Arsenal missed their chance to move into the top four of the Premier League for the first time this season, as Watford took all three points in a controversial 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road, this evening.
Following Chelsea’s shock 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, there was the chance for either of the two outfits from the North London area to leapfrog the Blues and close in on third place.
Per Mertesacker gave Arsenal the lead with a well-taken header in the first-half, but Arsenal’s work was then undone by a non-existent penalty on Richarlison, as Troy Deeney equalised from the spot before Tom Cleverley’s late winner.
The Gunners took to the field without a handful of its main creative outlets, as Arsène Wenger left the recently-recovered Mesut Özil on the bench in the wake of Alexis Sanchez’s and Aaron Ramsey’s absence.
Shkodran Mustafi’s injury also created space for Mertesacker to slot in at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, as the German veteran picked up his first Premier League start in 18 months.
In a cagey start to the affair, it was Watford who created the first bit of genuine danger in the 18th minute through Abdoulaye Doucouré’s cross, rounding Héctor Bellerín before fizzing a ball into Roberto Pereyra to glance his instinctive header wide.
Fresh from World Cup qualification with Egypt, Mohamed Elneny tried his luck from range in a period where Arsenal began to show personal struggles in breaking the Hornets down, with the midfielder firing the ball just over Heurelho Gomes’ bar in the 29th minute.
The North Londoners would find their source for goals from a Granit Xhaka set-piece, attacked by Mertesacker and headed past Gomes in the 38th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Arsenal’s one-goal-advantage could have soon been doubled on the brink of half-time, as Danny Welbeck picked out Bellerín inside the box before the Spaniard’s left-footed swing at the ball drifted wide.
With a goal between the two sides going into the second period, Watford came out looking for their response, as Richarlison sought an opening to bend a shot wide of Petr Čech’s far-post in the 51st minute.
Through Welbeck’s injury, Özil was given an early introduction into the game and imposed himself with immediate effect when slipping Alex Iwobi through on goal, who was later denied by Gomes with a crucial save from a side-footed effort into the far-corner in the 63rd minute.
Iwobi returned the favour with a pass that left Özil one-on-one with Gomes in the 70th minute, beating the offside trap before Brazilian shot-stopper could again keep Arsenal out, whereas the loudest roar would come at the other end where Neil Swarbrick had gifted Watford an avenue back into the game with a generous penalty, as Richarlison went to ground easily.
Second-half substitute Troy Deeney was the man elected to take the penalty, making no mistake from 12 yards and levelling the game moments later.
Another of Watford’s changes, Etienne Capoue, edged the hosts closer to all three points, as his shot from the edge of the box took a heavy deflection off Mertesacker’s chest to hit the opposing post in the 83rd minute.
The Gunners wouldn’t resist Watford’s ascendancy, however, as Mertesacker, with Čech floored, moved in to bail Arsenal out with a crucial block from Capoue’s shot before Tom Cleverley could sweep up and blast the 92nd minute winner into the back of the net.
Arsenal’s third league defeat of the season sees them drop down into sixth place.
By Patrick Ribeiro
Petr Čech (6) – Laurent Koscielny (6), Per Mertesacker (7), Nacho Monreal (6) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Mohamed Elneny (5), Granit Xhaka (6), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Alex Iwobi (6), Alexandre Lacazette (6), Danny Welbeck (5)
Subs: Mesut Özil (6), Olivier Giroud (5), Rob Holding (N/A)