Petr Cech penalty save a big moment as Arsenal look to salvage season
Beyond the final whistle that brings to a close a tight game, the thing that makes football fans the loudest is scoring a goal. The eruption of celebration and emotion is spontaneous and pure, so it was telling on Sunday that despite scoring three times, it wasn't the goals that elicited the biggest response from Arsenal supporters.
That came in the 62nd minute after Watford had been awarded a penalty. Troy Deeney stepped up to get his team back into the game, the only obstacle between him and that was Petr Cech.
The Arsenal goalkeeper had faced 15 penalties since his arrival at the club in 2015 and had yet to make a save. Perhaps the law of averages was on his side, but that barren run simply added to the pressure. When you're beaten that often -- and there's a wider point about how many spot kicks the Gunners concede -- it almost becomes self-defeating.
This time though, the 35-year-old got it right, getting a strong enough hand to Deeney's effort to keep the ball out and for Sead Kolasinac to hack the ball to safety. The crowd's reaction was immense -- not simply because at long last Cech had made a penalty save, or because it was hugely important in the context of the game.
The celebration was for the save, but it was also because it was from Deeney. After the Hornets came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 earlier in the season, the Watford captain took it upon himself to cast aspersions on the character of the opposition players and team in a postmatch television interview.
It was the kind of interview you rarely hear, not just because it demonstrates a lack of respect for fellow professionals, but because you're also setting yourself up for a fall if you fail to display the very characteristics you're accusing others of lacking. Missing from the spot is a failure for a forward, some might say it shows an inability to cope with pressure -- which is exactly what Deeney said was missing from Arsenal.
What goes around comes around and the fans at the Emirates on Sunday made that very clear to the Watford man as Cech made the save. There was also a measure of relief too, because had he scored it would have made an already tight game more difficult.
Although 2-0 up, Arsenal's second goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had come very much against the run of play. Watford had enjoyed a good spell of pressure either side of half time, and such is the fragile nature of this team's confidence that being pegged back immediately would undoubtedly have increased the nervousness.
Letting slip winning positions has been one of the frustrations of the season, and with performances of late so unconvincing, the importance of keeping the penalty out can't be underestimated.
Nor too the fact that with AC Milan coming on Thursday, the need to build on the win in the San Siro last week was obvious. The last chance of success this season lies with the Europa League, so after a good first leg the last thing Arsene Wenger would have wanted is to be firefighting after another disappointing result.
The other big positive of the day was the fact that Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ended up with a goal and an assist each. The two know each other very well from their Borussia Dortmund days, and having moved on three players in January who scored 60 percent of their goals last season, Arsenal really needed these two to click straight away.
Aubameyang now has three goals to his name, while the Mkhitaryan has two goals and five assists. It's early days, but the signs are promising, and the fact they combined with such efficiency -- especially for the second goal at a time when Watford were pressing hard for an equaliser -- speaks to an increased attacking potency which will be very useful if they can continue to repeat it.
The day, however, belonged to Petr Cech who finally got the clean sheet he needed to take him to 200 in the Premier League, and the fact he thwarted a pantomime villain was the icing on the cake.
Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.