Alexis Sánchez shrugs off injury to spark Arsenal into life at Watford
Alexis Sánchez started the season with an eight-match barren run and has now scored 10 in his last six games, a transformation from rut to glut that has assisted Arsenal’s rise to second in the league and offers some encouragement as they approach a daunting home game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
The Chilean, who has been troubled of late with a minor hip injury, spent the final 10 minutes of this game cossetted on the bench alongside Mesut Özil, creator of the first two goals, with the game won and thoughts turning to Tuesday. But though the match started with a 10-minute burst of attacking pressure by the away side and ended with them in total control, what came in between was not always so comfortable.
Watford approached their four previous home games with such caution that a combined total of two goals were scored in what became a 360-minute improvised symphony of sterility. They played a different tune here and Vicarage Road duly witnessed more attacking action in the opening half-hour than in the previous two months combined.
Aaron Ramsey, who clipped the bar after running on to Sánchez’s sublime chipped pass, came closest to scoring but the home side had their chances, with the previously deadeye Odion Ighalo, scorer of their last five Premier League goals, missing the most glaring after half an hour when he was played in by Ikechi Anya. But, having been so conservative against some less daunting opponents, this seemed like a dangerous occasion to start taking risks.
Watford v Arsenal: Premier League – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: Watford made Arsenal work for their win, but the Gunners had too much for the Hornets in the second half, and they reclaim second spot in the Premier League table. Scott Murray was watching.
Etienne Capoue has enjoyed an outstanding start to his time in Hertfordshire following a club-record summer move from Tottenham, tasked with patrolling the space in front of his defence, breaking up opponents’ attacks and starting some of his own. In the 62nd minute he abandoned his position to surge forward, running towards Arsenal’s penalty area before throwing himself to the floor as Francis Coquelin challenged. He beat the turf in frustration when the referee waved play on, while Arsenal roared into the space he was no longer protecting. Moments later they were ahead.
Santi Cazorla found Özil in the penalty area with a nice reverse pass and Nathan Aké’s desperate challenge could have brought a penalty had the ball not rolled to Sánchez, who scored. Twelve minutes later it was 3-0 and the contest was over.
“It was very difficult to accept what happened after an hour, for before then we were in the right way,” said the Watford manager, Quique Sánchez Flores. “For a big part of the match we had chances, options to do something good. Arsenal won in 10 minutes. In these 10 minutes they killed us. Maybe we are a team that depends a lot on physical, because we have to make up a lot of quality. They have an amazing team, they challenge to win the league, and our class is different, our target is completely different.”
Five minutes after the opening goal Aaron Ramsey’s weak shot deflected to Özil, whose low centre was turned in by Olivier Giroud, who had been on the pitch for barely three minutes after replacing Theo Walcott. And seven minutes after that Héctor Bellerín, who repeatedly troubled Aké, cut in from the right, hurdled the challenge from the on-loan Chelsea left-back and passed to Ramsey, whose shot deflected in off Anya.
Watford might depend a lot on physical, to borrow from Sánchez Flores, but clearly their resources are only so deep: they have conceded one goal this season in the first half of matches, and nine now in the second.
Arsène Wenger said: “We started a little bit hesitant and Watford showed us that if we want to win the game we need to be completely committed. In the second half, with fatigue setting in, they were a little bit less in the challenges and we found we could attack.”
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The Frenchman admitted he had been tempted to rest Sánchez after his efforts for Chile in South American World Cup qualifiers, only for his mind to be changed by a “very sharp” performance in training on Friday. “There are periods when a player is in a scoring moment,” he added. “To interrupt sometimes the flow can disturb this. And for us the best way to prepare for Tuesday is to win the game today.”