A welcome victory for the Gunners, with some impressive performances by Cech, Mustafi, Holding, Xhaka and Aubameyang but poor performances by Elneny, Mykhitaryan, Ozil and Iwobi.
While Arsenal setup in a notional 4-2-3-1 formation prematch, they appeared to adopt more of a 4-2-4 formation in game.
Arsenal were able to dominate possession (60% to Watford’s 40%), but unlike in Arsenal’s recently loss to Brighton, Watford were far more willing to commit players in attack, rather than employ a deep defensive block and counterattack. This stretched the game vertically and provided Arsenal’s attacking midfielders and Aubameyang with the space and time needed to attempt more lower risk through passes and make runs in behind Watford’s defence. It was a tactically naive approach from Watford but very much welcomed by the out of form Gunners.
In terms of individual performances:
It was a strong performance from Cech who made 4 saves for the match, including 1 from a penalty taken by Deeney. The experienced keeper also did well when called upon to deal with Watford’s 24 crosses for the match.
RWB: Maitland Niles
It was mixed defensive performance from Maitland Niles, who was proactive and aggressive with his tackling (3 tackles) but struggled with his defensive positioning (0 interception). That said, he did enough defensively to effectively shut down his opponent, Pereyra (1 off target shot, 2 forward dribbles, 1 accurate cross from his 2 attempts and 0 attempted through passes). Offensively, it was also a mixed performance from the young Englishman, who made 2 successful forward dribbles but failed to attempt a cross. While his performance wasn’t prefect, and the penalty he conceded demonstrated his inexperience playing at right fullback, Maitland Niles demonstrated enough in terms of key performance indicators to justify his continued selection in the position ahead of Bellerin.
It was a very strong defensive performance from Mustafi (4 tackles, 7 clearances and 6 successful aerial duels). While his aggressiveness compromised his defensive positioning at times (0 interceptions), which allowed his opponent Richarlison to attempt 4 shots, 2 of which forced Cech into action, his proactive ball recovery skills, no non sense approach to defending and aerial strength can’t be questioned.
It was a strong defensive performance from Holding (3 interceptions, 7 clearances and 4 successful aerial duels). While the lack of aggressiveness in Holding’s defensive approach (1 tackle) gave his opponent Deeney some shooting opportunities (2 shots, 1 of which was on target) and he lost the aerial battle with the Watford striker (4 successful duels to Deeney’s 7), Holding was largely able to keep the experienced forward at bay. All in all
an impressive performance.
It was a quiet day defensively for Kolasinac (2 tackles and 0 interception), as his opponent, Femenia, struggled to influence the game in an attacking sense (1 off target shot, 1 successful forward dribble and 1 accurate cross from 2 attempts). That said, some more intelligence in Kolasinac’s defensive positioning would have eliminated any threat posed by Femenia. Offensively, it was a poor showing by the Serb, with no forward dribbles and just 2 inaccurate crosses. His historical performances indicate that Kolasinac is capable of much more particularly defensively. He needs to show that now for Arsenal on a consistent basis.
It was an underwhelming performance from Elneny, who was solid in his tackling (2 tackles for the match) and passed with excellent accuracy (92%) but his defensive positioning was poor (0 interceptions) and he failed to efficiently and directly transition the ball from defence to attack, whether it be via a dribble (0 successful forward dribbles) or accurate long pass (1 accurate long pass for the match). Elneny has demonstrated consistently that he hides in matches and fails to meaningfully contribute either defensively or offensively. His continue selection in central midfield ahead of youngsters such as Willock, Da Silva and Sheaf is one of many perplexing team selection decisions by Wenger.
It was a fantastic all round performance by Xhaka, who expertly screened Holding and Kolasinac (4 tackles and 2 interceptions) and was highly effective and productive at directly transitioning the ball from defence to attack (5 accurate long passes out of 6 attempts). His passing accuracy (90%) was also excellent. While Xhaka’s immobility restricts his ability to regularly execute success forward dribbles, which was again the case versus Watford, it was as complete of a performance as can be expected from Xhaka who has significantly improved defensively during the second half of the season. Arsenal’s man of the match for me.
Despite recording a goal and assist, it was an poor performance from Mykhitaryan (1 shot, no successful forward dribbles, a paltry 71% passing accuracy and 1 successful through pass from 1 attempt). It was a far cry from his excellent performance versus Milan and his overall offensive production needs to improve.
It was a mixed performance by Ozil who impressed with his willingness to dribble at the Watford defence (3 successful forward dribbles), notched another assist from
a set piece delivery and passed accurately (81%). That said, Ozil again failed to consistently offer a goal scoring threat (1 shot for the match) and while he executed a nice through pass for Aubameyang early in the match, that was his only attempted through pass for the game. More offensive output is required by the German.
It was a poor performance by Iwobi who, despite show some creativity with his passing (2 attempted but inaccurate through passes), passed the ball with inaccuracy throughout the match, only executed 1 forward dribble and had 1 off target shot.
A very strong attacking performance from Aubameyang who, given Watford’s attacking intent, was given space behind their defence in which he could make off the ball runs into. While he only scored 1 goal for the match, he showed his willingness with 4 shots in total, 2 of which were on target.
A great outcome for Arsenal, even though it wasn’t a good attacking performance. Arsenal’s ongoing struggle to find a central midfielder who can partner Xhaka and consistently defend as well as directly transition the ball from defence to attack continues. Xhaka’s performance in that regard has significantly improved, though none of Elneny, Wilshere or Ramsey have been able to consistently deliver the required performance standard. While strong individual performances from Mustafi, Holding and Xhaka were able to mask Elneny’s poor defensive play, the Egyptian’s overly complicated transitional play, combined with a lack of directness from Arsenal’s attacking midfield cohort, limited Arsenal’s potential goal scoring opportunity versus the Hornets. That said, like the AC Milan victory the week prior, a win is a win and hopefully Arsenal can produce a much more complete performance in the mid week return fixture versus the Italians.