A Watford side brimming with attacking intent fought back from two goals down at half-time to draw at home to Arsenal in Quique Sanchez Flores’ first match since being reappointed Hornets manager.
The hosts fired in 31 shots – a club-record for a Premier League game – as Arsenal’s shaky defence finally cracked after the break.
Watford levelled the scores when Roberto Pereyra rolled in a late penalty to secure only their second point of the season.
Tom Cleverley had earlier reduced the deficit when Gunners defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos gave away possession inside his own area.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put the visitors in front when he collected Sead Kolasinac’s pass on the turn before firing past Ben Foster.
Arsenal doubled their lead as Aubemeyang finished a sweeping team move but the hosts improved after the break as the Gunners unravelled in front of the vociferous home support.
The Hornets had their chances to complete a stunning comeback with a decisive third, but the otherwise impressive Gerard Deulofeu dragged his effort narrowly wide.
The result sees Arsenal move into seventh, while the Hornets remain rooted to the bottom.
Aubameyang papers over defensive frailties
The Arsenal striker is one of the most clinical forwards in the English top flight, having scored with seven of his last nine shots on target, and the Gunners are quite capable of blowing teams away going forward thanks to the potency of Aubameyang and the technical ability of Mesut Ozil and Dani Ceballos.
They demonstrated their attacking flair as they went through 20 passes for their second goal – but glaring issues remain at the back.
This was evident as early as the 10th minute as the red and white shirts backed off and space opened up for Cleverley, whose fierce effort was well saved by Bernd Leno.
Five minutes later, and Etienne Capoue was given the same time and space but could only shoot over the bar.
The Gunners want to play out from the back, and even though Matteo Guendouzi lost possession deep inside his own half on two occasions they persisted with their approach.
It was Sokratis who eventually made the mistake that always looked likely to happen, before Deulofeu diverted the ball into Cleverley’s path for Watford’s first goal.
David Luiz was brought in from London rivals Chelsea to shore up the defence over the summer, but the Brazilian has endured a difficult few weeks at the start of his Arsenal career, and has now conceded two penalties in three matches.
Luiz brought down Pereyra with a lunge in the final 10 minutes and the substitute stepped up himself to take the penalty and salvage a point for the hosts.
Cause for optimism for bottom club
Watford welcomed Sanchez Flores for his second spell in charge at Vicarage Road with a bright start as they looked to impose themselves on the visitors.
They were in the ascendancy before going behind against the run of play as Will Hughes was dispossessed inside the Arsenal half. Kolasinac burst down the other end and fed Aubemeyang to rifle home.
Even after Aubemeyang doubled Arsenal’s lead Watford still sensed the visitors’ weakness was in playing out from the back and they crowded around Leno and his defenders, with the high press eventually leading to Sokratis’ mistake.
The record 31 shots Watford produced was also a record for Arsenal, who have never faced more shots since Opta began collecting records.
The problem for Watford is that only 10 of their shots were on target and the return of injured talisman Troy Deeney cannot come soon enough they look to climb away from the bottom of the table.
Man of the match – Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (Arsenal)
‘They were stronger than us’ – what they said
Arsenal boss Unai Emery: “Physically they are stronger than us so we want to break the lines from the goal-kick and connect to Mesut Ozil, like we did with the first goal.
“We have young players, we are working to improve and they will gain experience from matches like today. We can grow up and learn with these mistakes.
“We knew that 2-0 was not enough at half-time. “
Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores to BBC MOTD: “Have I missed the Premier League? Yeah. I miss all these kind of emotions – I love it.
“I was really happy with the performance of the players. We have one point against a very tough team. It’s good for our confidence. We are positive.”
Error prone Arsenal – the stats
- This was the first time in 22 meetings across all competitions that Watford and Arsenal have drawn against each other, having last done so in December 1984 (1-1).
- New Watford manager Sanchez Flores has only lost one of his eight managerial meetings with Arsenal’s Unai Emery in all competitions (W3 D4 L1).
- This was the first time that Arsenal failed to win a Premier League match in which they were at least two goals ahead since April 2016 when they drew 3-3 with West Ham, and the first time Watford avoided defeat in the league after being at least two goals behind since January 2018 v Southampton (2-2).
- Since his Premier League debut in February 2018, Arsenal forward Aubameyang has been directly involved in 46 goals in the competition (37 goals, 9 assists); only Mo Salah (53) has had a hand in more in this time.
- Aubameyang has been directly involved in five goals in his four Premier League appearances against Watford, scoring four times and assisting once.
- Cleverley scored his first home league goal for Watford since October 2017, which also came against Arsenal, 701 days ago.
- Since the start of last season, Arsenal’s players have made a combined 14 errors leading to opposition goals in the Premier League, at least two more than any other club in this time.
- Since the start of last season, no side has conceded more goals via penalties in the Premier League than Arsenal (10 – level with Brighton), with the Gunners already having already conceded three this season alone.
Watford travel to Manchester City on Saturday, 21 September (15:00 BST), while Arsenal face Eintracht Frankfurt away in the Europa League on Thursday night before hosting Aston Villa on Sunday, 22 September (16:30).