Cech: Defeat to Hornets ‘huge setback’ to Arsenal title hopes

Petr Cech admits Arsenal suffered a “huge setback” ahead of their crunch meeting with Chelsea as Watford left the Emirates Stadium with all three points on Tuesday night.

A tough trip to face Antonio Conte’s Blues is next up, with a defeat at Stamford Bridge not only meaning Arsenal would be 12 points adrift of the summit but also with the possibility of being outside of the top four.

Cech, who won four league titles during his time at Chelsea, was beaten twice in the opening 13 minutes as the Hornets sprung a surprise on Tuesday — and conceded the defeat was all that Arsenal deserved.

“This was a huge setback because this was the game we wanted to win,” he said. “We wanted to put ourselves in a better position going into the weekend. I always say that at this level you cannot play 80 minutes, or 85. You have to play 90 minutes with full concentration and everybody on top of their game.

“We were second best in the first half. We made so many bad passes, we lost every challenge, we were simply second best.

“In the second half we improved, we had a lot of chances. I thought we were brilliant second half, but obviously we only scored one goal.

“We had a very bad start,” the Czech Republic goalkeeper added. “We were unlucky with the first goal when it takes a big deflection and it goes in.

“But then I think we didn’t play well at all. It was too much for us to take in the first half and it’s very hard to say why because we were prepared.

“We were on back-to-back wins, important wins, we had the momentum after the Burnley game and obviously the Southampton game went completely our way, exactly the way we wanted.”

Cech insists the players were prepared for the test after Arsene Wenger — who watched from the stands as his four-match touchline ban continued — questioned whether his players were “mentally ready” for the challenge posed by Watford.

Former Gunner Ray Parlour feels that the Frenchman’s future hinges on the success of this campaign and believes he will call time in his North London stay if it turns out to be another underwhelming one.

“He would know if he hasn’t done a good job this season, and I think he would walk,” Parlour said. “He wouldn’t go upstairs, I think he’d go back to France. I don’t think he’d be part of the board. I don’t think he’s the sort of man who would do that.”

  • Arsenal’s FA Cup 5th rd tie away to Sutton Utd at Gander Green Lane has been fixed for Monday, February 20 (7.55pm) and is live on BBC1.

FA Cup 5th round televised fixtures

Saturday February 18:

Burnley v Lincoln (BT Sport, 12:30pm), Wolves v Chelsea (BT Sport, 5:30pm)

Sunday February 19:

Fulham v Tottenham (BBC One, 2pm) Blackburn v Manchester United (BT Sport, 4:15pm, followed by 6th round draw)

Monday February 20:

Sutton v Arsenal (BBC One, 7:55pm)

Down to the bare bones

There is no return clause in Jack Wilshere’s loan move to Bournemouth — but how Arsenal would like to have him back now. Other central midfielders unavailable to Arsene Wenger include...

Santi Cazorla: (Plantaris/calf injury — no return date)

Mohamed Elneny: (African Cup of Nations/calf injury — no return date)

Granit Xhaka: (suspended — available February 17)

Aaron Ramsey: (calf injury — no return date)

Listen to the latest Irish Examiner Football Show: The Alan Shearer interview and the end of Arsenal’s title challenge

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