Watford’s five year stay in the Premier League came to an end on Sunday as Arsenal’s 3-2 win, coupled with Aston Villa’s draw with West Ham, condemned them to relegation from the top tier.
The home side got their noses in front five minutes in, as VAR ruled Alexandre Lacazette to be fouled in the box and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang converted the resulting penalty. Against the run of play Arsenal went two goals up, as Kieran Tierney’s tame effort deflected on its way past Ben Foster.
A third followed not long after, Aubameyang having all the time in the world to control Tierney’s throw in and acrobatically fire into the back of the net. Troy Deeney reduced the deficit just before half time with a penalty of his own, after David Luiz had fouled Danny Welbeck. It was all-action.
Watford continued to press in the second half, with Welbeck sneaking in front of a sleeping Luiz to stab home and give the visitors hope. Hayden Mullins’ side continued to press for a late equaliser, but for all their efforts they fell just short and slipped back into the second tier for the first time since 2015.
Key Talking Point
It’s all about Saturday. This game could have finished 4-0 for either team and that wouldn’t have changed anything. Arsenal’s league finish is as it is. Whether that’s tenth or eighth is irrelevant. That FA Cup final is everything.
Victory puts them back into Europe and adds another trophy into the cabinet. Not beating Chelsea will be so detrimental to their plans for the summer and next season. It’s do-or-die.
Of course they want to go into that clash as confident as possible, so any positive result on Sunday could only work in their favour. In an attacking sense they’ll have gained a bit of that from their display, but defensively it’s still as wobbly as ever as they looked uneasy throughout the afternoon at the Emirates.
Starting XI: Martinez (8); Maintland-Niles (6), Holding (5), Luiz (4), Tierney (8); Willock (6), Ceballos (7), Xhaka (7); Pepe (6), Lacazette (6), Aubameyang (8*)
Substitutes: Nketiah (6), Kolasinac (5), Torreira (6), Nelson (5)
The scoreline flattered Arsenal against Watford, but it was a case of taking their chances when they came, something Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is rather good at.
A calm penalty and an improved finish did the trick this time, giving Arsenal another timely reminder that they must move heaven and earth to tie him down.
Key Talking Point
Oh Watford, when will they learn? The hiring and firing culture at the club has been prevalent for far too long, and as seen with their recent seasons, hasn’t worked.
Opting to be rid of Nigel Pearson with two crucial matches left of the season feels wholly unjust on Hayden Mullins, who was faced with the prospect of taking on Manchester City and Arsenal in his two matches at the helm. That is not a fair ask of a rookie manager. Stability is imperative in football and the only thing stable with the Hornets are the Vicarage Road stands at the minute.
It was a valiant display against the Gunners, one where defensive errors cost them dearly, but to provide the squad and staff with the best possible opportunity to succeed then they must sort out the mess of a recruitment process. Their relegation is confirmed, and they’ve only got themselves to blame.
Starting XI: Foster (7); Femenia (5), Kabasele (6), Dawson (5), Masina (6); Doucoure (7), Hughes (8*), Sarr (7), Pereyra (7), Welbeck (7); Deeney (8)
Substitutes: Mariappa (6), Chalobah (6), Cleverley (6), Pedro (N/A)
Will Hughes is a player who doesn’t deserve to be relegated from the Premier League. He’s classy on the ball, gutsy in the challenge and doesn’t shy away from responsibility.
Watford’s season is over but Arsenal have a trip to Wembley up next as they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final on 1 August.