Arsenal proved that their win over AC Milan at the San Siro was by no means a fluke after comprehensively beating Watford at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, with Petr Cech responding to his critics by securing his 200th clean sheet and denying Troy Deeney from the penalty spot.
The 3-0 win signified the Gunners intentions to do as much as they can to secure a highest possible finish in the Premier League, even though manager Arsene Wenger has already admitted that their chances of overtaking their arch rivals Tottenham in fourth place are slim to say the least.
The impressive victory in Milan was down to a committed team performance which feature disciplined midfield positioning from the triumvirate of Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. While the latter two weren’t involved against the Hornets, Xhaka’s ability to play between the lines and Mohamed Elneny’s equally positive range of passing helped the Gunners overcome a Watford side who had clear cut chances of their own throughout the match, including one for Roberto Pereyra which he blasted over from six yards.
Shkodran Mustafi has come in for vast amounts of criticism in recent weeks but his performance at the back showcased a solid, composed defender who isn’t shy of going up for set pieces. The German international headed Arsenal in front within 10 minutes and looked strong in one on one duels until he came off injured with a groin problem in the second half.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his third goal in four games while the Gabon forward linked up with his old Dortmund team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan to make it 3-0 and seal the points for Arsenal.
Watford captain Troy Deeney famously criticised Wenger’s side after their 2-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in October, claiming that the Frenchman’s team "lacked cojones". On 62 minutes the striker stepped up to take a penalty against Cech with the majority of the north London faithful waiting with bated breath for Deeney to pull a goal back for Javi Gracia’s side.
Stunningly, the 35-year-old denied the Watford striker and in turn made his first ever penalty save for Arsenal – which was also his first in the league since 2011.
“Sometimes that [criticism] can motivate you, but what we want to do on a longer term is make sure that the substance of your game is how you want it to be,” Wenger wrote in his programme notes.
“You can not only respond to exterior stimulation because that can’t happen every week. What we want to do is win football games, and win them in the way we want to play.”
While Deeney’s comments undoubtedly served as inspiration to an Arsenal team who have been inconsistent in the league this season, Cech deserves full praise for putting in an excellent performance to make Premier League history. Admittedly, many of his best games were during his spell with Chelsea but the Czech shot stopper has had his fair share of good games for the Gunners, with Saturday’s match culminating in a record that he has been desperate to secure for months.
The much talked about changes on the playing side are still needed in the summer and while Cech made several astute saves against Watford he has also been guilty of high-profile errors, including a miskick against Brighton last weekend.
However, Sunday was all about a Premier League great who has put in top level performances for several years – and he will be hoping that he gets further opportunities to showcase that goalkeeping talent next season with rumoured replacements already being lined up this summer.