It would be far too simplistic to suggest that the Gunners’ immediate uptick in form was as simple as flicking a switch, but the Arsenal team that supporters have seen the last 2 matches looks a totally different side to the one that was obliterated by Manchester City over 180 minutes just over a week ago. The players have been tasked with rediscovering their best form at the most difficult time of the season, and they have managed to stop their worst losing streak in 16 years with 2 extremely efficient matches in a row.
Much like the Milan match last Thursday, the Gunners had several players worthy of mention for their stellar performance on Sunday. Shkodran Mustafi scored the opening goal of the match and put in a very focused performance at the back, his voice often picked up on the stadium microphones barking out orders to his teammates, while Rob Holding deputised for the resting Laurent Koscielny so well, many are calling for him to see more minutes with the starters. Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mhkitaryan were once again the creative engine that kept the team ticking over, and they were sublime with their passing in the final third. Mohammed Elneny and Granit Xhaka were equally as superb acting as the midfield double pivot, never losing their control on the match or the space in the midfield as they aggressively closed down their Watford counterparts. Sead Kolasinac put in his second inspired performance in a row starting at left back, and the whole team would likely have gotten deserved praise for their performances if it wasn’t for Ainsley Maitland-Niles giving away a penalty and showing his age at times at right back, and Alex Iwobi, who continues to struggle mightily with his finishing while being largely uninspiring on the left wing.
Nearly every player could have warranted consideration to be the Man of the Match, but only one man was able to perform his duty to the maximum and set a new record in the process. That man is of course Petr Cech, who after 11 failed attempts at the record, finally became the first Premier League goalkeeper to reach 200 clean sheets. In truth, even without the milestone, Cech would have warranted consideration for the Man of the Match award because of just 1 play: his save on Troy Deeney’s penalty.
The rotund Watford striker caused a small uproar 5 months prior, following a match winning penalty, by claiming Arsenal “lack the cojones” to maintain the fight for 90 minutes. Deeney had a chance to rub salt in the wound after Maitland-Niles gave away a poor penalty in the second half that could have seen the Czech shot stopper forced to wait another match to try for his 200th clean sheet, but the Watford captain left his shot too close to the centre of the goal and Cech was able to knock it away for his first ever saved penalty in an Arsenal shirt. Deeney was widely ridiculed after the match, but he showed his class by taking the time to meet and sign autographs for Arsenal fans after the match, coolly swatting away any “cojones” banter from the crowd.
Besides the saved penalty, Cech was nearly flawless, only hesitating on one corner kick that was swatted harmlessly away by his teammates anyways. He was his typically calm and composed self (always a welcome relief after the blood pressure-spiking David Ospina gets a turn in net) and didn’t let Watford’s physical presence around the box throw him off his line. Like many in the team, he has come under fire at times for his inconsistencies this season, but he always responds with the same even-keep approach that has served him so well in his Premier League career. On a night when he became the first ever goalkeeper to reach 200 clean sheets for his career since the beginning of the Premier League, Petr Cech was also, without question, your Arsenal Man of the Match.