Arsene Wenger has always been an optimist but even he would not talk up Arsenal’s title chances on Saturday night. Arsenal had just produced their best performance in months, beating Watford 4-0, closing the gap on Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
It should have been a cause for celebration at the Emirates, but Wenger sounded like a man trying to put a limit on the ambition and hope of his players and fans. When asked about Leicester City, the pressure they face, and whether they might slip, Wenger would not be drawn on it.
“We have to be realistic and just prepare for the next game and not dream too much,” he said. “We have suffered recently and that will help us to keep the focus.”
Arsenal are chasing the two teams ahead of them and yet Wenger is just as preoccupied with the teams behind him. “We have to focus on our results and then see how far we can go,” he said. “When I say be realistic, we have to look behind over our shoulders as well. Man City, Man United, West Ham are chasing as well. Let's look over our shoulders and as well chase if we can.”
It sounded slightly downbeat, at odds with the quality of Arsenal’s performance. Arsenal were even better than they were in their last game, a 2-0 win at Everton. But a sense of regret is understandable, given how Arsenal have rediscovered form only now Leicester have pulled away from them.
Wenger, certainly not for the first time, praised the application of his players. “I believe this team has the right mentality,” he said. “I have had many teams in my life and this team is top quality. When they play like this it shows that mentally they are pure.” If Arsenal’s mentality is that good, though, why did they not play like this when it mattered?
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores was honest enough to question the mentality of his own players, after their fourth straight league defeat and the worst of the lot. The combination of reaching 37 points, and the FA Cup semi-final, has rather taken the wind out of Watford’s Premier League campaign.
“We are fighting against this thought [of being safe] every time,” Sanchez Flores said. “We are fighting maybe for one month and a half against these thoughts. It would be an amazing mistake to think everything is done.”
The prospect of an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in three weeks’ time is also playing on the minds of everyone at the club, and understandably so.
“It is hard, it is like fighting against a phantom,” he explained. “It is something that is in the air, it’s here, it’s there, it’s up, it’s down. It’s a thought. It’s in embodied in the dressing room, embodied in the club. Not always player or staff, it’s workers inside Watford. It’s impossible every week to pass through the office and it’s all “tickets for the FA Cup, tickets for the FA Cup”. What happened? We play in the league tomorrow!”
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Ospina; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Elneny, Coquelin; Sanchez (Campbell, 78), Ozil, Iwobi (Walcott, 73); Welbeck (Giroud, 68)
Watford (4-4-1-1): Gomes; Nyom, Prodl, Cathcart, Ake; Abdi (Guedioura, 68), Watson, Suarez, Capoue (Anya, 42); Deeney; Ighalo (Amrabat, 45)
Match Rating: 7
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