Arsenal Return To Top Four As Deeney Sees Red
Stop the presses. Arsenal have kept a Premier League clean sheet on the road for the first time the season. The Gunners notched a second victory in their last ten away league fixtures in the process. Unfortunately for Arsenal, Much of the feel-good factor surrounding the rare result was tarnished by the circumstances. The 1-0 victory came against a Watford side that played the vast majority of the match down to ten men. Despite the numerical advantage, it was a labored performance from Arsenal that will do little to convince sceptics that their away form has been fixed. However, at this this time of the season – with Champions League qualification on the brink – results, not performances are all that matter.
The result sees Arsenal overtake Chelsea for fourth place on goal differential, with a game in hand. Tottenham’s buffer in third place is merely a solitary point. United occupy sixth, two points behind Arsenal. Three of Arsenal’s remaining five fixtures are away from home. Difficult trips to Wolves and Leicester loom on the horizon. It appears unlikely that Arsenal will be able to overcome their mental block away from home in the final three matches. Instead, the Gunners may need some luck similar to Watford’s red card to finish in the top four.
Watford Fortunes Turn From Bad To Worse After Ten Minutes
Watford keeper Ben Foster is a solid veteran presence who typically provides a calming influence on his side. There are exceptions to every rule though and unluckily for the Hornets they were reminded of this ten minutes into the match. Aubameyang chased what appeared to be a lost cause as the ball was passed back to Foster.Thinking he had more time, the Englishman briefly took his eye off the ball to glance up field.
Suddenly, he noticed the lightning-quick Aubameyang bearing down on him at top speed. Foster panicked and realized the ball had rolled further away from him than anticipated. His belated attempt at a clearance was blocked by Aubameyang and deflected into the net. Minutes earlier, Leno got away with a moment of sloppiness in the Arsenal goal with the ball at his feet. Forster wasn’t so lucky. The strike was the Arsenal hitman’s 18th in the league, leaving him third in the Golden Boot race.
A minute later Watford was down a goal and a man. Arsenal worked the ball to Torreira in the center of the park who released it while being closed down by Watford striker Troy Deeney. As their paths crossed, Deeney struck Torriera with a late forearm to the face. The height disparity between the two players exacerbated the situation by putting Torriera’s face in harm’s way.
The referee spotted what most in the stadium had missed. He called back play and raised a red card, much to the confusion and dismay of the crowd. The volatile Deeney took the news about as well as could be expected and caused a scene leaving the field. It was certainly a soft red, but ultimately an unnecessary moment of madness from Deeney who had to have felt like he wouldn’t be caught.
Deeney’s Villainous Status Amongst Arsenal Fans Continues To Grow
Arsenal fans were thrilled to see Deeney sent off, as it provided them with significant ammunition to banter the striker with. The two sides have been entangled in a long-rnning, contentious battle over several years. The drama can be traced back to a 2016 FA Cup quarter final. The Gunners were back-to-back defending champions but fell 2-1 to underdogs Watford led by Deeney, whose celebrations were robust.
A year later the conflict became renowned in footballing lore. After another 2-1 Watford victory decided by a Deeney penalty kick, the striker couldn’t help himself. In an interview, Deeney claimed Arsenal lacked the testicular fortitude or “cojones” to compete with Watford. He even went as far as to say he would be overly physical with Arsenal players at the start of matches to see if they were up for the challenge.
Later that season, Arsenal beat Watford at the Emirates. During the match, Watford were awarded another penalty kick which Deeney took. The Arsenal crowd let Deeeny hear it as he waited to shoot. Ultimately, Petr Cech surpisingly saved the shot in what was his first penalty save for Arsenal. The jokes from Gooners claiming Watford should have chosen a shooter with bigger cojones began immediately.
The saga added another chapter on Monday. In his encounter with Torriera, Deeney appeared to be doing exactly what he detailed years early. He attempted to set the tone for the match by being excessively physical with Arsenal, a side not known for their strength. Arsenal fans disdain for Deeney only got worse when he put his elbow in the face of the beloved Torreira. Perhaps it is a sign of progress under the new manager that Arsenal were able to withstand the physical challenge from Deeney this time around.
Valiant Effort From Shorthanded Watford
It would have been easy for Watford to collapse having to play 80 minutes down a man. Instead, they did the opposite. The hosts still managed 11 shots in the match and nearly were rewarded with an equalizer. Their best chance came in the 60th minute when Masina struck a frozen rope from 30 yards out that crashed into the crossbar. The effort would have been one of the goals of the season had it been a few inches lower.
Watford presently sit in tenth place, but still have the chance to finish in seventh. Finishing as “the best of the rest” outside England’s big six would be a massive achievement. The club could make an even bigger impression in May, as they have reached the FA Cup final. Manchester City stand in their way in what is truly a David against Goliath encounter. Watford can take a lot of lessons from this match into the cup final. They will again have to endure large periods without possession against city. If they can play like they did against Arsenal but keep all of their players on the pitch, a massive upset is not impossible.
Photo credit to Arsenal via Twitter