- Watford shock Arsenal at the Emirates
- Kaboul and Deeney with Watford goals
- Iwobi pulls one back for the Gunners
- Hornets up one place to 13th
On the eve of Graham Taylor’s funeral, Watford produced a fitting performance, the sort Taylor’s teams of the eighties used to churn out with regularity, to spectacularly and unexpectedly bloody the nose of one of the big boys. What a night.
Goals from Younes Kaboul and Troy Deeney inside 13 minutes put Watford in the driving seat and set them on the road to what must rank as their best ever Premier League win, right up there with the 1-0 win under Taylor at Anfield in 1999.
They were good value for the lead, too, executing Walter Mazzarri’s counterattacking gameplan to the letter in the first half as they smothered the Gunners’ interplay before hitting the home side on the break time after time. The first half was as good as the Hornets have played all season.
The expected onslaught from the home side arrived in the second half and it required several smart saves from Heurelho Gomes to prevent Arsenal getting back into the game earlier than they did, through Alex Iwobi just before the hour. But Watford defended doggedly and determinedly, surviving a shot from Lucas Perez that hit the underside of the bar, to hold on for a thoroughly merited three points, their first since December 10 against Everton.
There were heroes in yellow everywhere you looked but two players stood out. Etienne Capoue’s classy first-half performance was better than anything he’s ever produced in a Watford shirt and he was easily the best midfielder on view, some statement when you consider the calibre of Arsenal’s midfield department. He really was a class apart.
Further back, Sebastian Prodl was mountainous. The big Austrian kicked, tackled and headed away everything Arsenal threw at him in a performance that was as good as Craig Cathcart’s on this ground last season in the FA Cup. Kaboul wasn’t far behind.
Watford were simply unrecognisable from the side who exited the FA Cup on Sunday and that’s because they were, Mazzarri making nine changes from the defeat to Millwall.
The Hornets started on the front foot and never took a backwards step thereafter. They warmed so well to their task that Miguel Britos took his gloves off inside five minutes.
The Hornets were easily the more progressive side and had three sights of goal inside five minutes before Arsenal had even pulled a punch. M’Baye Niang, on his debut, fizzed one across the face of goal, Daryl Janmaat had another blocked from long distance by Alexis Sanchez while Tom Cleverely tried to bend one in far corner.
An encouraging start turned into a dream one on ten minutes when Cleverley played a short free-kick for Kaboul to run onto. The big defender unleashed a piledriver that deflected off Aaron Ramsey and past Petr Cech into the back of the net. A sweet moment for the former Tottenham defender.
If the jubilant fans were ecstatic at that point, they were in disbelief just three minutes later when the magnificent Capoue profited from a wayward thrown-in around the halfway line. A shimmy of the hips saw him leave Francis Coquelin for dead and then a fleet turn of foot saw him go past Shkodran Mustafi with stunning ease and like the German defender wasn’t there.
We would have been talking about one of the goals of the season had Cech not keep out his low left-footed effort with his legs. But the Czech goalkeeper could only deflect the ball into the path of Deeney who gleefully rammed the ball home.
Watford were, unbelievably, two goals to the good at the Emirates, just like they were in the FA Cup quarter-final last season.
It started to look increasingly like the Hornets’ night when Ramsey limped off soon after and when Andre Marriner kept his cool under huge pressure from the home crowd to spot that Nacho Monreal had gone down theatrically under the challenge of Cathcart.
With Prodl, Valon Behrami, Capoue and Deeney excelling through the spine of the team, Watford did not sit back. The effervescent Capoue got to the byline to send over a cross that Prodl headed goalwards, forcing a finger-tip save from Cech. Britos then had his head in his hands when Giroud blocked a goal-bound snapshot of his and so did Janmaat minutes later when forcing a one-handed save from Cech.
It really was all Watford. Sanchez, Arsenal’s dangerman, was not getting a look-in, with expertly-timed tackles on him by Capoue, Cleverely and Cathcart really catching the eye.
Arsenal threw on Theo Walcott at the break and decided to launch the kitchen sink at the Hornets. Gomes had to be at his smartest and his sharpest to first deny Walcott with his outstretched right leg and then dive down low to his right, when his momentum was taking him completely the other way, to prevent Alex Iwobi beating him at his near post. The second one was out of the very top drawer.
The goal Arsenal had been threatening came on 57 minutes when Sanchez got to the byline, stood up a cross and Iwobi converted at the far post. Game on. Now we were going to see what this Watford team were made of.
In an attempt to stem the tide, Mazzarri brought on Abdoulaye Doucoure for Behrami but Arsene Wenger responded by upping the ante and swapping Coquelin for the more attack-minded Perez. It was going to now be all hands to the pump for the visitors.
Isaac Success made his first appearance this year when he came on for Niang while in another attacking move, Mazzarri brought on Stefano Okaka for Deeney, determined to show his team still wanted to cause problems at the other end and that they weren’t here to park the bus.
It worked a treat and as the players and the coaching staff, including the head coach, celebrated in front of the magnificent away fans at full-time, this felt very much like a watershed victory.