Watford 2-2 Arsenal: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Hornets Second Half Fightback Stings Gunners

A late Roberto Pereyra penalty gave Quique Sanchez Flores a near-perfect start to life as Watford manager once again in a stirring 2-2 draw with Arsenal at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets started the better of the two sides, and spurred on by a voracious Vicarage Road atmosphere, they twice went close to taking the lead early on – with Tom Cleverley and Gerard Delofeu testing Bernd Leno with speculative strikes – before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang opened the scoring with a fine finish on the turn. 

The Gunners’ lead was taken against the run of play, but it seemed to knock Watford out of their stride, and Unai Emery’s men took full advantage with a second goal on the half-hour mark. While the first was made by Sead Kolasinac’s tenacity on the left, the second came from the opposite flank as Ainsley Maitland-Niles burst forward and squared for Aubameyang, who tapped in to double his money.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The hosts refused to lie down, however, and after starting the second half much like the first, they were gifted a route back into the game when Sokratis’ square ball to Matteo Guendouzi in his own area was intercepted by Gerard Deloufeu and swept home by Tom Cleverley. 

The Hornets took this as their queue to pile on the pressure, and the introduction of record-signing Ismaila Sarr seemed to add to the momentum that was already building. And after half-an-hour of relentlessly pressing, they got their just desserts for a tenacious performance as David Luiz foolishly brought down Pereyra in the area – and the Argentine stepped up to convert the resulting penalty. 

After a frantic end-to-end conclusion, 2-2 it would finish, as Unai Emery’s men are left rueing the defensive missteps that cost them a game that would have otherwise been comfortable.


Key Talking Point

Having parted company with Javi Gracia before the international break, this match represented the returning Quique Sanchez Flores’ first opportunity to make an impression on his side – albeit one against formidable opposition. 

But while it started well, with some forays into the Arsenal third and an effort or two on target, things very quickly fell back into a familiar pattern for the Hornets, who have now gone 17 straight games without keeping a clean sheet.

Aubameyang’s first half double quelled a raucous atmosphere and glaringly exposed the sort of defensive fragility that had seen the Hornets concede eight in their four previous league matches.


While the ​Watford side we’ve so often seen this season would have succumbed to a hammering, however, Flores’ men stood up to the task and clawed their way back into the game. 

In the end, they were unlucky not to go away with all three points – but one will certainly go some way towards lifting the spirits of a side previously bereft of confidence. 

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Foster (6); Femenia (7), Dawson (6), Kabasele (6), Holebas (6); Hughes (6) Doucoure (6), Capoue (6), Deulofeu (8); Cleverley (7); Gray (5)

Subs: Sarr (7), Pereyra (7), Janmaat (6)

Star Man – Gerard Deulofeu

Questions were raised when the Spaniard started on the left of a midfield four as opposed to the false nine role that saw him flourish under Gracia last season, but the space and freedom in possession afforded by his new role saw him turn in one of his finest performances in a Watford shirt.

He was a constant menace drifting into the space between Sokratis and Maitland-Niles, and showed a tenacious edge to his game to win the ball back and gift Cleverley with his side’s first goal. 

It was a hugely encouraging display from the former Barcelona man, and Flores can get this sort of display out of Deulofeu on a consistent basis, then he may well be onto a winner. 


Key Talking Point

Unai Emery opted to freshen things up after a polarising performance against Tottenham in their last outing, with Mesut Ozil called in for his first start of the season in the place of the injured Alexander Lacazette. 

Dani Ceballos came in for Lucas Torreira in the other change, as the Spaniard reverted to the midfield diamond that heralded plenty of criticism in their trip to Anfield a few weeks ago. 

After a questionable start, however, the benefits of the new system became clear to see, as Ozil’s presence as an attacking pivot proved too much for Watford to handle on the counter. Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles provided the width that was so often missing in Merseyside, so it is perhaps a system that is best suited to games against teams who set up to frustrate. 

But it was the German’s welcome return in particular that made the difference, as his pass for Maitland-Niles in the build-up to Aubameyang’s second served as a welcome reminder of what he can bring to the table when he’s on his game. 

However, as is often the case with Arsenal, what looked like it was going to be a day to celebrate quickly gave way to a defensive disasterclass. Two horrific errors, one from each centre-back, needlessly gave Watford a route back into the game, and having taken their opponents to pieces in the first 45 minutes, they were forced to settle for what is a hugely disappointing point. 

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Leno (6); Maitland-Niles (6), Sokratis (5), Luiz (6); Kolasinac (7); Guendouzi (6), Xhaka (6), Ceballos (7); Ozil (7); Pepe (6), Aubameyang (8)

Subs: Willock (6), Torreira (6), Nelson (6)

Star Man – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

There are a couple of contenders for this one, but it’s hard to take it away from the man whose predatory goalscoring instincts once again proved the difference for his side. 

His first goal was one straight out of the Auba textbook, while his second – getting himself on the end of a Maitland-Niles cross – came as a result of his positional sense and desire to get there first. It was another formidable display from the striker, who has shown once again why starting him in a central position plays to his extensive list of strengths. 

Looking Ahead

Flores’ task gets no easier from here, as his men are tasked with the unenviable task of facing a stinging Manchester City at the Etihad next weekend, before a League Cup tie with Swansea gives the boss a welcome break from facing up against elite opposition. 

Arsenal, meanwhile, will travel to Germany on Thursday to kick off their Europa League campaign against Eintracht Frankfurt, before Sunday’s visit of Aston Villa.