Arsenal turn tables on Watford to stay in title hunt
Arsenal kept their slender Premier League title hopes alive with a 4-0 victory over Watford at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday that exacted some revenge for their FA Cup defeat by Quique Sanchez Flores’s side last month.
Alexis Sanchez’s fourth-minute goal set the tone for a one-sided win that was completed by Alex Iwobi’s 38th-minute effort, Hector Bellerin’s strike early in the second half and Theo Walcott’s last minute tap-in.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had insisted before this game his side, currently in third place, could yet win the title if they won their remaining eight games.
And this victory moved them to within eight points of leaders Leicester City, 24 hours before Claudio Ranieri’s side face Southampton.
Veteran French boss Wenger had admonished Mesut Ozil earlier this week after the Germany international claimed Arsenal had “screwed up” their title challenge.
Having been clear favourites at the turn of the year, it was hard to disagree with Gunners playmaker Ozil’s contention but Wenger insisted this was no time for any of his players to allow their belief to weaken.
He knew better than anyone though that the only way to strengthen the view that Arsenal might yet challenge for the championship would be to build on their impressive victory at Everton last time out.
That win, coming in the wake of the Champions League exit at Barcelona and the FA Cup defeat by Watford, prompted as much frustration.
Nevertheless, the victory appeared to have lifted the squad and having named an unchanged line-up, Wenger saw his side make the ideal start against Watford.
– Brief reprieve –
With Sanchez starting on the right, Arsenal immediately threatened to open up the visitors with the Chile international delivering a teasing cross that would have presented Danny Welbeck with a routine chance to open the scoring but for a late intervention by Craig Cathcart.
Watford’s reprieve was brief, however. Moments later Iwobi picked out Sanchez and the winger rose above left-back Nathan Ake to head goalwards, finishing at the second attempt after Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes blocked the initial effort.
Watford looked like a team with little to play for and who had one eye on the upcoming FA Cup semi-final with Crystal Palace.
Having proved formidable opponents in last month’s cup tie at the Emirates, the Hornets were unable to halt the Gunners’ relentless attacking moves that should have seen Arsenal out of sight by half time.
Iwobi drew a fine save from Gomes with a curling shot moments before Welbeck’s effort was deflected wide after the striker was teed up by Ozil.
Arsenal’s second goal finally came in the 38th minute with Sanchez this time playing the role of provider, pulling a low cross back towards the penalty spot where Iwobi connected with a first time effort that beat Gomes.
Flores had seen enough and withdrew the ineffective Etienne Capoue after just 41 minutes, sending the midfielder straight down the tunnel and back to the dressing room.
The Watford manager made a further change half-time, replacing Odion Ighalo with Ikechi Anya.
Flores’s switches had little effect and three minutes after the restart Arsenal scored their third goal.
Sanchez was again involved, exchanging passes with Bellerin before delivering a cross that was cleared by Allan Nyom. The ball fell to Bellerin whose left-foot shot deflected off Sebastian Prodl past Gomes.
The game was effectively over and Arsenal understandably eased up, allowing Watford to fashion their first meaningful effort on target when Prodl’s header was cleared off the line by Nacho Monreal.
But Arsenal remained in control and rounded things off when Walcott turned home Joel Campbell’s cross.
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