Sunday, September 24, 2023

Watford 2-3 Arsenal: Three brilliant goals, three massive points

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I can’t quite remember the last time Arsenal scored three goals of such devastating, exceptional quality to a win a game, but yesterday’s efforts from Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were more than worthy of three points against any side.

More on those to come, and of course we did get three points to take us into the top four with games in hand, but afterwards it was easy to connect with Mikel Arteta’s post-game comments which were more focused on defensive issues which may have caused us to slip up a little in this race for the Champions League places.

We almost conceded inside 20 seconds, Watford equalised not long after we scored, and some late sloppiness at the back made the final few minutes far more tense than they should have been. Throughout, you could see the manager’s unease on the sideline, despite the glorious finishing his young guns served up. After Saka put us back ahead, cameras caught a clearly antsy Arteta in conversation with Granit Xhaka, and it wasn’t ‘Well done for going back ahead lads’.

He explained afterwards:

I didn’t like how we were controlling the game. We were allowing spaces against the team who, if we kept allowing that, we were going to suffer. I knew that. We had to put that right and we did it for certain periods.

Then in the last 25 minutes, we lost it again. We have to show that maturity, understanding and capacity to control the game how we wanted to.

At 3-1, after, we had to make 300,000 passes in the opposition half and when they have the right moment to come at us, then we can attack them. We didn’t do that. The game was open and you had the feeling that the game was open right until the end.

I mentioned this in the preview blog yesterday, but once again it’s an example of Arteta not allowing anyone to rest on their laurels one bit. He’s right to say we should have controlled the game better, especially at 3-1 up and maybe he has to take a look at his own part too because I don’t think the substitutes helped. That said, I think when he talks about showing maturity, we have to remember it’s still a pretty young team, so games like this are part of that process for them. We went through it, got through it with all three points, and that’s something to learn from – which is why I think he was so keen to highlight it afterwards.

However, what more needs to be said about it than that? The most important part about yesterday was taking three points after West Ham had lost, while hoping Man City would beat United, which they did … comprehensively. That we won this game by scoring three fantastic goals is something we can take real encouragement from too, because they demonstrate what this team is capable of as an attacking force, and that’s an element to our development that we’ve all been keen see as this season progresses.

1-0 Martin Odegaard

The Norwegian was superb yesterday, and just before the game I was reading a translation of an interview he did on Norwegian TV in which he explained how, when talking about his role in the team, the manager wanted him to play higher up, closer to the opposition box, while making runs to support the wide players/forwards.

His flick around the corner was another example of his growing connection with Bukayo Saka, but also his confidence in this team to try things like that in the first place. He continued his run, Saka found him, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to do anything other than finish coolly and calmly, which is just what he did. Delicious.

2-1 Bukayo Saka

Like Odegaard, outstanding yesterday. Always moving, always pulling defenders here and there, and he showed strength to win the ball high up the pitch. Lacazette’s roll-back ball into his path was clever, but the finish was just outstanding – Ben Foster had no chance.

For me it was a toss-up between Saka and Odegaard for Man of the Match, I think he just about pipped it, and with 13 goals/assists in the Premier League this season – the most of any player under 21, we’re seeing a genuine talent blossom before our eyes. An exciting coda to that particular stat is that the second player in that list is Emile Smith Rowe with 11, Phil Foden is in third – so that tells you something.

3-1 Gabriel Martinelli

On the live blog, I’d just made a comment about our left side, and how it hadn’t really got going with Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli the way it had on the right. Then we got a throw in, Arteta facilitated a quick one by chucking the ball to Saka who threw it to Cedric. From there it was one touch stuff: Cedric to Odegaard, Odegaard’s perfect flick to Lacazette, Lacazette’s inch-perfect lay-off to Martinelli, and the young Brazilian spanked it into the top of the net – far from an easy finish given the slight bobble on the ball as it came back to him.

It’s just such an aesthetically pleasing goal to watch replays of this morning as I’m trying to find ways of describing the move. I think there is still some discussion to be had about the left hand side and why it’s not quite as effective as the right, but I think it was an important goal for Martinelli who hadn’t scored since his brace against Leeds in December. He needed that in a big way, and when the chance came, he took it emphatically.

That third goal was scored in the 53rd minute though, and without being overly critical or dismissive of Watford who kept working hard and whose higher press in the second period unsettled us a bit, we should have consolidated that lead. There were opportunities when better decision making in the final third would have likely done that, but we were a bit sloppy – so when Sissoko ran off Xhaka too easily (after Xhaka had ceded possession with a long ball – something we did a bit too often yesterday), and bundled the ball beyond Ben White and then Ramsdale, we had a nail biting finish.

I could have lived without that tension to be honest, and we’re back to where we started because it’s obvious Arteta could have done without it too. In the cold light of day though, we need to focus on the things we can learn from that, but most importantly the fact that we went away from home, scored three delightful goals, and took the three points we needed. As the season heads towards May, the expectation will rise, the pressure will too, and we’re going to have to cope.

There are going to be matches when we have to cope with in-game situations that are far from ideal, so while I think Arteta and his coaching staff will be keen to ensure we do things better and don’t repeat the mistakes of yesterday, maybe there’s some benefit to the players from knowing they can walk a thin line a bit.

In the end, a big win, the table looks very healthy after a good weekend of results from our perspective, and it’s all eyes on Everton this evening to see if they can complete the set. Let’s hope so.

All we can do is win our games. It’s now four in a row in the league, eight wins from our last ten – there’s something brewing. We are in one game at a time territory, of course, but this is another one down with the maximum return, and that’s all we can ask for as we get into the business end of the season.

Right, that’s it for now. As ever, James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra later on this morning so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.

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