Where did this Arsenal side come from and how did they beat Watford?

Scarcely more than two weeks after that FA Cup game, Arsenal were back facing Watford at the Emirates, with the omens in their favour, and the same clamour for victory.

First time around, they ballsed it up, quite spectacularly it must be said. So what changed between the two games to allow the Gunners to turn ignominious defeat into a crushing victory?

Primarily, I think circumstance played its part here.

In the build-up to the FA Cup tie, all the talk was about winning the trophy for a third time in succession, little thought was given to anything but an Arsenal win and passage through to the semi-final.

That complacency surely fed back to the players who, I think it’s fair to say, lacked the required urgency on the day and were punished by a team who worked hard for their chances, and took them ruthlessly.

Playing personnel and tactics were also a factor in defeat. They shouldn’t have been, but I get the feeling that they were.

Arsenal XI vs Watford (March 13): Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Gibbs, Elneny, (Iwobi 67), Coquelin, Campbell (Welbeck 68), Özil, Sánchez, Giroud (Walcott 68)

Arsenal XI vs Watford (April 2): Ospina, Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Coquelin, Sánchez (Campbell 79), Özil, Iwobi (Walcott 74), Welbeck (Giroud 69)

It was arguably a stronger team for the second meeting, with the team selected as close to first choice as it gets, with the exception of Petr Cech.

The team that played the first time around still should have had too much for Watford, but I think at that time, it was a team bereft of confidence and lacking spark.

Giroud and Sanchez were struggling for goals, Iwobi had not yet revealed the extent of his talents, and Danny Welbeck was not yet at full fitness.

A key difference in the second match also, it seems to me, was the increased urgency and the desire to retrieve the ball when it was lost.

In his post-match interview, Hector Bellerin talked about defensive aggression and I think he has it spot on – there was a marked difference in the aggression of the team yesterday, and there has been in every game since the FA Cup defeat.

As a team they recorded 25 interceptions, 30 clearances and nine blocks.

Compare that to the defeat against Swansea – where they made 17, 17, 12 and respectively, and at Manchester United were they recorded 15, 30, and nine.

Yesterday, Coquelin and Elneny were imperious. Between them they made six interceptions, four clearances and a block. Their passing rate was also an impressive 93 per cent, too. And the stats also suggest that Arsenal have yet to concede a Premier League goal when both of them have been on the pitch. A blossoming partnership, indeed.

And efficiency in front of goal also proved decisive between the two games. In the FA Cup clash, Arsenal recorded 20 shots on goal, four of which were on target, and only one goal.

In the Premier League clash, they managed 19 shots on goal, 12 of which were on target, and four of which ended up in the back of the net. A markedly improved rate of conversion.

Not as ruthless as it could have been, but better nonetheless. We will need to maintain that conversion rate in the weeks ahead, when teams will be looking to shut us out with high intensity, high pressing styles.

It is also worthy of note that these were our first back-to-back victories since the middle of February, just prior to the wheels coming off so spectacularly.

Post match, Arsene Wenger said: “I am very happy because it was a good performance. We scored goals and didn’t concede, and kept the game having a good flow even at 3-0 up.

“I am pleased with Alex Iwobi’s talent but even more with his attitude and his willingness to learn and to contribute with his teamwork.”

All of the above added up to a much-needed win, and, with Tottenham dropping points at Liverpool, the pressure might just start to mount a little on their shoulders.

Our next encounter sees us take on West Ham at Upton Park, in what I think will be the toughest test we will face before the season ends.

If we can get victory there, it will set us up for a real go at the top two.

Here’s to momentum!







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