Arsenal have won seven in a row after getting past a tricky Watford side 2-0. Here are three things we learned from the match.
Unai Emery had a terrible set of fixtures to start his first Premier League campaign — home to Manchester City and away to Chelsea. After those initial two losses, grumblings of more of the same could be heard around Arsenal fans.
Patience, however, has allowed Emery to highlight why he won three straight Europa League titles with Sevilla. His in-game substitutions made the difference today as Arsenal continued their winning ways. While Arsenal will most likely not be a title challenger, they, somewhat surprisingly, are firm challengers for the top four.
Watford, meanwhile, continue to string together solid performances. Here are some of the important takeaways from this game for both sides.
The Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership is Arsenal’s path forward
Although the goal that opened the scoring was a Craig Cathcart own goal after Aubameyang had been subbed off, the quickly blossoming partnership between he and Alexandre Lacazette is at the root of many Arsenal positives. Both are firing this season, and Emery should continue to start both together.
That is a departure from last year, when Arsene Wenger would oftentimes leave Lacazette on the bench after bringing in Aubameyang in January. The Frenchman has gone from potentially being a bust for Arsenal to being critical to the squad.
He was the one who, tangled with Cathcart, helped open up the scoring from a lovely low ball from Alex Iwobi. Lacazette got a more traditional assist immediately after, a lovely cutback to Mesut Ozil, to kill the game at 2-0.
In fact, the inventiveness and off-the-ball movement of both strikers is allowing other Arsenal players to play to their strengths. Iwobi, on as a sub in the second half, utterly changed the game as his passes to Lacazette were at the root of both goals. Iwobi is making a strong case to thrust himself into the starting lineup. Meanwhile, oft-criticized Ozil was a force today, both in play and in command — the typically blasé midfielder was impassioned this week, shouting at teammates and making tackles late in the game.
Having two in-form strikers that put in the work is allowing Emery to stamp his own style into Arsenal, and the malaise that had settled over the players in Wenger’s last few years may be abating.
Playing two strikers might be a tactic not currently in fashion, but Arsenal will want to keep this partnership in-form and firing together. With seven wins on the bounce, there’s no reason to move away from it.
Watford may have lost, but they have staying power
This was Watford’s third Premier League fixture of the young season against one of the Big Six. An impressive 2-1 win over Tottenham, a 2-1 loss against Manchester United, and now this loss to Arsenal. While there is just the one win, they have been close to victory in all three.
Troy Deeney spent all afternoon being booed by the Emirates crowd due to some banter from Watford’s victory over Arsenal last season. While that might not have been the result today, Watford had their chances. Deeney himself had Watford’s best chance, forcing a quality save from substitute goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Isaac Success had Watford’s other best chance of the day – his burning speed earning him a one-on-one against Leno. Although he beat the keeper, he did not beat the post as it brushed it and went just wide.
While they have been wonderful to start the year, their tendency the past several years is to crash in the second half of the season. Javi Gracia will hope he can be the one to turn around this trend. If he does, Watford should see themselves in the top half of the table at season’s end.
Leno’s Premier League entrance a mixture of promising and terrifying
The first Premier League event of Bernd Leno in an Arsenal jersey was kicking it out of play for a throw-in. The second was a wonderful reaction save as Troy Deeney hooked on to a great Cholevas free kick. The third touch was no touch at all, as he went to punch a cross but instead got caught on his teammate Shkrodan Mustafi, with a clearance mercifully rescuing the German from embarrassment.
Forced into play on the stroke of halftime due to a hamstring injury to Petr Cech, Bernd Leno entered to lots of pressure from Arsenal fans. Although Cech had a wonderful performance last weekend against Everton, he has given fans heart attacks with his inability to play with his feet.
Leno was brought in, in part, due to his comfortability with playing the ball out from the back. That was on display, and fans latched on to those moments with zeal, but there were also scares present. Hopefully Leno can chalk them up as first game jitters.
A crazy ping-ponging free kick in the 74th minute forced an awkward save by Leno on defender Craig Cathcart, but he made it. He also had several impressive displays of passing the ball out of trouble, as well as a few lovely passes up the pitch to start attacks.
Depending on how long the hamstring injury keeps Cech out, some important questions will be answered over the coming weeks. Can Leno make the goalkeeper position his own? Will Arsenal’s play improve with a keeper comfortable with the ball at his feet? Will Cech wear a tie on the bench?