Had your fill of a season that has included captains going on mutiny, a first mid-season sacking of an Arsenal head coach in a generation and some of the most insipid performances ever produced at the Emirates Stadium? Well I’m afraid to say we’ll be doing it all over again in six or so weeks.
In that context, with preparation time at a premium for the new season, it was perhaps instructive to see this game not as the final act of Arsenal’s worst league season in 25 years but the beginning of the new beginning that Arteta hopes to bring about in 2020/21.
That Arteta opted to return to the four man defence he had abandoned after the debacle against Watford for a game with nothing – except £5.4million in prize money if Burnley and Sheffield United dropped points – seemed to indicate where his preferences might lie. Arsenal have been engaged in a string of cup finals over the past few weeks as they endeavoured to keep their European hopes alive. In such circumstances it is better to play things safe.
Safety was very much not the operative word as Emiliano Martinez’s goal came under siege. This was not quite as inviting a defence as the one Unai Emery deployed at Vicarage Road earlier in the season but it allowed a desperate Watford to register 16 shots from inside the area.
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Such is what happens when Arteta sacrifice control for creativity. Against Aston Villa his side had crashed into a brick wall they lacked the guile to break down, today he changed things by injecting runners ahead of Dani Ceballos and freeing Nicolas Pepe to do what he does best.
This was not the Arsenal of old, bristling with ideas and seeing angles no other team did, but it was enough to overwhelm Watford.
Arsenal’s second goal once more proved Pepe has both the eye for a dangerous cross and the ability to pick a team-mate out, his brilliant delivery to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang setting the scene for Kieran Tierney’s opener.
That was the exception rather than the rule with this game, one where the Gunners creates two big chances but Watford made seven, per Stats Zone. To an extent this was a function of the context of the game for each team, the visitors desperately needing a win and Arsenal often more concerned with giving Aubameyang the Golden Boot (he finished one behind Jamie Vardy) rather three points.
Discussing why the FA Cup Final will be different he said: “It will be a completely different game. First of all from the mental side it will be equal how much they want it and how much we want it.
“I don’t think that was the case today because of the necessity they had, the way they had to go to the game was different to ours.”
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