Arsenal smashed three goals past Watford on Saturday to coast at Vicarage Road and move back into second place in the Premier League. The 3-0 win left them ahead of Manchester United on goal difference while tied on points, as Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey all got on the board. As unlikely as it might seem, Arsenal’s title chase remains on.
This was a deserved Arsenal win in the end even if there were times at the outset that the game looked as if it might end up in a deadlock. Watford, playing a muscular style but let down again by their inability to convert their chances, might have deserved a point for their organization and mettle. But after Alexis found the back of the net just past the hour mark, the Hornets crumbled, and Arsenal were free to play with the kind of abandon familiar to their fans.
Alexis broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute, collecting a loose ball to score with the whistle in ref Mike Jones’ lips. Mesut Ozil had stormed into the penalty area, only to be upended by Nathan Ake for a clear penalty. But before Jones could award it, the ball was in the back of the net, as Ozil’s tumble carried the ball out to Sanchez at the near post, and he blew it through Heurelho Gomes.
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Giroud, coming off the bench after scoring two goals for France during the break, took only a matter of moments to make an impact just after that, roofing the ball from close range after a neat cutback from Ozil five minutes later.
Ramsey then finally broke a long scoring drought, collecting a neat pass from Hector Bellerin and putting his shot into the back of the net off the unfortunate Ikechi Anya in the 75th minute. It was Ramsey’s first goal since last May, and it brought with it a note of redemption for the Welshman, who had spurned several good chances in the game.
The scoreline does not accurately reflect how tight the game was for an hour. Despite the gap between these teams in the table, this was not an entirely easy win for Arsenal. Watford, with Troy Deeney and Odion Igalho running wild atop an old-school 4-4-2, looked a tough, physical side capable of causing damage. But for all their hustle, they only showed occasional flashes of invention and kept up a long streak of failing to find the net at home.
Still, it worked for a half, as Theo Walcott was effectively starved for service by the Hornets, reduced only to minor activity at the fringes after a good shot on goal in the 3rd minute. Alexis uncorked a stinging shot minutes later that Gomes was forced to tip over, and it looked for a time as if Watford would be overwhelmed.
Instead, Deeney hauled his side back into the game, forcing Petr Cech to make a fine save in the 11th minute, then seeing Laurent Koscielny cut out a dangerous pass for Ighalo in the 18th minute.
And with Arsenal only looking potent in spurts, the game began to resemble a match better suited to Wimbledon than Vicarage Road. Ramsey had a fine chance in the 28th minute off service from Ozil that he somehow clipped the top of the bar with instead of scoring.
After the break, Watford’s exertions began to show, and Arsenal kept up steady pressure. With Ramsey making hay down the right flank to pull Ake out of position, Ozil was able to exploit the space and start cutting inside. Watford’s attempts to target Nacho Monreal using Etienne Capoue were nowhere near as successful, though there were a couple awkward moments that forced Per Mertesacker into a clean-up job.
Arsenal now must look to their Tuesday meeting with an opponent of an altogether different caliber: Bayern Munich. There, Arsenal’s European campaign is on the line after a miserable start in the group stage. Life doesn’t get any easier for Watford, either. Sitting in 14th, with three teams between them and the drop zone, the Hornets must now face surprise packages West Ham and Leicester – and then Manchester United after a tricky trip to struggling Stoke City.