Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Elneny, Kolasinac, Welbeck, Iwobi, Lacazette
Subs: Ospina, Holding, Coquelin, Wilshere, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Arsenal’s return to Premier League action was a disappointing one after two second half goals gave Watford a 2-1 win at Vicarage Road this evening.
Arsene Wenger recalled skipper Per Mertesacker to replace the injured Shkodran Mustafi, while training injuries meant no Aaron Ramsey or Alexis Sanchez. Mesut Ozil had to be content with a place on the bench.
The early stages of the game saw both teams sussing each other out, with the home side deploying three at the back to match Arsenal’s formation.
A lovely Xhaka pass to Kolasinac gave the Bosnian a chance to cross for Lacazette, but his effort was well blocked by the defender. The Gunners began to dominate possession, but found the hosts well organised.
At the other end a powerful cross gave Pereyra a close range chance with a header but he couldn’t find the target, and the both sides looked cautious and a bit sluggish.
Great tracking from Bellerin helped snuff out a very positive Richarlison run, before Elneny tried his luck from distance, firing not too far over the bar as the game reached the half-hour mark.
Some invention from Lacazette created some space for Welbeck in the box but he was well tackled before he could shoot. That was followed by a nice move involving Bellerin and the French striker, but again a Watford defender was alert and cleared the danger as Welbeck looked to shoot.
A bright turn in the box from Iwobi wasn’t matched by the cross, Elneny’s final ball was poor after Arsenal found space on the edge of the box.
It took a set-piece to break the deadlock five minutes before the break. Xhaka’s inswinging corner was met by a thumping Per Mertesacker header, and on his first Premier League start for over a year, the skipper put the Gunners ahead. 1-0.
That seemed to energise Arsenal. Xhaka forced Gomes into a good save after a Welbeck pass, and the England then set up Bellerin whose left-footed effort curled just wide. Xhaka had another go, but again Gomes was equal to it, and a late free kick opportunity was wasted with a poor delivery just before the break.
There were no changes at half-time from either manager, and Monreal got a good foot in as Richarlison drove towards our box, before the Brazilian forward found some space and curled a shot not far wide of Petr Cech’s far post.
Poor decision making from Lacazette made what was a promising counter-attack easy for Watford to defend, and there were shouts for a penalty when Welbeck drove into the box but the referee played on, giving the defender the benefit of the doubt.
Arsenal were forced into a 60th minute change after Welbeck picked up an injury and was replaced by Mesut Ozil, while Watford brought on Troy Deeney for Gray and Mariappa for Carrillo.
The German’s creativity was obvious immediately, creating a chance for Iwobi which produced an outstanding save from Gomes as he tipped the ball around the post.
Olivier Giroud came on in place of Lacazette in the 68th minute as the home side put on some pressure as they looked for an equaliser, but Arsenal should have doubled the lead when Iwobi set up Ozil with just the keeper to beat but his finish was tame and Gomes saved.
The miss was made more costly seconds later when Richarlison took a dive in the box under pressure from Bellerin and the referee pointed to the spot. Deeney stepped up and equalised with 18 minutes to go. 1-1.
Richarlison slammed a shot into the side-netting as Watford’s tails were up, and the Hornets kept possession well for long periods after their goal. Capoue came on for Peyrera as the game entered the final 10 minutes, the former Sp*rs man was the width of a post away from putting his side in front with a deflected shot that had Cech going the other way.
Jack Wilshere looked as if he was going to replace Alex Iwobi with just over five minutes to go, but an injury to Koscielny saw the England international sit back down and Rob Holding was introduced instead. Arsenal could have gone to a back four and still brought the more attacking option on.
Carillo fizzed a shot over the bar from just outside the box, and a wonderful Monreal pass to Bellerin brought about a late corner which was cleared to the veteran defender who smashed a shot over the bar from 30 yards.
There were four minutes of injury time signalled but it was Arsenal doing most of the defending rather than putting pressure on at the other end. And we paid the price when a shot deflected off Mertesacker and fell into the path of Tom Cleverly who smashed the ball home from close range.
Arsenal can only have themselves to blame for wasting chances, and what was a dreadful second half performance. Watford go above us and into fourth place.