By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Alex Iwobi was the star of the show as Arsenal kept the pressure on in the title race with a swaggering performance to beat Watford.
The Nigeria international was in electric form all afternoon, and took just four minutes to set up the opening goal as he picked out Alexis with a curling cross.
Iwobi then went close with a curling strike, before being involved in the move that saw Danny Welbeck fire just wide of the near post.
Having scored his first senior goal for the Gunners just before the international break, Iwobi doubled his tally just before the break when he finished off a slick move involving Francis Coquelin and Mesut Ozil.
Hector Bellerin added a third when his deflected strike beat Heurelho Gomes, before Iwobi cannoned a shot off the crossbar moments later.
It was a dazzling performance from the 19-year-old, but from front to back the Gunners were in ebullient form as they toyed with the Hornets to the pleasure of the home fans.
There was still time for Theo Walcott to slot home from close range after good work from fellow substitute, Joel Campbell.
Arsene Wenger’s side may be outsiders for the title, but performances such as this should give them a quiet confidence that they can do it.
With seven games to go in this most unpredictable of Premier League seasons, who knows what could happen. But if the Gunners play like this every week, they’ll give themselves a chance.
SETTING THE SCENE
The sun was shining on Emirates Stadium as Premier League football returned after the international break, and the prevailing feeling was that this is where the run-in truly begins.
Having gone into that two-week interval on the back of such an impressive victory at Goodison Park, Wenger named an unchanged side for the visit of Watford.
It meant that Gabriel retained his place at the heart of the defence alongside captain Laurent Koscielny, while Mohamed Elneny - fresh from being named the Vitality Player of the Month for March - continued in the centre of midfield.
Welbeck was once again entrusted to lead the line after his goal at Everton, while the other scorer that day, Iwobi, started on the left flank.
The only change to the matchday squad saw Petr Cech return after his recovery from a calf injury, but he would have to make do with a place on the bench.
Watford, meanwhile, arrived in north London in confident mood after knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup here less than a month earlier.
Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo were so hard to handle that day and, having scored 77 per cent of the Hornets’ league goals this season, keeping them quiet would be vital.
Arsenal may be playing catch-up in the title race, but they wasted no time in getting the chase underway as they opened the scoring with little more than four minutes on the clock.
Iwobi had made a really bright start on the left, and the Nigeria international collected the ball just outside the area and curled in a delightful ball towards Alexis in the area.
The Chilean rose above his marker and while Gomes did well to save his firm header, he could do nothing about the rebound as the Arsenal forward pounced on the loose ball and poked it into the top corner.
It was just the sort of start Wenger would have wanted to see from his side - and it was no more than they deserved for an opening spell full of vim and vigour.
The Emirates crowd were soon on their feet again in the seventh minute, this time to pay their respects to the late, legendary Arsenal No 7, David Rocastle, with a chant of ‘Oh Rocky, Rocky…’ that highlights his lasting popularity.
Both the players and the fans were in the mood, and with the Gunners continuing to impress with their slick attacking play, another goal looked a matter of time.
It nearly arrived in the 14th minute as Iwobi tested Gomes with a curling strike, and then again 60 seconds later when Welbeck’s deflected shot squirmed just past the near post.
Arsenal were rampant, moving the ball about with real intent and stretching the Watford defence with the pace and speed of their attacking movement.
The outstanding Iwobi was running the show, darting around between the lines and linking up play to underline his sky-high confidence and vast potential.
Watford slowly started to grow into the game as the half-hour mark approached, and David Ospina had to be really sharp to deny Ighalo after he raced on to a pass in the area.
But the main threat was all from the men in red, who continued to press and probe in search of the goal that would do justice to their dominance.
It finally arrived in the 38th minute - and it was a typically slick Arsenal move as Coquelin released Alexis up the right flank, with the Chilean picking out Iwobi by the penalty spot to slot home his second goal in two games.
It was the perfect way for the 19-year-old to end a superb first-half performance as the Gunners went into the interval in complete control.
Wenger’s side picked up exactly where they had left off after the restart, and four minutes in they extended their advantage as Bellerin’s half volley took a deflection and looped past Gomes and in.
Two minutes later they nearly had a fourth as Iwobi combined beautifully with Alexis, before delaying his shot inside the area and then curling a left-footed effort against the bar.
This was vintage Arsenal, a performance full of poise and power and not long after Ozil had come close at the end of another fine passing move, Alexis tested Gomes with a fizzing shot from distance.
Ospina had been a bystander for much of the match, but he obviously did not want to miss out on the party, producing a fine save just after the hour mark to palm away Deeney’s header then scramble to prevent a corner.
Iwobi’s substitution in the 74th minute saw the teenager receive a standing ovation from the home fans - and how he deserved it. His career may still be in its infancy, but the signs are hugely positive.
A raft of substitutions on both sides saw the game lose some of its fluency, but the Gunners were able to add one final goal when Campbell got to the byeline and crossed for Walcott to poke home from close range.
The final whistle saw the team receive the acclaim their dominant performance deserved from the gleeful Arsenal faithful.
Job done. Over to you, Leicester.
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Referee: Anthony Taylor
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