on form
Cech kept the scoreline in the first half to a level where thousands of Gooners did not spontaneously combust. If it weren’t for the Gunners keeper, Watford would have strolled to the dressing room leading by four goals. Can you imagine? Cech’s save from Sebastian Prodl’s header was spectacular, and his denial of Daryl Janmaat was vital. He may be awful at stopping spot kicks, but Cech’s mastery in between the sticks should not be ignored. He never lost it.
There was more to dwell on, but we lost and I feel it is best to not focus too much. There is need for change in the team though. With Ramsey injured, it means Oxlade-Chamberlain will be in the centre of midfield. He has shown massive improvement this season, and his dynamism may prove to be the shot in the arm we need.
Up next – top of the league Chelsea. I hate football.