Wenger gets boost as Arsenal end Premier League losing run
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Arsenal's 3-0 win vs. Watford in the Premier League.
1. Finally, a comfortable day for Arsenal
In the broader scheme of things, this game could not possibly have meant less to Arsenal. The three points gained by beating Watford 3-0 merely moved them to within 10 of fourth place; with just eight games remaining, it's still a gap too wide.
But victory was important to continue what goodwill and confidence the Gunners gained by winning in Milan last week, ahead of Thursday's Europa League last-16 second leg. The competition is king, and it's the only thing that should carry any importance for the remainder of the season. Indeed, if Arsenal's remaining league games serve any purpose, it is to ensure they are in good shape for Europe.
Goals from Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were enough to secure the win on Sunday, while Petr Cech saving a Troy Deeney penalty put the cap on a very pleasant afternoon for the home side.
Arsenal took the lead with just seven minutes on the clock, Mustafi finding room from a Mesut Ozil free kick to head brilliantly into the far corner. The atmosphere, which already seemed much lighter than in previous weeks, lifted even further.
But the remainder of the half didn't provide much by way of quality football. Both teams had chances, but neither took them and traded glaring misses: Ozil shot against Watford keeper Orestis Karnezis's legs with the goal gaping, while Ricardo Pereyra missed a chance to make it 1-1 when he shanked over from close range.
Cech made a couple of fine saves -- particularly from a Richarlison header just before the break -- as the Arsenal defence showed only a passing interest in defending. The players, perhaps understandably, were giving a sense that they had more important things on their minds.
The second half started slowly, to say the least, but Arsenal doubled their lead just before the hour mark. Mkhitaryan slipped a neat pass through to Aubameyang, who stepped around Karnezis and side-footed home.
Watford had a chance to pull one back immediately when Pererya was fouled in the area. Deeney stepped up, but his kick was weak and poorly directed. Cech saved and the home fans, recalling the Watford striker's assertion that Arsenal lacked "cojones" earlier in the season, enjoyed the moment enormously. It was Cech's first penalty save for Arsenal and preserved his 200th Premier League clean sheet.
The scoring was completed with 13 minutes remaining, as Mkhitaryan swept in after a penalty-area scramble. "Deeney, what's the score?" sang an admittedly sparse home crowd. For once in recent weeks, they could go home with a feeling of contentment rather than frustration.
2. Much-needed win for Wenger
While the Premier League might have little meaning for Arsenal from now until May, things are perhaps slightly different for Arsene Wenger,
You still doubt that there is anyone strong enough at the club to send him on his way this summer, but things have certainly been put things in place for a post-Wenger world, in which the old-style "manager" is replaced by a coach-led group to share the load.
Raul Sanllehi was brought in as head of football relations and, more significantly Sven Mislintat arrived as head of recruitment. Meanwhile, a series of other appointments were made to spread the work that Wenger has traditionally done.
When this new era will begin is another matter, despite such things now being in place. Wenger certainly wants to stay; otherwise, he would surely have left by his own accord. So the attention turns to these past few weeks of the season.
There are some similarities to Jose Mourinho and Manchester United last season, in that progress in the Europa League will determine the success of the season as a whole.
The difference is that Mourinho's position was reasonably secure, and a league finish outside the top four could be just about ignored. Wenger's is not, and he still needs a strong domestic finish in order to present as good a case as possible for his retention.
3. Watford's away-day woes continue
The chances are that Watford are safe -- they might even stay up without winning another point -- which means the January decision to replace Marco Silva with Javi Gracia has certainly been justified. Still, they would like a few more points to settle some nerves and there remain issues to work through.
Their theoretical safety has been broadly down to home form: Since the managerial change, they have beaten Chelsea 4-1 and collected valuable victories against West Brom and Everton at Vicarage Road. In three games, they've scored six and only conceded once.
Away form has been more of a problem. Watford haven't scored on the road since the start of January and haven't won since beating Newcastle 3-0 in November. Next week they visit Liverpool; should they lose, which form suggests they will, a nervier finish to the season is possible.
An upturn in away form will be handy for the team as a whole, but might be more important to Gracia. He signed an 18-month contract when he arrived but will know as well as anyone that when it comes to Watford, the dates on managerial contracts are little more than a very rough guide.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.