A bit of a no-man’s land performance from Arsenal, with half an eye on next weekend.
But given the reported state of finances, Arsenal needed the finishing position money.
Arteta reverted to a back four – Maitland Niles and Tierney on the outside, with Holding and Luiz in the middle. Willock, Ceballos and Xhaka comprised the midfield and Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe up front. Danny Welbeck partnered Deeney up front for Watford.
Too much tinkering? Would Arsenal players be unsure of positions after a long running back three. How would David Luiz fare in a back four?
The sluggishness from Villa still persisted.
Luiz sent long ball to Aubameyang in the first minute. He crossed and Dawson took out Lacazette in the area going straight into his back and hitting the Frenchman’s head, and Ceballos fired the loose ball over.
Referee Mike Dean over-ruled it, but VAR picked up the issue and gave a penalty. Aubameyang scored to Foster’s right, putting him on 21 goals – two behind Vardy in the race for the Golden Boot.
Pepe took it to the byline and cut back for Aubameyang to shoot – but it was blocked by Dawson.
A break by the impressive and speedy Sarr, who compares favourably with Pepe at half the cost, with the Arsenal defence in disarray, led to two shots, blocked by Holding and Martinez respectively.
Sarr ran free again ran down the right and crossed – hashed by Holding, who was having distribution problems.
The customary pin-ball broke out in the Arsenal area, with Ceballos cleverly weaving his way out of trouble.
An open flowing game then saw Maitland Niles cut an acute ball into the middle of the area.
Willock drove it on to Pepe who looped a cross to Aubameyang and on to Tierney whose first-time side-foot took two small deflections into the corner – the Scottish defender’s first goal for Arsenal.
Deeney roughed up Maitland Niles in an aerial challenge and run into him on the ground, as is his style.
Aubameyang picked it from a Tierney long throw and performed a bicycle kick into Foster’s net.
Watford, who arguably were the better team, found themselves three down. It was part Arsenal’s efficient finishing and part-luck.
But ‘Luiz the Liability’ stepped in, tackled Welbeck late and gave away a penalty, following a loose ball from Holding (not the first in the match) – and the fifth the Brazilian conceded this season – a Premiership record.
Xhaka picked up an unnecessary yellow after back-chatting Mike Dean.
Some loose balls from Arsenal at the beginning of the second half.
A long throw caused panic in the Arsenal area. Holding failed to clear and Masina fired over when he should have scored.
On 55, Kolasinac and Nketiah came on for Willock and Lacazette – and Arsenal reverted to a back three.
Maitland Niles had a pop but it was saved by Foster.
Deeney and Welbeck performed an incisive one-two, with the ex-Arsenal forward drawing a good save by Martinez. Goalscoring at that moment appeared never one of Danny’s strong suits.
But determination is and soon after, Sarr’s low cross – and Luiz and Hoding let Welbeck in to tap home.
Arsenal have lost the most points from winning positions under Arteta than anyone else since the time he took over. A worrying stat for next season.
Torriera and Nelson came on for Ceballos and Pepe.
Holding had a rush of blood and fouled Hughes – giving away a free kick and a receiving a yellow card.
Deeney passed to to Sarr who centred to Welbeck who back-heeled it goalward – but was well saved by Martinez.
Nketiah pressed successfully in the middle and broke towards the Watford goal and when one on one with Foster, passed to Aubameyang, when he was better placed to score. With the Golden Boot in his sights, he didn’t lift it, going for power, and Foster saved.
Nelson got to the byline and crossed – but Tierney sent it over. And then dribbled inside for a blocked shot – in a neat cameo, showing his potential.
Sarr passed inside to Cleverley and Torriera gave away a free kick on the edge of the area. Chalobah sent it in and Deeney headed over with Holding beaten.
In the final moments, a cross hit Welbeck on the hip when he should have scored.
As it turned out, the victory was worth £3m to Arsenal, who climbed above Burnley and Sheffield United. Strangely they received more Premiership money (£134m) than Wolves and Leicester who finished above them – due to facilities payments.
Arsenal finished in their lowest position since 1994-95. Managerial changes affected them too that season, with the George Graham bung scandal, and Stewart Houston taking over in the February, and having to deal with the Merson issue. It shows the importance of stability at the top for a club like Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta said: “It was a really tough game. The level of urgency they had is not what we had.
“After going 2-0 up you think this is going to easy but that’s a big mistake because without the ball we weren’t at the races. In certain aspects of the game I didn’t like what I was watching. I tried to correct that.”
Troy Deeney said: “Look at bigger picture. Not quite good enough at both ends of the pitch. People will lose their jobs as we haven’t been good enough. Individually and collectively we haven’t been good enough. All the Arsenal players have been great on and off the pitch. We wish them luck in the Cup Final.” There are some real good lads and individuals at Arsenal.” A very impressive and honest interview.
Arsenal: Martínez (Booked 74), Maitland-Niles, Holding (Booked at 72), David Luiz, Tierney, Ceballos (Substituted for Torreira at 72), Xhaka (Booked at 45), Pépé (Substituted for Nelson at 72), Willock (Substituted for Kolasinac at 57), Aubameyang, Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 57)
Watford: Foster, Femenía (Substituted for Mariappa at 45+2), Kabasele, Dawson (Booked at 51), Masina, Hughes (Booked at 45, Substituted for Chalobah at 81), Doucouré (Substituted for Cleverley at 81), Sarr, Pereyra (Booked at 35, Substituted for João Pedro at 88), Welbeck, Deeney