Arsenal title chances damaged by home defeat to Watford

The anguish shows on the faces of Arsenal players (l-r) Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monre

The anguish shows on the faces of Arsenal players (l-r) Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal after they concede the opening goal against Watford - Credit: Archant

Arsenal crashed to a lacklustre 2-1 defeat at the hands of Watford to dent their Premier League title hopes.

The frustration around the ground was palpable, as a tepid display angered the Emirates crowd throughout the dreary evening – and a long one for all those associated with the club.

Two early first-half goals in the space of three minutes set the tone for the night, as Younes Kaboul opened the scoring from a powerful free-kick, which was shortly followed by a tap-in for Troy Deeney after good work from Etienne Capoue.

Alex Iwobi converted an Alexis Sanchez cross just before the hour mark, but it was not enough to mount a comeback, as the visitors held out to take all three points.

Arsene Wenger, who served the second of his four-game touchline ban, made 10 changes from the side which dispatched Southampton 5-0 in the FA Cup on Saturday, with Shkodran Mustafi the only survivor.

Mesut Ozil and Sanchez, both of whom scored in the 3-1 win at Vicarage Road earlier this season, returned to the starting line-up, as the Gunners searched for a seventh win in their last eight games.

Walter Mazzarri, fresh from losing the services of Odion Ighalo to Chongchun Yatai, handed a debut to the on-loan AC Milan striker M’Baye Niang, with hopes of winning their first midweek Premier League game since April 2007.

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The Hornets started brightly, with Deeney and Niang, who had once been on trial with the Gunners, making their presence felt, earning the visitors a succession of free-kicks around Arsenal’s box.

One of those free-kicks paid dividend in the 10th minute, as Kaboul’s powerful drive clipped the leg of Aaron Ramsey on its way through the red shirts, to dumbfound Petr Cech and give the away side a shock lead.

It was soon two. Following a lapse in concentration, Capoue broke clear, unleashing a strike which Cech could only deflect to the onrushing Deeney, who couldn’t miss from six yards out.

The mood was further soured when Ramsey had to be substituted due to an injury, meaning Arsenal’s already threadbare midfield is now looking seriously depleted.

Wenger’s men were then denied a penalty appeal in the 24th minute after Nacho Monreal was adjudged to have dived in the box, a decision which angered the already infuriated home crowd even more.

The first half ended with boos and jeers, as Wenger’s men could not muster a single shot on target, whilst their counterparts had enjoyed six and looked extremely good value for their lead.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing the stricken Ramsey, and Theo Walcott on at half-time for Olivier Giroud, the Gunners started the second half with far more urgency in their attack.

Walcott was the first man to sting the fingers of Heurelho Gomes, with an effort from inside the box which really should have been tucked away.

This chance was then followed by successive shots from Ozil and Iwobi, but neither was powerful enough to beat the Watford stopper.

However, Iwobi – on his 50th appearance for the Gunners – was not to be denied. Following a superb deft cross from Sanchez, the Nigerian manoeuvred himself into position to calmly place a volley into the far corner and give Arsenal hope of a comeback.

Both Nacho Monreal and Lucas went close late on, with the latter rattling the underside of the bar with a fierce effort.

But it was not to be Arsenal’s night, as Watford held out for all three points to leave the home crowd underwhelmed and frustrated.