Arsenal were handed a shock on Tuesday as they succumbed to a defeat against Watford at the Emirates Stadium.
Former Spurs defender Younes Kabul did them a favour by opening the scoring for Watford, courtesy of a deflected free kick. Three minutes later, striker Troy Deeney doubled the Hornets’ advantage. Alex Iwobi’s 58th minute strike proved to be a consolation as Watford held on to pick up three points.
Here are the talking points from the game:
Arsenal pay the price for a slow start
The Gunners have been slow starters this season and were brought crashing down to earth as Watford scored two early goals to stun the crowd at the Emirates Stadium. Kaboul and Deeney found the back of the net in the first 13 minutes and Watford were on course to pick up their first win at the Emirates.
While there was a shade of bad fortune to concede from a deflected free kick, Arsenal had only themselves to blame for the second goal. They conceded the ball in a key area on the pitch, and Watford capitalised through some industry from Etienne Capoue after which Deeney calmly netted the ball to double his side’s lead.
Watford overcome Emirates hoodoo to stun the Gunners
Watford went into this fixture as clear underdogs and nobody expected them to come out of the game with anything more than a defeat. Arsenal had been unbeaten at home since the opening weekend, and were looking to put the mid-table club in their place.
1 – This is the first time ever that Watford have led Arsenal in a Premier League game. Surprise.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 31, 2017
However, to the contrary, Watford started as the stronger of the two and deservedly went two goals to the good early on. Arsenal began to claw their way back into the game, but some backs-to-the-wall job by Walter Mazzarri’s team proved to do the trick for them. They moved into 13th place with the win – one point adrift of a top half berth.
Midfield problems continue for Arsenal
Santi Cazorla, who had been pivotal in the Gunners’ phenomenal run of form, suffered a gruesome injury in October which ruled him out for several weeks. Expected to be back earlier, the Spain international is still battling his way back to full fitness.
Summer signing Granit Xhaka has been disappointing, to say the least, as he has brought the physical nature of his game to the Premier League. Due to his brash and aggressive temperament on the field, he has already been sent off on two occasions, and is understood to have lost the faith of Arsene Wenger.
Mohamed Elneny missed the Watford game due to international commitments and Aaron Ramsey partnered Francis Coquelin at the heart of midfield. To the disappointment of the Arsenal fans, Ramsey was withdrawn after 19 minutes due to a hamstring injury.
Winger Alex Oxlade Chamberlain replaced the Welshman and played in an unfamiliar central midfield position. It remains to be seen how Wenger manages to deal with this situation when his side face Chelsea over the weekend.
Mustafi handed first defeat at his new club
Shkodran Mustafi joined Arsenal at the start of the season and had an infallible record for the Gunners in the games he featured in. Prior to the Watford game, Mustafi was unbeaten in all of his 22 starts for the Gunners, but saw his run come to an end.
Despite having a great understanding with Laurent Koscielny at the heart of defence, the duo could not cope with the Watford threat in the initial stages and it eventually cost them the game. The entire team will now be hoping to step up in the game against Chelsea.
Does defeat against Watford spell the beginning of the end of Arsenal’s title aspirations?
Arsenal, yet again, failed to narrow the gap on leaders Chelsea and now find themselves nine points adrift of their London rivals. Still plenty of time left in the season, Gunners’ title aspirations are diminishing with every passing week and could be put to the sword should they lose their must-win encounter on the weekend.
Wenger is unlikely to play down title aspirations, but he knows that results like these will only make the job that much harder to accomplish. However, by the looks of things, they may be in for another top four scramble rather than challenging for the crown.