LONDON (AFP) – Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka admitted the Gunners were lucky to escape with a point after blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 at bottom-of-the-table Watford last Sunday night.
Quique Sanchez Flores enjoyed a happy return as the Hornets manager as Tom Cleverley and Roberto Pereyra’s penalty secured a thoroughly merited share of the spoils.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked to have the Gunners well on course for a comfortable three points when he struck twice in 11 minutes before the break.
However, Sanchez Flores, who was appointed as Hornets’ boss for the second time last week, roused the hosts for an impressive second-half fightback.
“We came out and played such a bad second-half. You have to say we are happy to take a point,” said Xhaka.
“We were scared in the second-half. We knew they would come at us and push us hard but we have to show more character and not be scared.
“We have spoken about it. We cannot give a performance like this in the second half.”
Arsenal played a huge part in their own downfall as they were consistently caught in possession on the edge of their own box, trying to play out from the back.
That was how Watford got a foothold back in the game as Sokratis Papastathopoulos’s pass was intercepted inside his own box by Gerard Deulofeu and the ball broke to Cleverley to fire home eight minutes into the second-half.
“They controlled the match with their pressing, causing us (to make) some mistakes. Scoring the first goal gave them confidence to continue that,” said Arsenal manager Unai Emery.
“That is the moment we needed calm and control.”
However, the Spaniard refuted Xhaka’s suggestion that his side were scared.
“Maybe that is (his) individual feeling. I think in football you never should be scared and you have to take that moment. We need to be strong in our mentality.”
Emery is clearly still trying to find the right balance between his brilliant attack and shoddy defence.
Mesut Ozil was recalled to his starting line-up for the first time since he and Sead Kolasinac were the victims of a carjacking attack in July.
A point sees the Gunners move level with Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Leicester behind Liverpool and Manchester City in the early season battle for a top-four finish.