Troy Deeney says he and Watford knew Arsenal lacked 'cojones'

Deeney’s muscular approach enough to knock embarrassing Gunners off course

Tom Cleverley said Watford had "smelled a little bit of blood" as they took a more muscular approach to Arsenal in the final half-hour.

Troy Deeney said the Gunners lacked "a bit of cojones" and that, when he rose from the bench and attempted to discover which of their three centre-backs might be least able to cope with his physicality, he found that "none of them were".

Arsène Wenger, meanwhile, said: “We played well in big parts of the game and I think on top of that we were unlucky” – thereby proving it is not only Arsenal’s players who prefer to shirk responsibility than to face it.

The match changed the moment Wenger introduced Mesut Özil for Danny Welbeck after 61 minutes.

The German did not single-handedly lose the game – though he certainly did not win it despite being given a wonderful chance to do so – but very soon after his arrival the home side took control.

Wenger was asked if Özil should be considered responsible and put up a flimsy defence of his player.

“It’s difficult to come out on any individual after a game like that,” he said. “He had a good chance to score a goal and on the positive note he gave a good ball to [Alex] Iwobi as well. After that, of course, when the ball is to defend in the air, it’s not his strength.”

Watford, after a fairly feeble first half at the end of which they deservedly trailed, had attacked with impressive intent in the first quarter-hour of the second but with little effect.

To say they were, in football parlance, knocking on the door in this period would be inaccurate. It was the hollow sound of someone who has no idea how to knock on doors and has certainly never entered one. Occasionally they would headbutt a lintel or ram a jamb but there seemed little chance of success. And then Wenger pulled back the latch and flung it wide open.

With neither the injured Alexis Sánchez nor Özil in the team, the first hour had been a glimpse into Arsenal’s potential future and it was competent rather than inspiring.

The home side started with five at the back, a formation they had used for part of one previous match this season, to counter Arsenal’s triple attacking threat of Welbeck, Alexandre Lacazette and Iwobi.

Though they restricted Arsenal to a single goal, and that from a set piece, their players spent much of the first half frantically pointing at each other, forever convinced someone was in the wrong place. The system’s unfamiliarity was evident and Arsenal’s movement was exposing this weakness.

Then, in the 61st minute, Wenger took Welbeck off and brought on Özil. Within 90 seconds Watford switched to a back four, brought on Deeney and everything was transformed.

“The change to a back four worked,” said Adrian Mariappa, the centre-back they sacrificed. “We went right on the ascendancy and had a great performance from there.”

Later collapse

Rather than blaming the player who was introduced Arsenal should regret his introduction.

Not only was Özil not the game’s key figure, he was not even its most important German player in an Arsenal shirt. Per Mertesacker made his first Premier League appearance of the season, headed in a corner in the 39th minute and coped classily with Watford’s first-choice centre-forward, Andre Gray, who, despite his pace and his marker’s lack of it, never truly engaged him in a foot race.

But Mertesacker more than anyone embodied his side’s later collapse: when Gray was replaced and the first long pass looped forward to Deeney he made only the most half-hearted attempt to win it and from there his authority disintegrated.

“The manager really got stuck into us at half-time and said we needed to believe in ourselves more,” said Cleverley. “He said we have been easy on them and were not believing we can win this game. He changed our mindset.”

It should not have mattered.

In the 70th minute Arsenal broke, Iwobi played in the unmarked Özil but the German’s attempted finish was casual and easily saved. The next time the ball went out of play was when Richarlison, again impressive, had collapsed in the area after being caught on the calf by Hectór Bellerín and the referee was pointing to the spot.

Deeney rattled in the penalty and Watford kept fighting, running and winning. When the fourth official indicated four minutes of stoppage time the stadium erupted.

By this time there was only one potential victor. Watford threw men forward; Arsenal threw up their hands. José Holebas shot, chaos ensued and Cleverley, encouraged to attack by Arsenal’s meekness, converted.

“You smell a little bit of blood,” said Cleverley. “I felt we were on the front foot and I gambled a bit for the goal. If you were a bit more wary of a team, then maybe I wouldn’t have done.”

This was in the end a victory for bravery – tactical and individual – over a lack of fortitude. Arsenal are a fine team if a flawed one and will enjoy many more victories this season than they will endure defeats. But this was an embarrassment. Guardian Service