Bukayo Saka scored one goal and set up another as Arsenal moved up to fourth in the Premier League table with a thrilling 3-2 win over Watford at Vicarage Road.
Martin Odegaard opened the scoring with the first of three beautifully-worked Arsenal goals when he slid a low finish past Ben Foster after exchanging passes with Saka in the early stages (5).
Watford responded well, with Cucho Hernandez netting the pick of the afternoon’s goals when he slammed home a stunning overhead kick from Kiko Femenia’s right-wing cross (11).
But the Gunners seized control of the game, and the top-four race, when the outstanding Saka won possession high up the pitch and found Alexandre Lacazette, who backheeled the ball back into his path, allowing him to lift a powerful finish high into the net from just inside the Watford box (30).
Arsenal extended their lead shortly after half-time when Gabriel Martinelli rifled home from outside the box following a classy move involving Cedric Soares, Odegaard and Lacazette (52) after manager Mikel Arteta had quickly retrieved the ball for a throw-in.
But Watford continued to threaten, and after substitute Eddie Nketiah had hit the post for Arsenal, Moussa Sissoko pulled a goal back (87) with an angled finish to set up a nervy finale for the travelling fans.
Watford: Foster (6), Femenia (7), Cathcart (6), Samir (6), Kamara (7), Cleverley (6), Louza (7), Sissoko (7), Cucho Hernandez (8), Dennis (6), Joao Pedro (7).
Subs: .Kayembe (6), Kalu (6).
Arsenal: Ramsdale (6), Cedric Soares (6), White (6), Gabriel (6), Tierney (6), Partey (7), Xhaka (6), Saka (9), Odegaard (8), Martinelli (8), Lacazette (7).
Subs: Pepe (6), Nketiah (6), Holding (6)
Man of the match: Bukayo Saka
The Gunners survived five minutes of stoppage time, however, to claim their eighth Premier League victory in their last 10 games, moving them into the Champions League places at the expense of Manchester United.
Watford will feel they could have taken something from the game, if only they shown more cutting edge in front of goal.
Emmanuel Dennis had the ball in the net after 17 seconds, only to be flagged offside, but the Nigerian missed their best chances after that, seeing one low effort scrambled away by Aaron Ramsdale and later missing a glorious opportunity when he failed to connect properly with a low cross at the far post.
The Hornets also felt they should have had a penalty soon after Arsenal’s third, when Joao Pedro went to ground under pressure from Odegaard, who was in otherwise dazzling form, but in the end they didn’t do enough to salvage anything from the game, despite Sissoko’s late strike.
Their performance was spirited but the defeat is their fourth in seven Premier League games since Roy Hodgson’s appointment and leaves them in 19th place, intensifying their relegation fears.
Arteta on his ‘assist’: I saw an advantage and I took it
Asked about his role in Arsenal’s third goal, Mikel Arteta told Sky Sports: “I saw an advantage and I took it; we have to be alive and that is the way I live the game. I try to instill that in the team as well.”
On moving into the top four, he added: “It is very pleasing. We know how difficult it is to be in this position in this league. We’ve earned it; we have come a long way as a team.”
That despite the flaws in their performance. Arteta said: “We had great attacking moments, but I wasn’t pleased with our organisation.
“We didn’t dominate and play the way we wanted. Credit to Watford, but a lot of it was down to us; we should have done better and there is a lot to improve.”
Hodgson: My players gave everything
Watford boss Roy Hodgson said: “On the whole I thought we did about as well as I could have hoped against a very good team in top form. We worked very hard, and I’ve got no criticism of my players after that.
“We had what would have been a wonderful start with that early goal that was chalked off. I thought we did well to get back into it after they went ahead, and while the players’ efforts to get an equaliser at 2-1 led to their third, we kept going and made it an exciting finish.
“I didn’t think we made them work hard enough for their goals and we paid the price for our mistakes, but we were good value for our goals.
“We had the ball in their penalty area on a lot of occasions, and Arsenal had to defend quite desperately which is a sign that we retained a positive approach throughout.”
‘Outstanding’ Saka earns plaudits
The Sky Sports punditry team were queuing up to praise man-of-the-match Bukayo Saka after the game.
Jamie Redknapp said: “Saka was the outstanding player on show. Everything about his game was class.
He showed great strength for his goal and played a lovely one-two and the finish into the far corner is so hard to stop. It was a brilliant goal. What a player.”
📊 Bukayo Saka (20 years, 182 days) is the youngest player to score 20 goals in all competitions for Arsenal since Cesc Fabregas (20 years, 141 days) in 2007 pic.twitter.com/kxxo1XTUwG
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) March 6, 2022
Roy Keane added: “We’ve mentioned Saka before and he was absolutely outstanding. It was very simple but very effective, the nice and tidy give-and-go with Odegaard for the first goal.
“There was nothing the goalkeeper could do about it. To be fair to Watford, they kept going but they were short of quality. They just concede so many.”
Alan Smith, meanwhile, said: “The best players make the game look easy and Bukayo Saka has done that today. He’s been absolutely superb. What a talent.”
Arsenal’s young guns shine
- Arsenal in 2021-22 (Smith Rowe, Saka, Martinelli) are just the fourth different side to have three different players aged 21 or younger net five or more times in the same campaign after Chelsea (2019-20), Leeds (1998-99) and Man Utd (1995-96).
- With five league goals for Arsenal, this is now Martin Odegaard’s best goal scoring campaign in a top-five league season. Indeed, the Norwegian ended a run of eight consecutive Premier League appearances without a goal.
- Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has been directly involved in more goals than any other under-21 player in the Premier League this season (13 – eight goals, five assists).
Watford travel to Wolves on Thursday in the Premier League (7.30pm) while Arsenal play next Sunday, live on Super Sunday, against Leicester City (4.30pm).