Watford were dealt another harsh lesson of the rough and tumble nature of the Premier League as Arsenal notched up a first win of the season at the expense of Walter Mazzarri’s side, who remain without a victory of their own.
Arsenal, as expected, dominated the lion’s share of possession early on and were on their way just ten minutes into this one, but they required a helping hand from referee Kevin Friend who adjudged Nordin Amrabat to have used excessive force in bringing down Alexis Sanchez. It took the referee some time to award the decision but Arsenal were in no mood to pass up the opportunity with Santi Cazorla capitalising well to stroke beyond Heurelho Gomes.
It set the tone for a testing afternoon for the Hornets, who handed a debut to Younes Kaboul in the absence of regulars Craig Cathcart who missed out with a groin problem and Miguel Britos who sat out with his wife expecting a child.
The returning Mesut Ozil was pulling the strings in the Arsenal midfield. First, Sebastian Prodl had to be alert to clear an inviting cross from the right and then the visitors would go close to a second soon afterwards. Moments later, however, the roles were reversed when Amrabat’s stinging in-swinger was flicked goalwards by Laurent Koscielny who was grateful to be bailed out by the quick reflexes of Petr Cech.
Sensing a route back into the game, Watford began to up the ante and Troy Deeney wasn’t far away from a first goal of the season when he reacted quickest to a Jose Holebas cross although his effort crept wide. This wasn’t all one way traffic that Arsenal’s opener promised.
As the half wore on, Watford grew in confidence and ought to have done better after Rob Holding was forced to concede a corner. Etienne Capoue’s in-swinger was well met by another debutant, Christian Kabasele, but he could only flick his effort wide when he should have hit the target.
But Watford were dealt another reminder of the threat of Ozil and Sanchez when the pair combined again, only for Gomes to close down the angle and save well from the forward. Had that gone in that might have been that.
Not long after, Arsenal did add the crucial second. A swift counterattack from the Gunners saw former Watford loanee Hector Bellerin release Theo Walcott down the right and his cross was allowed to evade everyone but the arriving Sanchez at the back post. It required help from goal-line technology although it was clearly over the line.
Arsenal were not finished there. Walcott breached Watford’s back-line far too easily and the hosts had Gomes to thank when he reacted smartly to turn the effort aside. Then, in time added on, Arsenal looked to have made certain of the points when the superb Ozil evaded the attentions of Watford’s back three to head home goal number three.
Watford introduced Roberto Pereyra at the break but the second half had the feel of damage limitation about it, especially when the struggling Kabasele was hooked only seven minutes in as Mazzarri switched to four at the back.
There is, however, no shortage of character in this Watford squad. A Daryl Janmaat cross caused chaos and, when Capoue’s effort was blocked, Pereyra was on hand to tuck home just over ten minutes into his debut. It was the quite the way to introduce yourself.
Arsenal continued to pose their greatest threat on the counter as first Walcott and then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain went close with audacious chips, the second after a Watford free kick was cleared. It was the hosts, however, who looked more likely to net the next goal. Holebas tried his luck from distance in search of his first Hornets strike, although Odion Ighalo failed to convert the rebound.
It was that man Ighalo who went close again as Arsenal failed to deal with a long throw and his acrobatic over-head kick just cleared Cech’s crossbar. Isaac Success was soon introduced for the final 15 minutes and looked sharp with a header immediately although it was routine for Cech.
This was Watford’s half and it was there for the taking. Arsenal’s superior finishing and two quick first-half goals effectively ended the contest, but the hosts certainly dominated the second period and the introduction of Pereyra and a change in formation seemed to give Watford a greater cutting edge.
Watford had Arsenal on the back foot for large swathes of the second half, a much-improved display compared to the first 45 minutes that will provide great encouragement for the head coach. It was cruel on a Watford side who battled well. However, Arsenal displayed the sort of clinical finishing that sets the top sides apart from the rest. It was a masterclass in how to finish off your chances.