Full-strength Arsenal eventually blow away profligate Watford
WATFORD, England -- Three quick thoughts from Arsenal's 3-0 win over Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
1. Arsenal recover to blow away Watford
The scoreline was cruel on Watford, especially considering their brave endeavours of the first 60 minutes, but Arsenal escaped Vicarage Road with three points that were devastatingly, expertly snapped up.
Luck was ridden out, both in terms of some debatable decisions from referee Mike Jones and Watford's incapability in hitting the target, but goals from Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey were brutal confirmation of a vast gulf in class. Sanchez slashed in the 62nd-minute opener after a high-speed counterattack put Mesut Ozil through, only for Nathan Ake to foul, before the Chilean made a penalty award unnecessary with his first-time finish.
After that, Watford lost heart and organisation, and Arsenal strutted to victory.
Giroud's strike from 10 yards was of a finishing quality way beyond Watford all afternoon, and Ramsey's close-range tap-in owed much to Hector Bellerin's exemplary overlap from full-back. In 12 minutes, the game was snatched from Watford, and Arsenal could move into second place in the Premier League, ahead of Manchester United on goal difference, and two points behind Manchester City.
That position might not have been achievable had Gunners goalkeeper Petr Cech been dismissed for an outside-the-box clash with Troy Deeney just ahead of half-time. Cech seemed to both high-tackle the striker and then commit a handball offence after the ball subsequently bounced up. With home fans howling, Arsenal's goalkeeper told the nearby linesman that it was his chest that touched the ball, but replays suggested something rather different. A loss of communication with defender Per Mertesacker could have resulted in big trouble for Arsenal, but they survived their scare.
Instead, Sanchez proved to be the match-winner, with tiredness no impediment. Having played in two South American World Cup qualifiers for Chile in the past nine days, and carrying a slight groin problem, he buzzed with his usual intent from his left-wing starting position although not quite with the devastation of his performance against Manchester United a fortnight ago.
Until that opener, Watford had created plenty of chances against an Arsenal defence that struggled with Deeney in particular, but Hertfordshire hopes of an historic upset faded as soon as the ball fell to Arsenal's talisman to score.
2. Full-strength Gunners eventually prevail
Arsene Wenger's selection suggested belief that the Premier League title is within Arsenal's reach. Even with Bayern Munich lying in wait on Tuesday, as Arsenal try to rescue a so-far disastrous Champions League campaign, this was a full-bore first XI. Of all the contenders this season, Wenger's first-choice is easiest to select of any, now that Theo Walcott has brushed off Olivier Giroud to be the central striker, even if the Frenchman might have found it easier against a Watford defence that Walcott struggled physically with.
Jose Mourinho drops Chelsea stars like Eden Hazard to the bench, Louis van Gaal struggles with the Ander Herrera riddle at Manchester United while Manuel Pellegrini tries to assimilate the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne at Manchester City. Wenger, though, knows his best team, even if that owes something to his refusal to enter the summer transfer market beyond adding Cech.
Beating United 3-0 had a galvanising effect on Gunners spirits but the international break, and a difficult opponent in Watford, could have halted momentum. But now an indifferent start to the season no longer looks so bad when rivals have suffered worse problems.
However, even though Wenger knows his best team, it took them a while to show they could deal with this tough away day against a determined and high-spirited opponent.
When Arsenal are playing well, the midfielder partnership of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla is a finely balanced one. At Vicarage Road, with Watford powerful through the centre and Ozil peripheral until his part in Sanchez's goal, perhaps a little more physical strength might have been beneficial.
Wenger, though, stayed typically stubborn, sticking to his guns, and was duly rewarded.
3. Watford need goals to survive
The catastrophes being suffered at Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa, and the injury crisis that has ravaged Bournemouth may yet save Watford. This is the club's third season in the Premier League and their previous two -- 1999-2000 and 2006-07 -- saw them sink without trace.
This year's "Golden Boys," to use the name bestowed by the locals, have rather more hope, thanks to the smart scouting network of the Pozzo family, who own the club as well as Serie A's Udinese and La Liga's Granada. Quique Sanchez Flores, meanwhile, when at Valencia and Atletico Madrid, was once seen as a bright young thing of Spanish coaching.
Safety, though is going to take some hard yards being run, and far better conversion of chances. Against opposition like Arsenal, scraps must be devoured, and while they often pressed their near-neighbours from the front, especially in a highly industrious period around the 20-minute mark, they needed to make better of efforts like Troy Deeney's early pot-shot, easily stopped by Cech.
During that period, Deeney, the bulky and enthusiastic captain, excelled as a focal point at central striker, but was guilty of wasting Ikechi Anya's scything run, and also a chance to play in Odion Ighalo clean through on Cech.
Etienne Capoue -- not even booed by Arsenal fans, so anemic was his contribution at Tottenham -- looked a different player than on view at White Hart Lane, as a strolling and skillful box-to-box midfielder and made life tough for Ozil in the centre. Allan Nyom, meanwhile, rampaged down the right flank from full-back.
TV replays suggested a possible penalty when Ighalo, at full pelt, looked to make a mess of a shot, when in fact he may have been baulked by Nacho Monreal. Regardless, with just two goals scored at home all season, it is clear that shooting practice must be a high priority for Flores.
Had Watford been able to hit the target, then Arsenal might have been in real trouble.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.