Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said his team had to “get the fans back on our side again” after ending a run of three successive Premier League defeats with a fine win over Watford. Despite an official attendance of 59,131, there were empty seats all around the Emirates with a number of season-ticket holders seemingly put off by the Gunners’ disappointing league season. Goals from Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan gave Wenger’s side their first league win since beating Everton 5-1 on 3 February. Watford, beaten for only the second time in six matches, saw Troy Deeney’s penalty saved by Petr Cech, who registered the 200th Premier League clean sheet of his career to become the first keeper to reach that mark.
The win leaves the Gunners sixth, 10 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham who are in the final Champions League spot. However, Arsenal could still qualify for next season’s Champions League if they win the Europa League, and that competition affected Arsene Wenger’s team selection on Sunday. With Arsenal holding a 2-0 lead against AC Milan and playing the second leg of their last-16 tie at home on Thursday, Wenger took a risk by making six changes. Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny were rested, with Jack Wilshere only on the bench, but the gamble paid off for Arsenal. Those Arsenal fans who had turned up were almost celebrating after only two minutes when Aubameyang was clean through, but he was denied by a fine save by Orestis Karnezis.
But the Gunners took the lead only six minutes later when Mesut Ozil’s free-kick from the left touchline was powerfully headed in by Mustafi. Aubameyang, Ozil and Granit Xhaka were denied by Karnezis, before Aubameyang made it 2-0, collecting Mkhitaryan’s pass and taking the ball around the Watford keeper. After Deeney’s penalty miss, Mkhitaryan added a third when he shot past Karnezis following Aubameyang’s pass for his first league goal for the Gunners. With the Europa League on Wenger’s mind, the Frenchman was able to take Mkhitaryan off late on for Wilshere, although Mustafi is now a doubt for Thursday’s match after he limped off in the second half.
Arsene Wenger registered his 700th Arsenal win in his 1,222nd match in charge of the Gunners. Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil became the fastest player to reach 50 Premier League assists, doing so in just 141 games and breaking the record held by former Manchester United forward Eric Cantona (143 games). Petr Cech made his first Premier League penalty save since February 2011 for Chelsea against Fulham – it was also the 16th he had faced in all competitions for Arsenal and the first one he had saved for the Gunners. Cech registered his 200th Premier League clean sheet, the first goalkeeper to achieve this feat in the competition’s history. Henrikh Mkhitaryan now has the same record this season in nine appearances for Arsenal in all competitions as he did in 22 games for Manchester United (two goals, five assists).