The prospect of another doomed Arsenal title challenge reared its head at a disgruntled Emirates Stadium on Tuesday as Arsene Wenger could only look on gloomily from the stands while his team succumbed to a potentially calamitous defeat by Watford.
The Arsenal boss said they struggled “on the mental front” in the first half of their 2-1 Premier League defeat, echoing a familiar complaint from fans in recent years about the Gunners’ title challenges which have so often flattered to deceive.
Arsenal next go to runaway leaders Chelsea on Saturday knowing that if they lose and Antonio Conte’s side move 12 points clear of them then Wenger’s dream of his first title since 2004 will be all but dead and buried.
To make things worse, there is also a question mark over the fitness of midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who hobbled off in the first half with a calf injury. Wenger said the severity of the Wales international’s problem was not yet known.
Serving the second game of a four-match touchline ban following his sending off against Burnley, the manager watched helplessly from the posh seats as Arsenal fell two behind in 13 minutes to goals from Younes Kaboul and Troy Deeney.
“We missed our first half, especially I feel that on the mental front we were not ready for the challenges and a bit in between and maybe we paid a heavy price for that,” was Wenger’s unimpressed verdict on the game.
“We were dominated in too many duels and we paid for it. I felt we didn’t start sharp enough. The first goal was a soft free kick and (was) deflected in.”
The Frenchman felt his side responded well after the break but although Alex Iwobi pulled one back it was not enough to stop Arsenal suffering their first home league defeat since they lost to Liverpool on the opening weekend of the season.
After Chelsea drew 1-1 at Liverpool on Tuesday to stretch their lead over the chasing pack to nine points, Arsenal’s visit to Stamford Bridge has a potentially defining feel to it.
Wenger, though, was putting on a brave face. “We want to respond to our disappointment tonight and produce a good performance,” he said.
Anything else may not be enough to appease the vociferous section of Gunners’ supporters who keep maintaining that their distinguished manager is long past his sell-by date.
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