Arsenal’s season kicked into life at last on Saturday as they overcame a spirited Watford side at Vicarage Road.
After defeat to Liverpool, and a nervy draw at champions Leicester, the Gunners produced the type of football we all know they are capable of to blow the hosts away and finally chalk up a Premier League win.
Without doubt the result will come as a huge relief for fans, players, and the Arsenal coaching staff alike, especially after the winning starts rival teams have made.
I will happily admit that I was not confident coming into the match, particularly as the cloud of doom and gloom has continued to swirl over the club in the last week, albeit tempered by the imminent arrivals of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez.
But credit to Arsene and the players, they shouldered the pressure admirably and played some quite excellent football in the first half which, in truth, is where the game was won.
For me, there was no doubt that the challenge on Sanchez that led to the penalty was worthy of the decision. The defender forearm-smashed the Chilean in the head. It was a genuine leap for the ball but it was clumsily done and the referee was left with no option, in my opinion.
Since the 4-3 demolition at the hands of Liverpool, Arsenal have worked hard on defending from the front – that much was obvious from the Leicester game, and it showed again today. They moved forward in numbers and applied pressure where it was needed. Which was good to see.
A few too many crosses went in for my taste but it is impossible to stop every ball. For the most part, they did very well and balls into the box were capably handled by Laurent Koscielny and the improving Rob Holding, who continues to do well.
A special mention must go to Granit Xhaka, who looked excellent throughout. His left foot has fantastic range, his transition from defence to attack is superb and his work rate is impressive. These are very early days, but he looks promising in that deep midfield role.
The second goal was a superb counter-attacking move, capped with a superlative cross from Theo Walcott. He takes a lot of stick for what he doesn’t do, so credit to him for a superb ball across the box. Sanchez did his best to miss it, but in the end it found its way over the line.
The Chilean is off the mark for the campaign and he looked a lot better up front today, much less isolated and operating in more dangerous areas. He seemed to attach himself to Younes Kaboul and had a lot of joy running in space behind the lumbering former Tottenham defender.
Walcott was unfortunate to see a smart turn and shot blocked by Gomez shortly after Sanchez’s effort before Arsenal added a third goal on the stroke of half-time.
Given far too much time and space, Alexis was able to face up, spot the run of Mesut Ozil from deep and guide the ball onto his wonderfully preened German bonce. Ozil applied the headed finish to cap an excellent half.
Some of the football on show in the first 45 minutes was superb, the sort of play that Wenger dreams about when he sets his teams up to play. Everything seemed to go to plan. The passing, in particular, was absolutely laser-like in its precision from the likes of Ozil, Xhaka, and Cazorla.
This particular midfield combination is embryonic but goodness me they were effective, both in attack and defence.
There were numbers around the ball in defence and numbers in attack when the transition came. It looked like an Arsenal side starting to regain its fitness and match sharpness.
If the team had gone into the opening two fixtures of the season in similar shape, we might have seen three wins from three matches. As it is, it was pleasing to see them play so well, albeit against a woeful Watford side, very much struggling to work out how it should play.
I am still confused as to why their previous manager was sacked, Sanchez Flores, he may not have set the world alight but he was solid and his teams knew how to play. In the first half, Watford really lacked impetus, aside from a few, fleeting spells.
In a situation where you have the match sewn up inside the first half, it is almost always the case that the intensity drops in the second 45, and so it proved.
Arsenal remained organised and alert, but the aggression and speed was tarnished, and Watford, with a change of formation, were able to exploit that.
When a team is 3-0 down, it has nothing to lose. As such, it is able to play a riskier brand of football, and the hosts certainly did that. They switched to 4-4-2, managed to get Ighalo on the ball a lot more and their right back was free to attack Nacho Monreal.
They were persistent, if unspectacular, but created a lot more in attack than they had done. Their goal was a deeply frustrating one to concede. It was a ball that just needed lumping 80 yards upfield but, as has often been the way with Arsenal, it just seemed to flail around the box, half-cleared, half-under control.
Finally, it found its way to a Watford boot and the goal was pulled back. Annoying, but it was one of those things.
Urged on by the now-interested home fans, Watford made a decent fist of it for the remainder of the game, and it took some good work from Petr Cech, Koscielny and Holding to keep the score at 3-1.
For Arsenal’s part, they had at least two very good opportunities to add to their tally, but Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain both chose audacious chipped efforts from 25 yards, and both ended sailing way over the bar.
It’s the sort of effort you can attempt when you have a two-goal cushion, but it was frustrating nonetheless to see both players fail to truly trouble the target.
Credit to him, however, I though Walcott was very sharp from wide. He was certainly more alert to his defensive responsibility and was genuinely threatening in possession. He looks at this early stage as if he is growing into the role. It will be interesting to see if he can hold the position down in the coming weeks.
The Ox, on the other hand, had a very frustrating afternoon. He lacked a killer touch or pass, and failed to come to the party when so many others around him looked excellent. It was disappointing and I’m not sure whether he will be able to hold onto his place in the weeks ahead, particularly with Perez to accommodate.
All said and done, however, it was a pleasing win and a relief to get three points in the bag. We must build on this and keep the momentum ticking over. COYG.