Arsenal hold out after losing cruise control

Arsenal seem vulnerable when they are in cruise control and need an external threat to galvanise them.

Maybe part of a team growing up and learning.

There was an expectation for goals in this one – but with Arsenal’s leading scorer Smith Rowe out where would the goals come from?

Watford are perennial underdogs against Arsenal but pose a historical threat. Memories of John Barnes in a victory at Highbury and Cleverley taking points at The Emirates come to mind.

The home team weren’t helped with Sarr and King out. Cedric remained in the otherwise unchanged Arsenal line-up instead of Tomiyasu who had a calf injury.

Saka and Odegaard linked up superbly, sublimely.

In general, sometimes the final Arsenal ball could have been better – more clinical.

Martinelli and Saka hugged the touchline, leaving space inside for Odegaard and at times Xhaka to do damage in the inside channels.

It could have been different if Dennis had held his forward run a fraction after 17 seconds. He found the net but was just offside.

On five, there was precise link up between Cedric, Saka, and Odegaard with the Norwegian firing into Foster’s right hand corner. Arsenal’s fastest goal of the season.

And another good move between Cedric and Saka ended with Cedric just failing to get his head to the cross.

Arsenal lost territorial position due to a couple of Gabriel mistakes. Sissoko held the ball on the right finding Dennis who sent it to Femenia on the overlap who crossed to Hernandez who found the net with a flying bicycle kick.

A good move saw Xhaka shielding it for his midfield mate Partey who sent it a couple of feet wide. Nearer the goal than usual.

But the Watford threat wasn’t diminished. Gabriel gave a second dangerous achilles heel foul away in 20 minutes. Dennis cut and shot with Cedric stopping Pedro from tapping in the rebound.

Watford were finding space on the counter with some Arsenal attacks breaking down.

But on the half-hour, Saka nicked the ball off Cleverley, effected a one-two with a Lacazette backheel and shot into the right-hand top corner of the net. It was his 13th goal involvement this season (8 goals and five assists).

It is a heart in mouth when Lacazette falls to the ground, these days. Arsenal need his assists, chance creation, hold-up play and leadership. Good that Arsenal are talking about an extension.

The ball went out of play. Arteta chucked it quickly to Saka who threw it in to Cedric took it up found Odegaard who flicked it to Lacazette who turned it into the path of Martinelli, who gave Foster the eyes and fired a rocket shot into the left-hand corner. Later Arteta said he couldn’t help himself.

It dampened Watford’s fight.

Ramsdale was not having the most convincing game – sending a kick straight to Joao Pedro and the Arsenal defence into panic.

And Watford were still carving out chances. Femenia found space on the right and crossed low and hard finding Dennis who miscued.

Nketiah on for Lacazette hit the post from another flowing move involving Odegaard.

Hernandez found Sissoko in the box. And poor defending from Ben White allowed the ex-Spurs player to get one on one with Ramsdale, and he slotted it home.

Kalu, on as a sub ran and drove a shot at Ramsdale’s goal, saved by the Arsenal keeper. It was home side’s last chance.

Mikel Arteta said: “Credit to Watford, they are fighting for their lives. They changed their team, and it is hard to beat them.

“We are getting better and better, the understanding between the players is getting better and we should have scored more today.

“I see how willing they [the players] are every day to train and improve. I think they are enjoying playing together and when some days, it is not your best day, you somehow manage to win and that is important.

“We have to be very honest with ourselves and our defensive structure was not good enough today. We allowed some chances, and it is something we will work on.”

Roy Hodgson said Arsenal are very good team, with good players. “We paid a high price for one or two errors.”

Arsenal victories continue to be by the odd goal. So far so good but a concern with Liverpool and Chelsea to come.

Premier League: Watford 2 Arsenal 3

Watford: 1Foster, 21Femenía, 15Cathcart, 22Samir, 14Kamara, 19Sissoko, 6Louza (Substituted for Kayembe at 64’minutes), 8Cleverley (Substituted for Kalu at 89’minutes),29Hernández (Booked at 90mins), 25Dennis, 10João Pedro

Arsenal:32Ramsdale, 17Cédric Soares (Booked at 58mins), 4White, 6Gabriel, 3Tierney, 5Partey, 34Xhaka, 7Saka, 8Ødegaard (Substituted for Holding at 90’minutes), 35Martinelli (Substituted for Pépé at 73’minutes), 9Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 80’minutes (Booked at 90mins)