Magnificent, absolutely magnificent. After Barnes and Blissett put Arsenal to the sword in 1987, Watford fans will be talking about when Ighalo and Guedioura did it against the same opposition in 2016 for years to come.
Spectacularly and thrillingly, the pair combined to fire Watford into their sixth FA Cup semi final in front of nearly 8,500 disbelieving away fans at a stunned Emirates stadium this afternoon. Watford may have had better away days than this but it is difficult to think of one right now. Arsenal’s late rally just added to the drama. This was the FA Cup at its finest.
In beating Arsenal, the mighty Arsenal who had not lost an FA Cup game for 16 matches, Watford produced one of the greatest results in their storied history. This was no fluke, it was no heist. Tactically brilliant, defensively resolute and clinical in attack, Watford kept the Gunners at arm’s length in the first half and then struck, quite magnificently, twice in 13 memorable second-half minutes.
Ighalo ended his drought by combing with Troy Deeney to roll Gabriel, who was lucky still to be on the pitch after a horrendous tackle on Watford’s captain, and fire into the bottom corner for the opener on 50 minutes. Any thought there was of Watford planning to hang on, grimly by the skin of their teeth, for the remaining 40 minutes was ended when Guedioura etched his name further into Watford folklore. His piledriver, from the angle of the box 18 yards out, came from as left field as his selection for the match. Guedioura doesn’t do routine goals for the Hornets but this topped anything we saw at Cardiff late in 2014.
It was touch and go as to whether Guedioura might even emerge from the dressing room at half time as he was off the pace in the first, unsurprisingly given his recent lack of game-time. The Hornets played with tactical discipline in the first 45 and there was barely a fag paper between the three lines of the visiting team. Arsenal were kept on a tight leash and only really threatened when Olivier Giroud had the ball in the net only for it to be ruled out through offside. Mohamed Elneny fired two efforts wildly over the bar and Costel Pantilimon came out smartly to cut out a Calum Chambers cross but that was about it.
At the other end, Ighalo showed signs that the suggestion he has become too greedy had got to him by trying to pass to Deeney when he probably should have gone round Gabriel and had a crack. But Watford, as the song goes, always believed in Ighalo and he delivered big time in the second half before limping off seven minutes from the end.
As you’d expect, Arsenal threw the kitchen sink at Watford in the second half but Nathan Ake, Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prodl and Allan Nyom were resolute and Valon Behrami and Ben Watson screened them expertly. Yes, they need a bit of luck, with Pantilimon knowing very little about an instinctive save with his big right hand to deny Giroud but boy did they earn a bit.
Quique Sanchez Flores, who set the team up quite brilliantly, rang the changes in the second half as legs became tired, throwing on Ikechi Anya, Almen Abdi and Nordin Amrabat as the Hornets closed out the tie like a seasoned European side. Danny Welbeck pulled one back to, briefly, offer those Arsenal fans still in the ground of a bit of hope and only he will know how he didn’t send the tie to a replay but a draw would have been cruel, so cruel, on Watford. It was heart-stopping stuff at the death.
Sanchez Flores said before the match Watford would play at the Emirates like a “humble team but not like a small team”. Regardless of size, the biggest stage of all, a day out at Wembley, now beckons for this history-making lot.
Arsenal: Ospina, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Gibbs; Elneny (Iwobi 67), , Coquelin; Campbell (Welbeck 68), Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud (Walcott 68). Subs: Macey, Bellerin, Monreal, Flamini
Watford: Gomes; Nyom, Prödl, Cathcart, Ake; Watson, Behrami; Capoue (Anya 73), Deeney, Guedioura (Abdi 77); Ighalo (Amrabat 82). Subs: Gomes, Suarez, Jurado, Oulare.
Referee: Andre Marriner