Van Persie plays villain to strike down Watford
To save their Premiership season, Adrian Boothroyd has called for Watford to show the spirit of Australia after they lost the Ashes last year.
Unfortunately they lack the match-winners to pull off such a task. Against Arsenal, short of their best, they suffered to a brilliant late Robin van Persie goal. It was the equivalent of a Shane Warne flipper. And was just as deadly.
"There is some Bergkamp in there," is how Arsène Wenger preferred to describe the goal, the Dutchman's 10th of the season which came after he collected the substitute Theo Walcott's throughball, cut inside Jay DeMerit and curled a left-foot shot beyond Ben Foster. In truth, the on-loan goalkeeper, as much as Watford's deep wells of resilience and aggression, was the reason that Arsenal had to wait so long to secure the victory that raises them to third.
It came at a price. An injury to Johan Djourou will cause marginal concern - given the alarming nervousness of his display - but a thigh strain for Emmanuel Adebayor, and with Thierry Henry still absent, stretches Wenger's resources further. His team were unchanged from the destruction of Blackburn Rovers at the weekend and that was as much due to accident as design.
Boothroyd's resources are far thinner. He has to buy next month, and persuade new players to join in a daunting relegation fight, and now appears to have lost Hameur Bouazza, a hugely effective attacker last night who provided the rare sight of someone outmuscling Kolo Touré, with a dislocated shoulder.
"We are competing but we are not winning," Boothroyd said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that we are not scoring enough goals." Bouazza, he thought, could have been the solution in a revamped counter-attacking style. Now it is, again, back to the drawing board.
A draw would have dragged Watford off the foot of the table and they started with a refired belief, even if Foster had to save alertly from both Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas as they bore down on him inside the area. Then Gilberto Silva intervened. Firstly he stopped Ashley Young with a saving tackle, after a Djourou error, then he drifted away from his marker Gavin Mahon at the far post to head home Rosicky's corner following Touré's flick-on.
The two passages of play flowed on from one another and Wenger agreed that Gilberto was a decisive influence. "Unbelievable," he said of his stand-in captain who, in an unexpected boon, now has eight goals - one more than Henry. "After five years he is getting the credit he deserves."
But the Arsenal celebrations were short-lived. Bouazza scampered down the left and sent in a cross which deflected off Justin Hoyte for Tommy Smith to tuck home from just six yards out. For a while Arsenal appeared to lose their composure and with it spurned opportunities. Adebayor volleyed wildly over before Fabregas, after a clever exchange of passes, slashed a shot into the side-netting.
Wenger acted by withdrawing Djourou and his replacement, Philippe Senderos, shored things up while, at the other end, Foster blocked shots from Adebayor and Hoyte before Julio Baptista skidded a low shot narrowly wide.
Still there was a crazy five-minute cameo from Jens Lehmann who flapped at a couple of corners, over-reacted to a slight push by throwing himself into the net and got into a dispute with Danny Shittu (not a wise move). The pantomime over, Van Persie, who had been the villain of the piece for Watford fans with some of his antics, then struck to provide Arsenal with their first back-to-back wins since October. Wenger still believes they are in the title race, although he concedes others may think him "crazy". What did his striker think? "It's an ideal," he said diplomatically. And so was his goal.
Goals: Gilberto (19) 0-1; Smith (23) 1-1; Van Persie (83) 1-2.
Watford (4-4-2): Foster; Mariappa, DeMerit, Shittu (Priskin, 90), Stewart; Smith, Mahon, Bangura, McNamee (Henderson, 77); Bouazza (Francis, 69), Young. Substitutes not used: Lee (gk), Doyley.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Hoyte, Touré, Djourou (Senderos, h-t), Clichy; Hleb (Walcott, 71), Gilberto, Fabregas, Rosicky (Baptista, 79); Van Persie, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Flamini.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Watford Francis.
Man of the match: Gilberto.