Arsenal 1-2 Watford: How did the Hornets find their sting?

After falling off the pace in the Premier League, Watford continue to mount an FA Cup challenge as they reach the semi-finals.

Arsenal 1-2 Watford: How did the Hornets find their sting?
Ighalo's first goal for ten hours keeps Watford's season alive (photo: Getty Images)

With their league campaign stumbling into mid-table mediocrity and struggling to find the back of the net, Watford's season looked all but over until they saw off Arsenal in the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon.

Ighalo ignites

In 2015, Odion Ighalo was one of English football's hottest prospects. Banging in goals in both the Championship and Premier League, the Nigerian was in the top five players of most goals in English football last year. 

Yet in 2016 he had only scored two goals looking bereft of confidence before the Arsenal encounter. The striker was still getting into the right areas and having chances but could not seem to hit the back of net, failing to score since the end of January. Watford fans were hoping he could somehow grab a goal against the Gunners and he did just that with a fine finish after looking back to this best, putting the Arsenal defence under pressure all game long.

The deadly duo strike back

Watford's success in both the Championship and the first half of their Premier League campaign this season was built largely on the strike partnership of Ighalo and captain Troy Deeney. The grafter has spent much of this season with his back to goal, scrapping for pieces between opposition defences and midfield. Deeney lacks the pace to beat a number of Premier League defenders and has to rely on his physical presence and game knowledge to create openings.

Arguably the number 10 in the partnership, Deeney to Ighalo has been one of the most common forms of scoring in the league this season. Yet in recent weeks the captain had appeared frustrated as he failed to receive the service in return as Ighalo attempted to end his bad run of form in front of goal. Though any bad feeling was certainly put to one side against Arsenal, as that combination forged again, with Deeney flicking the ball on for his partner's opening goal.

Greater contribution from midfield

Part of the recent problems for Watford in their latest games was the lack of contribution to goals from midfield. The Hornets do not have a midfielder who is willing to break past the strikers and get into the box on regular occassions, causing Ighalo and Deeney to shoulder most of the scoring duties. 

Ben Watson is a creative force but tends to sit deep, causing Ighalo and Deeney to have to feed off passes too far from the opposition goal. Nordin Amrabat provides width and trickery but is struggling to produce consistent form in the Premier League. The most likely midfield goal threat had come from box-to-box midfielders Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami, though the former had looked jaded recently and the latter out of form.

Yet the Watford midfield were up for the Cup as they played the perfect performance. As they have done well all season, they offered invaluable protection to the back four, before springing forward at every opportunity in an attempt to break a nervy Arsenal who had seen their season unravel in recent weeks. A brilliant midfield display was capped off by Adlene Guedioura's wonder strike to seal their semi-final berth.

The Algerian celebrates his goal (photo: reuters)
The Algerian celebrates his goal (photo: reuters)

Luck and bravery entwined

Sometimes an out of form team simply just need a run of luck and that is what Watford got against Arsenal. The Gunners could not take their opportunities in the first half and Danny Welbeck missed a golden chance to send the match to a replay. Though Watford certainly earned their luck, as a defence marshalled by the returning Craig Cathcart put their bodies on the long to help Quique Sanchez Flores' team to Wembley.