It turned out to be the most crucial moment of the game and when it arrived, Troy Deeney of all people couldn’t make it count.
After Watford beat Arsenal last October in the Premier League, Deeney spoke less than generously about Arsene Wenger’s vanquished side. Arsenal did not, he hinted, have the mental courage to cope with pressure.
How sweet for Arsenal, then, that when Deeney was given the chance to drag his team back in to this game from the penalty spot here, he made such a mess of it.
Shkodran Mustafi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both got on the scoresheet as Arsenal won 3-0 against Watford
Mustafi broke the deadlock with eight minutes gone when he latched on to Mesut Ozil’s cross to guide it home
Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis dives to his right but the pinpoint header sails into the far corner to put Arsenal 1-0 up
The German defender wheels away in celebration after he gives the Gunners a crucial early lead at the Emirates on Sunday
Aubameyang doubled the lead when he rounded the goalkeeper and tapped home in the second half
It was cause for theatrical celebrations at the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal’s Gabonese striker duly obliged
Henrikh Mkhitaryan then completed the rout when he swept home from just inside the 18-yard line to make it three
Arsenal had just taken a 2-0 lead when Watford were awarded their penalty. With half an hour still to play, a goal for the visiting team at that point would have given them a real chance against a side that still do not seem to have totally shaken recent setbacks from their system.
So it was a big moment, alright. One that called for the ‘cojones’ that Deeney had said Arsenal lacked back in autumn.
Perhaps the most generous thing we can say about his penalty is that it was on target. It was, though, too close to Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech and at a nice height too. So Cech was able to make his first penalty save since late 2014 and Arsenal eased away to victory.
Three goals was the difference in the end, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan went on to add to previous goals from Shkodran Mustafi, in the first half, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the hour. But that gap between the teams was not always that pronounced. That is why that penalty really could have changed things.
Some Arsenal supporters made their feelings known about their team’s Premier League decline by staying away. It was hard to recall a day when there were quite as many empty seats at the Emirates.
And though early nerves were settled by Mustafi’s headed goal, there may have been something in this for Javi Gracia’s players had they been a little more clinical in front of goal.
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE
ARSENAL: (4-2-3-1) Cech 8; Maitland-Niles 6.5, Mustafi 7 (Chambers 73mins 6), Holding 6.5, Kolasinac 6.5; Elneny 8, Xhaka 7; Mkhitaryan 7 (Wilshere 78mins 6), Ozil 6.5, Iwobi 6.5 (Welbeck 67mins 6); Aubameyang 7. Not used: Ospina, Nelson, Nketiah, Willock.
GOALS: Mustafi 8, Aubameyang 60, Mkhitaryan 77
MANAGER: Arsene Wenger 7
WATFORD: (4-4-2) Karnezis 7.5; Janmaat 6.5 (Britos 80mins 6) , Prdol 6.5, Mariappa 6, Holebas 6; Femenia 6 (Hughes 63mins 6), Doucoure 6.5, Capoue 6.5, Pereyra 6.5 (Okaka 67mins 6); Richarlison 7, Deeney 6. Not used: Sinclair, Gray, Carrillo, Bachmann.
MANAGER: Javi Gracia 6
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson 7
MAN OF THE MATCH: Mohamed Elneny
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyand makes it two
Both sets of players shake hands ahead of the all-London encounter at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon
Under-fire Gunners boss Arsene Wenger walks to the dugout before the game and acknowledges the Arsenal supporters
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is closed down by Jose Holebas as Arsenal try and mount an early attack on the Watford goal
They did not have to wait long to get on the scoresheet, either, as Mustafi’s header put the hosts firmly on the front foot
The Arsenal players celebrate going in front against their London rivals and stealing an early initiative in the game
Thursday’s win in Milan had been a good one and probably did its bit to lift the atmosphere a little here. There were more empty seats than we are used to seeing at a Premier League ground but those that had turned up saw an Arsenal side quickly in to its stride against opposition that were a little too compliant in the early moments.
Watford have been impressive under their latest coach Gracia, winning three of their previous Premier League games. But here there were too many spaces left for Arsenal to play in and it was not a total surprise that the home team took the lead early.
Wenger was without a number of familiar players – some rested and some injured – but that didn’t matter at the start and Arsenal could have led in just the third minute.
Mesut Ozil may often be ineffectual in the big games but on days like this the German can be fundamental to what his team do. Sure enough, it was his nice through pass that set Aubameyang clear on goal and it needed a save with the legs by goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis to stop Watford falling behind.
Watford did their best to impose themselves but they kept turning over the ball and if you do that against Arsenal – even this Arsenal – the chances are that they will punish you.
Sure enough, the goal arrived in the eighth minute. Watford conceded a free-kick on the far side and when Ozil swung it in, Mustafi rose between two defenders who didn’t seem keen to jump that high and headed the ball back across the goalkeeper and in to the corner.
A goal up so early, this had the look and feel of a rare routine afternoon for Arsenal. Other chances were soon to follow. But Arsenal’s soft centre remained painfully evident on occasion and they were opened up far too easily just four minutes after taking the lead.
