Arsenal 3-2 Watford: Gunners gear up for FA Cup final by relegating Troy Deeney's Hornets 
Arsenal beat Watford to relegate Troy Deeney's Hornets. CREDIT: GETTY

Arsenal geared up for the FA Cup final by beating Watford 3-2 at the Emirates to condemn their visitors to relegation from the Premier League on the final day of the 2019-20 season. 

A brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a strike from Kieran Tierney saw the Gunners race into a three goal lead, before Troy Deeney and former Arsenal man Danny Welbeck pulled two goals back.

In truth slack defending and poor finishing from the Hornets meant defeat was always on the cards in a microcosm of their disappointing season, while victory for the home side meant the north London giants would end the campaign in eighth place, a poor return for such a talented squad, but better than could be hoped for during the final, dismal days under previous boss Unai Emery. 

Gunners boss Mikel Arteta made five changes from the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Tuesday, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Kieran Tierney, Joe Willock, and Nicolas Pepe replacing Cedric Soares, Sead Kolasinac, Lucas Torreira, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah as the Gunners bid to send down Troy ‘Cojones’ Deeney’s Hornets.

Watford’s caretaker boss, the former West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins, opted to start with ex-Arsenal attacker Welbeck, while among their backroom staff they boasted the former Invincible reserve keeper Graham Stack, whose stock is rising all the time in football circles. 

Arsenal, showing their class off the pitch, paid tribute in their glossy match programme to a number of Gunners supporters no longer with us after sadly passing over the last few difficult months. The club also honoured these fallen Gunners with a black canon on the big screens comprising of the names of all those loved and lost. 

However, there was no time for sentiment once the game kicked off as the home side immediately dominated. 

Arsenal vs Watford first half

With only five minutes gone, Craig Dawson fouled Alex Lacazette in the box, forcing VAR to award to penalty to the home side – after, it has to be said, another lengthy deliberation. 

Captain Aubameyang, looking resplendent in his new red and white Adidas kit, stepped up to slot the ball past former England keeper Ben Foster to put Arsenal 1-0 up. 

The early goal stung the Hornets into action, prompted by the knowledge that they had to better the result of fellow relegation scrappers Villa, who were at West Ham. It was fair to say Deeney’s Watford needed to show ‘cojones’.

The injured Bernd Leno’s replacement, Emi  Martinez, made a smart block at his near post to deny Roberto Pereyra on 17 minutes as the Gunners held firm against the lively visitors, prompted by Welbeck and former Rennes attacker Ismalia Sarr. 

Fuelled by a solid backline the Gunners doubled their lead when former Celtic left-back Tierney made it 2-0 on 24 minutes with a neat drive flew past Foster via a slight deflection off Will Hughes

Arsenal made it 3-0 nine minutes later through a clever overhead kick by Aubameyang, which beat Foster at his near post, after the 31-year-old striker controlled first. While Aubameyang’s goal was enjoyable to watch, demonstrating once again, why the could need to persuade him to sign a new, long-term deal, questions have to be asked of the slack Watford marking which allowed the forward such time and space.

As the clock ticked towards half time, Watford grabbed a lifeline when Deeney slotted home a penalty after Welbeck was fouled in the box by a poor challenge from David Luiz to make it 3-1 – even if the news was tempered by the fact basement battles Bournemouth retook the lead against Everton, meaning the Hornets dropped back down to 19thspot. 

Arsenal vs Watford second half

The second period started with Watford's Sarr driving with the ball. This correspondent recalls covering Arsenal at Rennes last term and being impressed with his performance in the Roazhon during their 3-1 victory in the knockout stages of the Europa League. While the 22-year-old Senegal international hasn't kicked on this season as much as the Hornets would have wanted following his £25m move from Brittany, but the former Metz attacker remains a dangerous talent when fit and firing.

It was a shame for those rooting for Watford that perhaps Sarr wasn’t in Adam Masina’s dangerous position in the heart of Martinez’s box when he fired over despite being well-placed, in a chance the Morrocan-born former Bologna left-back should have converted. 

Watford remedied that when Welbeck slotted home on 66 minutes to make it 3-2 following an intelligent cross from the dangerous Sarr.

Welbeck could have levelled the scores moments later when his clever backheel forced Martinez into stretching full length to save after another driving run from the impressive Sarr, who was emerging as a greater threat by the minute. 

Watford pressed in search of the two goals they required but they couldn’t find a way past a resolute backline, to end the season with a trip back to the Championship, while Arteta’s Arsenal can look forward to a visit to Wembley next week. 

However, given the high hopes both sides harboured at the start of this interminable season, this strange, surreal and frustrating campaign will not be one either club looks back on with much joy.