In the end, all it took was a few seconds. Arsenal broke downfield, driving a horse and cart through the Etienne Capoue shaped hole in midfield before the move culminated in Alexis Sanchez slotting home. It was the first goal of the game and there was still just under half an hour to play, but that was that. In that brief passage of play, the game was up for Watford.
Ironically, some of the money the Pozzo family made from the sale of Sanchez to Barcelona in 2011 has probably been used in some shape or form at Vicarage Road, but this was of little consolation to Watford supporters on Saturday evening. The goal kickstarted a painful 12 minute spell which saw Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey put the Gunners out of sight, as Watford looked genuinely outclassed for the first time this season.
The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story though, and whilst the ease at which Arsenal took the game away from the Hornets was dispiriting, there won’t have been too many home fans that went away too despondent.
Before the game, one of the most anticipated of the season so far, I consoled myself with the fact that Watford have been miserly in defence. Admittedly, the goals scored column is looking a bit barren, but whilst the goals against tally is equally sparse I’ll be happy. The challenge against Arsenal was always going to be stemming the inevitable early onslaught and the opening exchanges proved every bit as terrifying as I’d expected. A few friendly Gunners had suggested that Arsenal can sometimes be guilty of taking their foot off the gas against the “lesser” teams. Not this time. If their foot was anywhere, it was firmly on our throat and it looked like it could get messy. Quickly.
The fact it didn’t is a huge positive.
Watford had to scrap and battle to drag themselves into the game and by half time, it was a proper contest. Ably assisted by Etienne Capoue, Troy Deeney was his usual unstoppable self and between them they ensured that Arsenal had plenty to worry about. The pattern continued up until the hour mark – of course Arsenal had chances, but so did Watford and with the crowd boisterous and noisy it felt like something special could be about to happen. What actually happened was that Etienne Capoue took a tumble on the edge of the Arsenal box, and whilst he came to terms with the fact he hadn’t been awarded a free kick Wenger’s men galloped to the other end and scored. The rest is history.
In talking with friends afterwards, I suggested that there isn’t too much to be gained by conducting in depth post mortems after games with the likes of Arsenal. They are too good a side to be upset about a defeat, although seeing heads drop after the second goal was disappointing; Heurelho Gomes admitting in his post match interview that “we gave up a little bit” during that disastrous second half spell. The squad will, I assume, learn from what was a brief but chastening experience, so I don’t feel the need to dwell on the defeat. Far more worthy of reflection and encouragement is the fixture as a whole. Something special didn’t happen, not this time, but the possibility was there, bubbling under; and for that to happen, you’ve got to be doing something right.
Whilst the playing staff were clawing themselves back into the game on the pitch, the supporters were feeling their way into it up in the stands, too. The atmosphere built steadily as Watford battled for a foothold in the game and there was an unmistakable sense of togetherness. Of trust. A bond. Watford have made a reasonable start, but let’s not forget that Vicarage Road as only seen one home goal all campaign. It’s a poor return and perhaps elsewhere there would be murmurs of discontent, but not here. Not now. This is a club that knows it is in a battle, backed by supporters who are ready for the fight. Arsenal took the three points, but they didn’t take any of the belief that is currently bouncing around the newly refurbished walls of Vicarage Road.
There’s plenty more to come.