Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Old habits die hard for Arsenal as stats make for worrying reading for Unai Emery

Watford had 31 attempts at goal to eventually claw back Arsenal's two-goal advantage. It was the most Arsenal faced in the Premier League since Opta began correlating such statistics, in 2003/04

It was a case of two steps forward, two steps back.

Two goals to the good at Watford, Arsenal eventually departed Vicarage Road with two points dropped. Old failings resurfaced, a familiar story retold.

Where the battle for North London suggested Unai Emery’s emissaries had discovered a new-season steeliness, Watford reminded of a rust that’s hard to shake.

Two-nil up at half time, Arsenal unravelled after the interval, conceding twice and almost again at the death. The Premier League’s bottom club, Watford, nearly marked Quique Sanchez Flores’ return with the first win of a still-early campaign.

Buoyed eventually by their new-manager bounce, the hosts concluded the match with 31 attempts at goal, with 23 arriving in the second half. It was the most Arsenal faced in the Premier League since Opta began correlating such statistics, in 2003/04.

That season, the club crowed as the Invincibles. On Sunday, they cowed.

“No one wanted the ball,” admitted Granit Xhaka, the captain. “We were too scared.”

Anxious, Arsenal were architects of their own downfall. On 53 minutes, Sokratis Papastathopoulos fluffed his pass from a short goal-kick, allowing Tom Cleverley to thrash home. Arsenal had contrived to gift another goal: a 14th error leading to a concession since the beginning of last season. It ranks as two more than any other top-flight club in that time.

There was still time for David Luiz to compound the calamity. With 11 minutes remaining, the Brazilian thrust out a leg to impede Roberto Pereyra, who dusted himself off and dutifully dispatched his penalty. Arsenal had given away a third spot-kick in five matches this season; a 10th overall stretching back 13 months.

The make-up of the miscreants said much. A summer signing designed to add authority to where it was most certainly lacking, Luiz has displayed why many questioned his move across the capital from Chelsea. The Watford miscalculation followed swiftly from costly decision-making against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

It continued a trend. Last time out, Xhaka lunged needlessly at Son Heung-min at the Emirates, handing Spurs a penalty and a two-goal advantage. On Sunday, the midfielder was lax in possession and lethargic out of it. It hardly warranted the armband.

Even Matteo Guendouzi, heralded in the comeback draw against Spurs and subsequently hoisted into the France squad, was uncharacteristically wasteful. When substituted midway through the second half with his side 2-1 up, he mimed the score to Watford fans behind the away dugout. Picked up post-match by the official Watford Twitter account, and with victory denied, Guendouzi was left to rue his impudence.

All told, the disappointment for Emery surely is that, in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he has an attacker the envy of most. The Gabon striker put Arsenal 2-0 up, registering a four and fifth of the campaign. It took his tally since his league debut in February last year to 37 goals. Only Mohamed Salah, with 39, has managed more.

Aubameyang appears to have a perfect foil in Alexandre Lacazette, both on and off the pitch, although against Watford, he missed his strike partner, out through injury. Upon his first start of the season, Mesut Ozil provided only glimpses of his talent. Meanwhile, Nicolas Pepe, the club-record signing this summer from Lille, promises much.

Yet the problems lie behind them. Sokratis and Luiz are hardly reliable, floundering especially with no sturdy protection in front. Five matches in, Emery searches still for his most effective midfield. Of the top five leagues in Europe, Arsenal have conceded more chances this season that anyone else, with 96. It represents pretty damning data.

After the optimism of opening victories against Newcastle United and Burnley, Emery's men are winless in three.

“We will continue our way of working,” the Spaniard said. “We need to improve, to take some information from this match. But also we’ll learn about that.”

At present, they’re learning the hard way. Arsenal are proving once more than old habits remain the most difficult to shed.

Updated: September 16, 2019 12:18 PM

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