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tries to double Arsenal’s lead as he unleashes a shot on the Hornets’ goal
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (L) vies with Watford defender Adrian Mariappa for the ball during a toughly-fought first half
Javier Gracia manager of Watford organises his team from the touchline in an attempt to stop Arsenal scoring a second
Arsenal’s Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech makes a tremendous save to keep his side in front during the first period
Cech tends to Mustafi, who took a knock during a heavy collision as he receives medical attention on the field
Watford’s Roberto Pereyra misses a golden opportunity to score and put his side level but he skies it over the bar
It was notable that there were many empty seats at the Emirates during Sunday afternoon’s Premier League clash
Roberto Pereyra did well by the left touchline to cut infield and dart in to the Arsenal half but his ball over the top should not have caused Arsenal too many problems.
But the Brazilian Richarlison was able to run on to it far too easily and when he turned and laid the ball back to Abdoulaye Doucoure, Cech had to save well with his arm after the ensuing shot from 15 yards took a deflection on its way to goal.
In many ways, this was all rather recognisable for Arsenal. Impressive with the ball but less so without it.
They may have doubled their lead when Sead Kolasinac was set free nicely by Mohamed Elnney. The Arsenal left-back’s low cross to the far post was meant for Aubameyang but the January signing could not make sufficient purchase on the stretech.
Then, after Alex Iwobi curled a shot over and Ozil excited everybody with an unnecessary but skilful pass off his left shoulder, Watford almost equalised again. Cech may have done a little better than push out Richarlison’s low free-kick in the 26th minute and Pereyra definitely should have done more than thump the rebound high over the bar from an angle. It was essentially an open goal and Watford should have been level.
Just one minute later Ozil almost punished them in the best possible way but couldn’t find a finish emphatic enough to beat Karnezis. The pass in to him from Elnney was measured and when Ozil controlled the ball perfectly to ease past the lunging Adrian Mariappa it seemed he must score.
With just the goalkeeper to beat, Ozil could have hammered the ball home but that is never his way. Instead he tried to send Karnezis the wrong way and although he succeeded he then managed only to place the shot against the keeper’s trailing leg.
It would have been a lovely goal but the margins are fine in such moments and that escape allowed Watford to dominate the closing period of the half. Arsenal defender Rob Holding came close to levelling the scores unwittingly by lifting a clearance on to the roof of his own goal and then, in the 45th minute, Richarlison brought another save from Cech with a header to the goalkeeper’s left.
The Gabonese striker then put his side two to the good when he took the ball around the Watford keeper in the second half
The striker celebrated enthusiastically and athletically with a super somersault to mark the second goal of the afternoon
Mohamed Elneny joins the celebrations as the Gunners romp to a 2-0 lead and appear in control of the game
Just moments later Roberto Pereyra goes down under the challenge of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and a penalty is given
Hornets captain Troy Deeney smashed it to Petr Cech’s right but the goalkeeper palmed it away expertly with his left hand
This pattern continued in to the second half and as time passed one began to wonder when or indeed if Arsenal would reassert themselves. As it transpired, the answer arrived just after the hour.
Watford had enjoyed some territory but couldn’t create real chances and then Arsenal broke brilliantly to show their opponents how it is done. The move actually started with a long kick from Cech but when the clearance was headed down, Mkhitaryan picked up possession and Watford were in trouble.
As the Armenian strode forwards, Watford backed off and that extra time allow Mkhitarayan to slip the ball through to Aubameyang who rounded the goalkeeper to score nicely.
A very well constructed goal, it should have been the definitive moment of the game. As it turned out, that was still to come. Ainsley Maitland’ Niles’ challenge on Pereyra as he broke in to the penalty area was rash and was rightly penalised. But when Deeney couldn’t beat Cech with the spot-kick, he was greeted with the loudest cheer of the day. It was Cech’s first penalty save for Arsenal and it was perfectly-timed in more ways than one as it helped him to his 200th Premier League clean sheet.
From that point on, it was a struggle for Watford. They had played well enough and had enjoyed more of the ball and more territory than maybe they had expected. But they had not taken their chances when they came and as the game entered its final 15 minutes that looked as though it would be crucial.
Arsenal, for their part, had played well enough but had perhaps ridden their luck a little at times. Their second half goal from Aubameyang, meanwhile, remained their only shot on target in the second half until Mkhitaryan arrived to make the game safe with 13 minutes left.
Not for the first time, Watford were caught a little square as Arsenal pushed forwards and when Ozil crossed low from the left the visiting defence were caught off-balance. The ball was cleared partially but Aubameyang was able to collect it in the box and when he funnelled it on to Mkhitaryan, the midfielder’s first-time shot beat the unsighted goalkeeper Karnezis.
It was the Armenian, who joined the club in January, who completed the scoring at the Emirates with 77 minutes gone
Goalscorers Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang embrace as they know the former’s goal all but secures the three points
Watford’s players appear dejected after conceding their third goal on a miserable afternoon for the visitors
Cech applauds fans after the match in the knowledge he has just kept his 200th Premier League clean sheet