Revitalised Arsenal switched on for repeat of ‘98 power surge

Arsenal 4 Watford 0: Arsene Wenger’s side have looked anything but history-makers in recent weeks.

The manager, though, believes they are capable of reviving memories of the club’s successful title run-in 18 years ago.

Then, Wenger’s side embarked on a 10-game winning run that allowed them to claw back a nine-point deficit on a Manchester United side who would win the treble 12 months later.

It will take something similarly unlikely to return the title to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since 2004.

The comfortable defeat of Watford on Saturday came after the impressive win at Everton before the international break that came on the back of the club’s exit from the FA Cup and Champions League and drew criticism that Wenger’s team can move through the gears when the pressure is off.

That may be the case, but at the moment, as far as their Premier League title challenge is concerned, the yawning gap between Arsenal and Leicester City means the pressure most definitely is off with Claudio Ranieri’s side and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur the teams under the greatest scrutiny.

Hence the parallels with 1998, even if the charge began in bizarre circumstances then — a 1-0 win in a rearranged game at Wimbledon in early March was the starting point for the 10-game run, after the original fixture had been abandoned in December when the floodlights failed as part of a betting scam.

“We had a game in hand in 1998. Suddenly we had a good run, because we won at Manchester United,” said the manager.

“I don’t know if you remember but we played at Wimbledon and the electricity went off, which was down to betting. The game was cancelled and we won when it was replayed, we won at Manchester United, and suddenly everybody thought it was possible. Unfortunately, this time we have to fight with two teams.”

This time around, the trigger for any Arsenal revival is likely to be something much more straightforward like the emergence of a young talent like Alex Iwobi and the return to fitness of key players.

Danny Welbeck has given the attack much more bite and with Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere close to a return, the squad will have more substance.

“To have a run you have to find a team who clicks at the right moment, sometimes you have all kinds of reasons,” said Wenger. “Because your injured players come back like Welbeck, because of the emergence of some players like Iwobi. I don’t know. But I feel the technical quality of our game and the pace of our game is good. That’s a good basis.

“We have only one target now. And as well, we always go through difficult periods and in the end the teams who do well are the team who continue to perform and continue to get results even when the period is a bit more difficult. I believe this team has the right mentality. I have had many teams in my life and this team is top quality. They have gone through a bad period but when they play like that, it shows that mentality.”

Alexis Sanchez confirmed he is nearing a return to his best by scoring the fifth-minute opening goal before setting up Iwobi for the 31st-minute second. The Chile international was also the creative force behind Hector Bellerin’s 48th-minute effort while Theo Walcott wrapped up the win in the final minute.

Watford looked a shadow of the side that won on the same ground in the FA Cup sixth round and manager Quique Sanchez Flores admitted it is difficult to ignore the semi-final meeting with Crystal Palace at the end of the month.

“It is hard (to ignore it), it is hard, it is like to fight against a phantom,” said Flores. “To fight with players, leading players, to say ‘you need to do that, because you are making mistakes’.

“It is a little bit of a phantom, because it is something that is in the air, it’s here, it’s there, it’s up, it’s down, it’s different. It’s a thought. It’s embodied in the dressing room, embodied in the club. Not always player or staff, it’s workers inside Watford.

“It’s impossible every week to pass through the office and it’s all “tickets for the FA Cup, tickets for the FA Cup”. What happened? We play in the league tomorrow!”

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1):

Ospina 7; Bellerin 7, Gabriel 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Elneny 8, Coquelin 6; Sanchez 9 (Campbell 78), Iwobi 8 (Walcott 74), Ozil 7; Welbeck 7 (Giroud 69, 6).

Subs:

Cech, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Chambers, Campbell.

WATFORD (4-4-1-1):

Gomes 7; Nyom 5, Prodl 5, Cathcart 6, Ake 6; Abdi 6 (Guedioura 69, 6), Suarez 5, Watson 5, Capoue 3 (Anya 41, 6); Deeney 6; Ighalo 4 (Amrabat 46, 6).

Subs:

Pantilimon, Britos, Jurado, Berghuis.

Referee:

Anthony Taylor 6


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