Costel Pantilimon 8.5
He would be No 1 at most other Premier League clubs. He’s that good. Pantilimon recovered from finding out ten minutes before kick-off he was actually playing (we’ll come to that in a later article) and produced a remarkably commanding performance given he had little time to mentally prepare. David James, the former England and Watford goalkeeper, was purring on the sidelines at the one-handed reflex save he pulled off just after the hour to deny Olivier Giroud. Was off his line alertly and swiftly to cut out a Mesut Ozil pass bound for the flying Theo Walcott and did exactly what an under-the-cosh back four want when he came off his line to confidently claim a punt into the box, this time from Francis Coquelin, right at the death. Was Gomes-esque with one goal kick that went straight out but he was a reassuring presence throughout between the sticks.
Allan Nyom 8
His best performance since the the first month of the season. You are always going to get a couple of heart-stopping moments from the leggy, erratic Cameroon international but he kept those to a minimum at the Emirates. He stuck diligently and doggedly to his task and largely kept Alexis Sanchez quiet, which is no mean feat. He got forward a couple of times, composed himself and concentrated on picking out Troy Deeney at the far post following one first-half raid that resulted in Odion Ighalo hooking over. Cut out at least two first-half Calum Chambers crosses at the far post and tracked the overlapping runs of Kieran Gibbs.
Sebastian Prodl 8
The sight of him flat out on his back, after going head to head with his big mate Per Mertesacker, typified the commitment he played with. Immaculately timed the interception of two threaded second-half passes to Walcott, breaking the defensive line to go off his feet and clear the danger. Rattled Giroud throughout and he can take it as a moral victory that the preening Frenchman was substituted on 68 minutes. The Austrian looked as composed as he has done all season on the ball, perhaps because he was playing alongside Craig Cathcart, with whom he built up such a fine rapport in the first three months of the season.
Craig Cathcart 9
Imperious. He’s better than any centre-half Manchester United have got, including Chris Smalling, and how they must be ruing letting one of their own go. His was a remarkable exhibition of centre-half play given he had trained once all week. He threw himself in front of every cross and shot, his best moment coming when he got the faintest of touches to a cross from Chambers that was bound for the waiting Giroud. Most centre-halves would have given that up. Not Cathcart, not when he was in this thou-shalt-not-pass mood. Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland manager, must rate Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans very highly if he picks them both ahead of Cathcart. He was the best defender on the field at the Emirates – and possibly the best player. Showed nerves of steel early on to nod a hospital clearance from Pantilimon back to the Romanian.
Nathan Ake 8.5
No wonder Chelsea want him back in the summer. The Holland Under-21 international looks to have a long and illustrious career ahead of him at Stamford Bridge and at international level if he continues to rise to the big occasion like he did here. He got forward with relish, teeing up Ighalo who should really have made it two, while the excellence of his defending was summed up by the way he matched Sanchez for pace and strength all the way to the byline to deflect a cross at source and deflect the ball for a corner. His boot came off at one point but that was the only time he saw a clean pair of heels. Top class.
Adlene Guedioura 8
Let’s start with the goal. Wow. Just wow. Where on earth did that come from? He wasn’t even in the picture when Deeney laid it back to him but he steamed onto it and lashed it into the top corner with a bit of swerve. David Ospina stood absolutely no chance and the celebration was an outpouring of a season-long frustration. It was his deep cross, following a clever turn to lose Coquelin and then Gibbs, that just eluded Deeney at the far post and led to the throw Watford eventually scored from. He almost picked out Deeney in the first half with a driven cross that Ospina whipped off the captain’s head. Was guilty of being off pace in the first half but that was to be expected since it was his first start since January. The Algerian produced one horrible crossfield pass that went straight to Joel Campbell but, in the grand scheme of things, who cares? It will be his goal we are talking about in years to come – not one misplaced pass.
