By Josh James
Here are five things we learned from the game:
A CHANGE OF FORMATION
Perhaps with half an eye on the FA Cup final next weekend Mikel Arteta made five changes from the side that lost at Villa Park in midweek, but it was the change in formation that was most surprising. After going with three centre backs for the past nine matches, there was a return for a flat back four, with Rob Holding partnering David Luiz in the centre, Kieran Tierney on the left and Ainsley Maitland-Niles replacing the injured Hector Bellerin on the right.
Despite us taking a 3-0 lead inside the opening 33 minutes, our defence wasn’t without moments of alarm, with Watford’s attacking line-up causing us problems in the first half.
In fact the visitors had nine shots to our six in the opening 45 minutes, and the second period began in the same vein. So much so that Arteta reverted to three-man central defence before the hour mark. Sead Kolasinac was introduced to play in the middle with Tierney pushed forward as left wing back.
We started to take more control of the game from that moment in terms of possession, but we continued to concede chances at an alarming rate.
Watford got their second and came close several times to finding the equaliser, but a mixture of committed defending and some excellent goalkeeping kept them out.
But Arteta knows he will have some big defensive decisions to make when we meet Chelsea next weekend.
LAST LINE OF DEFENCE
And that brings us to Emi Martinez. It was another sound performance from the Argentine keeper. He made three excellent saves, and looked safe with his handling yet again, as he has since coming into the side in June.
The pics of the stops was a smart, low reaction save from Danny Welbeck’s improvised flick late on, which preserved all three points, and in the end moved us up two places in the final Premier League standings.
It means he is surely in pole position to start next weekend’s FA Cup final, despite Bernd Leno’s return to full training this week. The fact that Leno wasn’t on the bench today also suggested that Martinez is the likely starter in the final, a point that Mikel Arteta confirmed in his post-match press conference. It would be a fitting reward not just for Emi’s performances in this post-lockdown part of the season, but also for a decade of patient service to the club.
A PATIENT BUILD UP
Our second goal shared many of the characteristics of our opening goal at Wembley in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final. Once again more than half the team were involved in a passing move that originated deep in our own territory, with defenders and goalkeeper alike playing their part in keeping possession. As outlined above, Martinez has caught the eye with his shot stopping of late, but his distribution has also been excellent, and his calmness on the ball radiates throughout the defence. Then the forward players took over. As at Wembley against Manchester City, Nicolas Pepe’s deep cross from the right found Aubameyang at the far post, but this time he laid the ball off for Kieran Tierney to steer home his first Gunners goal. In the process he became the first Scotsman to score for us since Scott Marshall in 1996.
AUBA AND AUBA AGAIN
We may be six days away from the FA Cup final, but there was no way that Mikel Arteta was going to be resting leading goalscorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang today. The forward began the afternoon three goals behind Jamie Vardy in the race for the Golden Boot award as the Premier League’s top scorer, and within half an hour of kick-off Vardy’s lead had been cut to just one.
From then on Auba was always going to see out the 90 minutes, and his team mates certainly tried to help him earn the personal accolade. Eddie Nketiah led a break away in the second half, and tried to set up Auba when through on goal, when the young striker should arguably have taken the shot on himself.
In the end Auba had to be content with 22 league goals for the season, matching his tally from 2018/19.
There is however, another chance for Auba to earn a trophy next week at Wembley…
A SEASON LIKE NO OTHER
A Premier League season that lasted 11 months, saw us use three managers, and play more than a quarter of our matches behind closed doors has finally finished. Here are some stats from our 2019/20 Premier League campaign…
Players used: 29
Most appearances: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (36)
Most minutes played: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (3138)
Top scorer: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (22)
Most assists: Nicolas Pepe (6)
Most touches: Granit Xhaka (2,281)
Most tackles won: Granit Xhaka (25)
Most interceptions: Lucas Torreira (34)
Most successful passes: Granit Xhaka (1,678)
Most shots on target: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (42)
Most dribbles completed: Nicolas Pepe (72)
Longest unbeaten sequence: 8 (Jan 1 – Mar 7)
Biggest win: 4-0 (v Newcastle United and Norwich City)
Clean sheets: 10
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