Some teams never know when they are beaten. Arsenal are not one of them. They never look quite like they want to win. In the 2-2 draw against Watford at Vicarage Road, Unai Emery’s side threw away a two-goal lead they had hardly earned.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice before half time and showed his class but his mistake-ridden team-mates rarely looked comfortable. Tom Cleverley pulled a goal back eight minutes into the second half, cashing in on a catastrophic error from Sokratis. Roberto Pereyra levelled the scores with a late penalty after being hacked down by David Luiz. Quique Sanchez Flores can be delighted with his side’s comeback but the returning Watford manager will be regretting that his team were unable to take all three points. He will feel optimistic about moving the club forward if the squad show this level of commitment and skill.
Emery opted for a midfield diamond but there was a hole at its heart. There was space to for Watford’s runners right from the start. Cleverley fired off a shot early on that Bernd Leno tipped over. Gerard Deulofeu looked to get at Ainsley Maitland-Niles at every opportunity. He weaved into the area and laid back the ball for Jose Holebas but the Greek blasted over.
Arsenal do not like to be harried – Mesut Ozil, starting in the Premier League for the first time this season, least of all. Deulofeau chased the German down and things seemed to be going Watford’s way but the visiting side, for all their flaws, have quality up front. Will Hughes dwelt on the ball on the halfway line and Dani Ceballos was quick into the tackle. Sead Kolasinac picked up the loose ball and drove towards the area, where he found Aubameyang waiting unattended. The Gabonese had time to take the ball, execute a smooth spin and place his shot into the net with the ease of a top-class goalscorer.
Belief drained out of Watford for a while. After being so aggressive in the first 20 minutes, they sat deep and let their opponents have the ball. This is the sort of environment in which Ozil excels. There were 18 Arsenal passes before the ball came to the German just outside the area and he was given the freedom to survey his options. Maitland-Niles, overlapping on the right, was the best of them and it was simply a matter of Ozil rolling the ball between two defenders. Maitland-Niles looked up, saw Aubameyang in the middle and supplied the sort of cross that any striker loves. Arsenal were two goals to the good without looking in the slightest bit coherent.
They will always give you a chance, though. The celebrations had barely subsided when Leno and Matteo Guendouzi got themselves in a tangle. The goalkeeper rolled the ball out to the midflelder but the pass was too slow and the Frenchman found himself mobbed and dispossessed. Deulofeu was unable to take advantage and Andre Gray could only put the rebound into the side netting but Arsenal were living dangerously.
Deulofeu is talented but lacks end product. Just before the break he charged 50 yards towards goal, outpacing his pursuers with only Luiz in front of him. The Brazilian showed the winger inside and then realised his mistake, twisting back to try and regain position. By then the 25-year-old was gone but Luiz need not have worried. Deulofeau ran the ball out of play.
Deulofeu was the home side’s best player. He catches the eye and looks impressive with the ball at his feet but successive managers have become frustrated with the Catalan. He repeatedly gets into good positions but fails to supply the killer ball. Yet he would be instrumental when Watford pulled a goal back.
Arsenal always give you a chance. Early in the second half Guendouzi again surrendered possession in his own area but Hughes blasted over. A comedic defensive moment was coming as Watford piled on the pressure and Sokratis provided it. Accepting a goalkick from Leno just outside the six-yard box, the centre half inexplicably rolled the ball too close to Deulofeu, whose interception fell into the path of Cleverley and the midfielder scored with ease from inside the area. It felt like Emery’s team had been trying to give away a goal all afternoon and Sokratis beat Guendouzi to it.
Now it was Arsenal’s turn to come under pressure. Deulofeu reached the byline but could only hit the first man. Then he dinked a delightful pass through a congested area to Ismaila Sarr, who shot just wide. The ball was flying across Leno’s area with barely any sign of organisation among the defence. Lucas Torreira was sent on to stiffen resolve for the Gunners but the chaos continued unabated and Deulofeu curled a shot just beyond the post. Emery was in full-on, hold-what-you’ve-got mode, replacing Ozil with Reiss Nelson. Aside from a couple of fleeting moments Ozil had been a passenger.
The equaliser was always coming. Whenever the Watford forwards ran at the heart of the defence panic ensured. Pereyra, on as a substitute, charged directly at Luiz and the centre back hung his leg out in the most clumsy manner. It was an obvious penalty and Pereyra levelled the scores with style with nine minutes left.
Deulofeu had a chance to win the game shortly after but shot just wide of the post. Cleverley was denied when Luiz deflected his shot over and Daryl Janmatt ballooned high and wide. Maitland-Niles gave away the ball deep in his half but the home side could not take advantage. As the minutes ticked away, only one team looked like winning and Abdoulaye Doucoure should have sealed the three points from close range in the final moments but the Frenchman shot straight at Leno.
Watford got their new manager bounce – of sorts – but it was less down to Sanchez Flores than Arsenal’s helping hands. Five games into Emery’s second season, his team look no more organised that when he took over.
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