Ben Watson 8.5
An exhibition in how to play the pivot role Quique Sanchez Flores loves so much. What a find he has been for the Spaniard, who will have known nothing about him the day he arrived. He’s quickly become an integral member of the side, so much so that he’s keeping Mario Suarez on the bench. Pressed quite brilliantly in tandem with Valon Behrami as they hunted as a pack. The way the hero of the 2013 final snapped in decisively on Coquelin, deep in Arsenal’s half, showed you just how high Watford’s pressing game was. Failed to get a 78th-minute corner beyond the near post but, again, who gives a monkey’s?
Valon Behrami 9
He remained unused on the bench against Bournemouth and played like a man possessed and with deep stores of energy here. He was here, there and everywhere as he set the tone of Watford’s pressing game. He did his job so effectively and was such a controlled nuisance that he forced the mild-mannered Ozil to leave one on him in the second half and earn a booking. Job done. In one second-half phase of play he threw himself in front of Chambers on the edge of the box and then nicked the ball off the toes of Coquelin to spark another Watford raid. Snuffed out Sanchez on the edge of the box, threw himself in front of Elneny as he was about to shoot, snapped at anything that moved on the edge of the box and was also involved in a slick one-two with Deeney that sent Ighalo haring clear. An international class performance from an international midfielder.
Etienne Capoue 8
Produced the ball of the match, which is some statement when you consider the class in the opposition’s ranks. You know, the one with the outside of the right foot, hit with a bit of check and swerve, that put Ighalo on goal for Watford’s best chance of the first half. Few players in the world, let alone the league, can spot a pass like that let alone execute it with such precision. The Frenchman was also involved in Watford’s move of the match – the neat triangle involving Deeney, Ake and him down the left – but showed he was not afraid of doing the dirty work with one agricultural second-half clearance when he found himself in the left-back position. Was out on his feet when he was replaced by Ikechi Anya on 73 minutes, a sign of just how hard he worked.
Troy Deeney 9
Was furious with referee Andre Marriner for not awarding a free-kick, let alone brandishing a card, for a potential leg-breaking challenge on him by Gabriel. And rightly so. Pumped up after that, he ran himself to a standstill and it is testament to his levels of fitness that he was still going, still leading by example, with a series of long-busting shuttle runs to prevent Mertesacker and Ospina getting out of trouble with ease. Like at Old Trafford, he showed a deftness of touch with an exquisite middle-of-the-pitch flick to Behrami, and his iron will to win was evident when he kept in a loose ball on the touchline in front of the dugout while Gibbs stood and waited for the whistle. Talk about a captain’s performance, which he topped off by setting up both goals. “Deeney for England,” chanted the away fans.
Odion Ighalo 8
What a relief his goal, his first in seven games, will have been for him. Took the chance brilliantly, rolling Gabriel, who got too tight, and hooking the ball, on the turn, into the far corner. He visibly grew and puffed his chest out thereafter – and rightly so. Watford, as the song goes, always believed in Ighalo. His pace and ability to get in behind frightened the life out of Arsenal. If his decision-making improves, and it was not great when he passed to Deeney for once, instead of having a crack himself in the first half, then he’ll be the complete forward. Looked the real deal for most parts.
Ikechi Anya 7
A livewire and outlet down the left-hand side after replacing Capoue. Had one cross bound for Nordin Amrabat intercepted by Ospina and helped relieve some pressure by forcing Chambers to concede a late corner.
Almen Abdi 7
Thrown on to help shut down the right-hand side of Watford’s team rather than let his creative juices flow in the final third. Did all that was asked of him and even floored Danny Welbeck with one perfectly-executed tackle high up the field on the touchline.
Nordin Amrabat 6.5
His first contribution was to give away a foul, something he obviously protested. Hesitated when standing underneath dropping balls on two occasions and earned a mouthful from Deeney after one, but did show the ambition to get the killer third with an 88th-minute shot that went wide.
Quique Sanchez Flores 9
Tactical masterclass. Set Watford up as 4-4-1-1 when they didn’t have the ball and 4-4-2 when they did. Sprung a huge surprise by selecting Guedioura in a game of this magnitude but his gut-instinct and bravery paid off big time. Is there a more tactically astute coach in the league?