Arsenal loses match to Watford, Arsene Wenger faces uncomfortable pressure

Arsène Wenger: Arsenal remain confident despite Watford defeat
Arsène Wenger: Arsenal remain confident despite Watford defeat

Arsène Wenger lamented what he describes as a sense of “farce” that is enveloping Arsenal after they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Watford.

The 2-1 defeat, Arsenal’s third successive home reverse, ended their most realistic chance of landing silverware this season. It also increased the pressure on Wenger, although the Frenchman said: “You are always in the middle of a drama.

“It is becoming a farce. We have lost a game. We are sad and we want to focus on the next game. Arsenal has lost games before in history and we will lose again in the future. We will stick together and cope with it and prepare for the next one with complete belief.”

Wenger expressed his unhappiness that his team’s hold on a trophy they have won for the past two years had been broken by Watford in front of Arsenal’s disillusioned supporters at the Emirates. “Our long run in the FA Cup has come to an end in a very sad way,” said Wenger.

The pressure on the Arsenal manager, who has seen his team slip down the Premier League table they led at the beginning of January, and flounder– unsurprisingly – in the Champions League against Barcelona, intensified with this latest blow inflicted by two classy strikes, from Odion Ighalo and Adlène Guedioura. A sense of unravelling pervades the Emirates Stadium these days and Wenger’s post-match utterances did not really chime with the evidence on the pitch. When he suggested: “It’s nothing to do with confidence,” or “I don’t think we suffered a lot defensively,” his words did not ring true.

Perhaps he was merely trying to stem the fresh wounds, a deliberate tactic not to blame his players during testing times to attempt to keep the season from unwinding completely. The Arsenal manager promised that he has not given up on a European mission that looks highly unlikely and hopes to salvage the season at Camp Nou on Wednesday night.

Would he rest players with a view to tackling an early kick-off in the Premier League on Saturday at Goodison Park? “No, no, no, no,” Wenger replied. “We want to make the impossible possible and we know we play against a very strong side and it’s important we go there and focus and show a very good response.”

Wenger acknowledged that Arsenal were kicking themselves for blowing a big chance for a late equaliser, when Danny Welbeck skewed wide. “I’m still trying to understand why we didn’t score. But it was a typical cup game against a team that comes and fights and takes their chances with us trying to score. It was just like that, there’s nothing more to say.”

The contrast, as Quique Sánchez Flores basked in the warmth of his club’s upwardly mobile achievement, was marked. Watford’s manager enthused about the best result of his managerial career, one that was well conceived and brilliantly executed. “This season has been amazing for Watford,” he said. “Maybe we have the temptation to think in the past month that Watford is going down a little bit, but that’s normal. It’s our first season at the top level, it’s hard to keep going at full capacity but now we’re in the semi-finals. The most important things we can give are passion and heart. We are building a team. It’s an amazing experience.”

Sánchez Flores was not minded to get too carried away about the prospect of winning the FA Cup. “I don’t like to think about a match when we have another one first. Before this match I didn’t want to hear about Wembley. Now we’re at Wembley, we can think about that because it’s a fact. But I don’t want to think about the final before the semi-final.”

The impact of the second goalscorer, Guedioura, summed up for him the atmosphere at the club. “He represents very well what a humble team and squad we have. He signed for Watford probably expecting to play more but he has set an amazing example. I’m very happy he has scored.”

The consequences of the Algerian’s shuddering shot will be felt both in Watford, and at Arsenal, for a little while to come.

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