Well, needless to say I’m glad that game’s over and I’m even more glad this season is finally done with. With the exception of some individual flair, it was a long, long way from a “vintage Arsenal” performance.
We don’t know what Arteta had in mind for the match and while he continues to tinker, I’m sure there was an air of “warm-up before the final” among the players – regardless of the sometimes-tired narrative that teams’ sole focus is the next game, with our domestic fate all but sealed.
For a change, the stars aligned for Arsenal and her interests as Mike Dean was over-ruled by the mighty VAR for what was, an absolutely blatant penalty. His face said it all, and if that isn’t a damning example of why egotists like Dean should be out of a job, I don’t know what is. Naturally, the entire move was forensically scrutinised for any excuses to deny an Arsenal penalty but we got there eventually and Aubameyang dispatched. Even if Foster had gone the right way, there was no saving it.
The second saw a welcome return to the tried and tested Pépé in-swinger to Aubameyang at the back post and while it wasn’t the cleanest of hits, it was great to see Tierney tuck one away. I couldn’t help but laugh at his effort in the second half that he volleyed into orbit, such was the contrast in his two efforts. He’s got some boots to fill after we let Nacho Monreal go for pennies but the more I see of him, the more I think we’ve committed daylight robbery against Celtic.
The third was a perfect example of why Watford were fighting for survival in the Premier League. I’ve spoken at length about Arsenal’s schoolboy defending this season and one of the cardinal rules of defending is simply “DO NOT let the ball bounce”. The fact that it came from a long-throw from our resident Scotsman just adds to the hilarity but Aubameyang still had work to do despite the ample time and space he was given. Such was his control, he didn’t really have any options but the spectacular and to actually convert such a chance is something else. Obviously taking notes from Danny Welbeck after he did this a few weeks ago.
That brings me onto where the troubles really started, as even the second goal felt like it was against the run of play. Danny Welbeck began to show signs of the man we knew but didn’t necessarily love as some chances went begging. Granit Xhaka teetered on a yellow card after talking himself into the book and it was only a matter of time before Dean did something to balance the books. On this occasion, the footballing enigma that is David Luiz beat him to the punch with a late challenge on Welbeck, after some sloppy work from Holding.
While the circumstances haven’t always been the kindest, that’s a record-breaking 5 penalties conceded by David Luiz this season and along with our overall disciplinary record, is something that needs addressing.
While Deeney might’ve lacked “cojones” with some of his wayward finishing in the latter stages of the game, he absolutely leathered it past Martinez and you just knew we were going to be up against it from this point.
If the first was bad, the second was definitely cause for concern because the way Danny Welbeck appeared between defenders to get on the end of Sarr’s cross was reminiscent of the in-form Olivier Giroud, as he loves those low crosses at the near post. Chelsea will no doubt be looking at these kinds of similarities and while I’m sure the players’ mentalities will be more akin to the Man City game, my confidence is still running on fumes after that defensive display. Everything was just all too easy.
Watford were desperate to emulate the away tie where we conceded 31 shots, and if not for Martinez, we would have been facing an even more embarrassing scoreline.
Their best chance to go level also fell to Welbeck and much like the circumstances for Aubameyang’s second, the only chance he had to score was to go for the spectacular. After making good contact, I couldn’t believe Martinez had actually saved it and having watched it back several times, it gets even better. It’s not just the anticipation or the ability to get down low so quickly, but his saves seem to rarely fall to the opposition’s feet. He seems to either really cling onto the ball, punch it to the half way line or at the very least, push it out of harm’s way and he’s thankfully earned the right to start in the F.A. Cup final despite Leno’s return to training.
Much like Watford’s second, it was another worrying example of our centre-backs completely losing their man and we’re going to have another Baku on our hands if we’re so absent-minded on Saturday.
I was conflicted because while I desperately wanted Watford to lose for Deeney’s sake, and their owners after the unjust decision to sack Pearson after he’d clawed them out of the relegation zone, I continue to feel sorry for Danny Welbeck. He showed glimpses of what I loved about him; winning the ball far up the pitch, strong in the air, willing and able to make runs in behind and get the odd goal when you need it. He’s definitely not a Championship level player but Watford’s owners have themselves to blame for this one.
It suddenly feels eerily similar to last season. Domestic problems leaving the final games of the season to peter out, with the make or break of our season hinging on a single cup final. On this occasion, the prize isn’t quite so dear – and I would argue we’re not even a Champions League level side anymore – but it’s still going to hurt if we come away empty handed.
It could catapult Arteta’s reputation by winning a major trophy in the first 6 months of his managerial career, and secure us a route to the mighty Europa League and the pay packet to go with it. We also have a star striker keeping his cards close to his chest, and I do still worry that his hesitation is synonymous with our fate in the final. To lose wouldn’t necessarily be a disaster because I really am sick of playing Thursday-Sunday every other week but we would have to shoulder the financial loss and accompanying embarrassment to lose consecutive finals to Chelsea.
With any luck, it’ll be 2017 all over again.