Arsene Wenger seemed blissfully unaware of the intense negativity surrounding him and his side before they ended a domestic run of three successive Premier League defeats and a League Cup final fiasco with this emphatic victory.
The Wenger out brigade were at their loudest when Watford defeated Arsenal at Vicarage Road in October, the day their captain Troy Deeney said the Frenchman’s players lacked the balls for a battle.
Juventus coach Max Allegri is the latest big name to join a long list of apparent wonder coaches waiting in the wings for Wenger to walk or be sacked this summer.
Though it seems hard to believe Wenger is immune to the noise, he is clearly determined to fight on for at least another season after this win followed an impressive midweek triumph over AC Milan by making six changes to his side to take on Deeney and Co.
An early headed goal from Shkodran Mustafi eased the tension before second-half strikes from Wenger’s former Borussia Dortmund double act Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan sealed the deal at a time Arsenal looked vulnerable.
And victory was sweeter still after Petr Cech marked his record 200th clean sheet by saving his first penalty for Arsenal and from pantomime villain Deeney, who was the subject of constant vitriol.
Wenger admitted he was concerned by the lack of numbers in a crowd that was officially listed as over 59,000 and that there was still work to be done to heal the wounds of a wretched season and the three defeats in a week — against Manchester City twice and then Brighton — that preceded this match.
“I have shown in 22 years that I focus on my job,” he said. “I do not know how much negativity is out there as I think I have shown that I can focus on my job and respect everybody’s opinion while being totally committed to my job.
“I worry [about the stay away fans] as I want our fans to be happy to be behind the team. I am understanding after what happened in that week, but we are in a job where we have to get the fans back on our side.
Wenger’s woes aside, it was a great day for Cech and a miserable one for Deeney, who came up against an Arsenal side inspired by his pre-match comments.
Watford manager Javi Gracia said he did not blame his figurehead, but added that he preferred to show respect to opponents.
Wenger added: “Cech had to wait a while to save a penalty. He was fortunate it was against Deeney and on top of that to get the clean sheet.
Cech had been on 199 clean sheets for 11 matches and was rarely tested, the penalty aside, by an average Watford side. The Hornets were easily undone by Mustafi’s eighth-minute header from a Mesut Ozil free-kick, which set the tone.
It marked a third goal of the season for the German and Arsenal’s 1000th in the Premier League and made Ozil the fastest player to record 150 assists, for those who like meaningless modern statistics.
As so often has been the case in recent seasons, Arsenal continued to dominate the match without really looking like scoring again, meaning Watford were always one attack or free-kick away from getting back into it.
And they could have done just that from a dead ball 20 yards out. Richarlison curled the ball against the foot of a post and Roberto Pereyra made a mess of the rebound from close range.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Watford seemingly happy to let Arsenal retain possession in the hope they would self-implode, as they did when they came from behind in the clash at Vicarage Road earlier in the season.
Then Aubameyang scored the significant second just when Wenger was about to shake things up with the introduction of Danny Welbeck with half an hour to go.
It was a goal of beautiful simplicity as Mkhitaryan sprung the offside trap and found the Gabon striker, who rounded the keeper with a first touch and scored with a second.
And, as the game, suddenly came to life, Deeney was standing with the ball at the penalty spot with a chance to score after an Ainsley Maitland-Niles foul on Pereyra a minute later.
The hostility towards Deeney was almost as loud as the goal celebrations and a few decibels higher still when Cech denied him.
Arsenal should then have had a penalty when Adrian Mariappa took Mkhitaryan out from the ankle in the very next attack.
And some people wonder why there will be no Premier League referees officiating at this summer’s World Cup.
Martin Atkinson and the Watford defence were powerless, however, to stop the Armenian from scoring Arsenal’s third with 14 minutes to go as he shot home from a pass from Aubameyang.
The only concern for Arsenal was the unknown extent of the groin injury sustained by Mustafi, but Wenger reported fellow defenders Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin could be available again for Thursday night’s second leg against AC Milan.
Cech 7; Maitland-Niles 6, Mustafi 7 (Chambers 73, 6), Holding 6, Kolasinac 6; Elneny 6, Xhaka 7; Mkhitaryan 8 (Wilshere 78, 6), Ozil 7, Iwobi 4 (Welbeck 66, 6); Aubameyang 7.
Karnezis 7; Femenia 6 (Hughes 62, 6) , Prodl 4, Mariappa 6, Holebas 5; Doucoure 6, Capoue 5; Janmaat 5 (Britos 80, 6), Pereyra 5 (Okaka 67, 6), Richarlison 6; Deeney 5.
Martin Atkinson 5/10.
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