Arsenal moved back into the Premier League top four with a 1-0 win over Watford.
Unai Emery’s men started the evening in sixth position, but they were given a helping hand on their way by the FA Cup finalists, who gifted the Gunners both a goal and a man advantage in the opening 13 minutes.
The visitors took the lead with just 10 minutes on the clock, thanks to an error from Hornets goalkeeper Ben Foster, who received a pass back and proceeded to blast it against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – with the ball rebounding into the net.
Shortly after, Javi Gracia’s side – aiming to finish ‘best of the rest’ – were down to 10 men, with skipper Troy Deeney sent off.
Eighteen months after his ‘cojones’ crack at the north Londoners, Deeney was dismissed after throwing an arm and catching Lucas Torreira.
Despite being a man down, Gracia’s men troubled the visitors throughout the first period, with Bernd Leno making smart saves to deny Craig Cathcart and Etienne Capoue.
Arsenal themselves missed good chances in the second half, with Foster also making a fine stop to deny Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
And Watford almost snatched an equaliser when Andre Gray rounded Leno – only for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to produce a fine block as the striker looked to roll into the empty net.
Here are five talking points from the encounter…
1. Emery shows tactical flexibility again
Arsenal put in an extremely impressive display against Napoli on Thursday, utilising a 3-4-1-2 formation against the Italian side.
Here, as well as making six changes, Emery elected to switch to a 4-2-3-1 as Arsenal looked to end their recent away woes; despite it meaning Shkodran Mustafi playing out of position at right-back.
It’s difficult to decide just how well the move worked however, given the events that unfolded at Vicarage Road during the early stages of the first half.
In the second period, the Gunners moved again, to a 3-4-3 formation, in a bid to keep the ball better against the hosts’ 10 men.
Did it work? Well, they should have done far better, both offensively and defensively, but they hung on and came through with the win.
2. Deeney’s stupidity
Last year, after this fixture, Deeney questioned Arsenal’s ‘cojones’.
Tonight, Hornets boss Javi Gracia will be questioning the brains of his skipper.
Eight days on from being the hero at Wembley with his 94th minute penalty, Deeney was sent off after a clash with Torreira.
It wasn’t the most dangerous of elbows you’ve even seen. In more likelihood, it was a forearm graze to the side of the head that led to the Uruguayan dropping to the deck.
Deeney wasn’t happy, labelling Torreira a “f****** p****” as he left the field, but it was stupid from the striker to give the officials a decision to make.
He’s now set to sit out three games.
3. Aubameyang’s hunger for more
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 18th Premier League goal of the campaign means he is now just one behind Mo Salah and Sergio Aguero in the race for the golden boot.
The Gabon forward made his own luck with this one, chasing down Foster. But overall this was a good performance from the club record signing, full of intelligent touches and smart runs.
If Arsenal are to finish in the top four and succeed in the Europa League, he’s going to have a big part to play.
4. The Mkhitaryan conundrum
Unai Emery selected the Armenian on the right side of Arsenal’s midfield quintet, but don’t expect to see him there against Napoli on Thursday, given his 90 minutes here.
The ex-Manchester United player is a real enigma. For much of the night he was poor, failing to show any personality; he was wasteful in the final third and careless with possession in the middle third.
But he also produced two absolutely magnificent deliveries – one which no-one gambled on and one which Aubameyang should have done better with – and would have scored himself but for a brilliant save from Foster.
There’s a player in there, but we continue to only see it in fits and starts.
5. Maitland-Niles shows his worth
Without Hector Bellerin, Maitland-Niles is making the right-back/wing-back slot his own.
He was only a substitute here, but made a telling intervention to deny Gray late on.
He’ll start in Napoli and will have a busy night against Lorenzo Insigne, the Partenopei captain and star man.
But given how he’s doing now and has been in recent weeks – since his own injury – you’d back him to come through it well.