Our run of good results continued yesterday with a 1-0 win over Watford, the goal coming in the second half from Emile Smith Rowe. It was the third successive Premier League game he’s scored in, putting him in a category with Cesc Fabregas, Jose Antonio Reyes, and Nicolas Anelka as Arsenal players under the age of 21 to have done that.
When he was given the number 10 shirt this summer, when he asked for the number 10 shirt this summer, he knew there was a responsibility that came with it. Talent is one thing, but you need end product. He has five goals in all competitions now, our second highest scorer behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and he is delivering – yesterday a match winning contribution. His progress is fun to watch, this is a young Academy player blossoming before our eyes and it’s very satisfying to see.
I thought this was an interesting game, one that Mikel Arteta can take plenty from as he looks back on it with more precision. Without Thomas Partey, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was given the nod in midfield, and did well. There was a focus about his performance which was good to see, he worked hard alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga, although the rawness of both those players in central midfield left us a little short of something in our overall performance. Which isn’t a criticism of either, AMN was my MOTM (and drew praise from the manager afterwards), just an observation.
In truth, this should have been far more comfortable. When Bukayo Saka had the ball in the back of the net early on, he was rightly flagged offside – although the presence of the goalkeeper ahead of the ball was confusing for some people. However, the chance only came to him because Aubameyang took a terrible touch and the captain should have been on the scoresheet instead.
It wasn’t a good day for him at all. When Danny Rose did a flying chop on Alexandre Lacazette in the box, the referee eventually pointed to the spot. Having missed but scored the rebound against Villa a couple of weeks ago, the captain went for power rather than placement, and Foster made an excellent save. He didn’t look confident over the penalty, and the miss was no surprise. Speaking of Danny Rose though, how did he manage to escape a booking for the assault on Lacazette, and some other fouls which were far more obviously yellow cards than some of the ones the referee gave to players on both sides? Inconsistency from game to game and ref to ref is one thing, but if an official can’t even be consistent during 90 minutes, there’s something wrong.
In the second half, after Martin Odegaard had replaced Lacazette, the Norwegian thought he’d made it 2-0, but Aubameyang, who must have known he was offside, got the faintest touch on the ball and the goal was disallowed. Perhaps he was desperate to make up for what happened earlier, but a player of his experience should have known better. All in all, a bad day at the office for the captain, and ordinarily, this game would have been far more secure.
As for our goal, and the complaints that Watford had about not giving the ball back, I’m not going to be a hypocrite about this. I’m sure if it had happened the other way around, I’d be a little annoyed by it, but it didn’t, so I’m not. When I say that this is a game that Arteta can learn plenty from, one of the things I hope he reiterates to his players is that in a similar situation, play on. Do not put the ball out. Let the referee make the decision as to whether a player is sufficiently injured to warrant stopping the game so he can get treatment.
Yesterday, Tufan was not injured, he just got tackled. Rose probably fancied a breather and so we played on. To be honest, I thought the Maitland-Niles collision with Sissoko was much more likely to be the reason for the complaints, I didn’t even realise at the time that there was anything that contentious in the build-up. Anyway, considering Watford’s very deliberate physical approach to the game (19 fouls to our 6), for them to start crying about a player pretending to be injured is a bit much.
We’ve long been considered a team that is ‘too nice’ at times, and while Arteta’s post-match ‘sorry if you were upset’ apology was likely for the cameras as much as anything, I was glad to see him defend his players first, and then dismiss the complaints from Claudio Ranieri with the brusqueness they deserved.
Watford didn’t present much in the way of attacking threat, and I think it’d be right this morning to give credit to our back four for their part in that. The centre-half partnership continues to develop nicely, and I thought Takehiro Tomiyasu had a fantastic defensive performance, winning everything that came his way, regardless of who they put out there to try and cause problems. Nuno Tavares was solid again, and while Aaron Ramsdale had a moment late on, he was generally calm and assured when he was called upon.
1-0 is a precarious scoreline though, and when I talked about this game being one Arteta should take lessons from, it’s how we manage situations like this. Of course there’s a tendency to sit off and protect the lead, but I felt like we ceded too much possession and territory to them. We continue to have periods in games where the ball just won’t stick with us at all, and against better opposition that will prove much more problematic. It’s an ongoing issue, beyond the usual ebb and flow of a football game, so over the course of the Interlull, I hope it’s something the manager and his staff take some time to consider.
However, the good thing is that they can do that off the back of another win, off a clean sheet (the first we’ve kept at home in the league since the Norwich game in mid-September), and three points which continue the good run we’ve been on. Since the opening three games, it’s 20 points from 24, we’re unbeaten and the momentum is building nicely. I think we’d prefer if we could just keep going rather than face the disruption of an international break, but if there’s a good point to stop and take stock, perhaps this is it.
All in all, a good day for this young side, and Arteta marking his 100th game with a classic 1-0 to the Arsenal feels almost apt.