By Rob Kelly at Vicarage Road
Arsenal held off a spirited second-half fightback from Watford to claim their first victory of the new Premier League season.
In truth, the points were won during a devastating opening 45-minute spell when the Gunners took complete control.
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Santi Cazorla opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Alexis had been poleaxed in the area, before the Chilean added a second himself.
With Arsene Wenger’s side in fine fettle, their third - on the stroke of the interval - was richly deserved as Mesut Ozil thumped a header beyond former Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes.
The sharp Theo Walcott twice went close after half-time, while Hector Bellerin also sent an enticing ball across the face of goal as the visitors went in search of a fourth.
Watford pulled one back through debutant Roberto Pereyra and they began to build up a head of steam as the game entered its closing stages.
But the visitors were able to draw the sting out of the Hornets, confidently seeing out the game to claim a very welcome first three-point haul and allowing us to enter the international break in good spirits.
SETTING THE SCENE
After a start to the season that had yielded one point from a possible six, the pressure was on the Gunners as they made the short trip to Vicarage Road.
While much of the external noise over the previous week had involved transfers, Wenger’s focus had been on preparing his side for a game they had to win to keep up with the early pacesetters.
After his impressive cameo off the bench at Leicester last week, Ozil returned to sprinkle the team with some additional stardust, with Francis Coquelin dropping to the bench.
Laurent Koscielny - so authoritative at King Power Stadium seven days earlier - retained the captaincy in his 250th appearance for the club, and he continued his fledgling partnership with Rob Holding at the heart of the defence.
Arsenal’s record against the Hornets gave plenty of cause for optimism, having won six out of the last seven games between the two sides in all competitions and having not lost to them in the league since April 1988.
However, in the pre-match build-up Wenger had conceded the danger posed by Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, having scored 28 out of Watford’s 40 Premier League goals last season, and they would prove a handful again.
Wenger’s side made a confident start, passing the ball about slickly in the Hertfordshire sun, with Ozil at the heart of it all.
The World Cup winner miscontrolled one meaty pass from Alexis after racing into the area, but this foray was an encouraging sign for the visitors.
Their early ambition was rewarded when, with nine minutes on the clock, Alexis was clattered in the area after latching on to a lofted pass from the right. Confusion reigned initially with no one seemingly aware that a penalty had been awarded, but Kevin Friend cleared things up and pointed to the spot.
Cazorla was certainly clear of mind, and he wasted little time in slotting the ball past Gomes to give the Gunners the perfect start.
There was no question of Arsenal taking their foot off the gas and the waves of pressure continued to build, and they were unlucky not to extend their advantage when Walcott slid in but saw his shot cleared off the line.
It was one-way traffic at this stage, but the visitors were soon indebted to Petr Cech after he made a fabulous reaction save to palm away a deflection off Koscielny’s boot that was heading towards the roof of the net.
The chance seemed to embolden Watford, who soon threatened again through Deeney before Christian Kabasele headed one wide from a corner not long afterwards.
But when Arsenal turned it on, they were able to slice through the home defence at will and one combination between Ozil and Alexis saw the latter burst through, but Gomes was out quickly to block his shot.
With 40 minutes gone, they doubled their advantage when a slick move between Alexis, Bellerin and Walcott saw the Chile international bundle the ball over the line from close range.
Just before the interval, they made it three in devastating fashion as Oxlade-Chamberlain found Alexis on the left flank, and the Chilean curled the ball into the area. Ozil popped up out of nowhere, and planted a firm header beyond Gomes to put his side in command of this fixture.
Walcott had been really sharp during the first half, and he continued in the same vein straight after the restart and almost made it four when his crashed a shot across the face of goal.
The away fans immediately showed their appreciation of the England international, bursting into “Theo, Theo” from the boisterous corner they had taken up inside Vicarage Road.
From one flier to another, it was Bellerin’s turn to go close soon afterwards when he outpaced Younes Kaboul down the right and found space in the box.
The Spain international looked up and put an inviting ball across the face of goal, but the onrushing Alexis was inches away from making contact to put it over the line.
But when the next goal did arrive, it was the hosts who were celebrating when, after a handball shout, the ball fell to Pereyra eight yards out and he curled it into the corner.
Back Arsenal came though, with Ozil releasing Walcott in space to the right of the area and his confident chipped finish drifted just over the crossbar.
Next to go close was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who raced through on goal after more good work by the industrious Bellerin, but his chipped effort drifted high and wide.
But Watford remained a threat themselves, and once again the Gunners were thankful for Cech’s sustained excellence as he denied Christian Holebas and then Ighalo in quick succession.
Ighalo went close moments later with an acrobatic effort from inside the six-yard box as the Hornets continued to press for a way back into the game, but Wenger’s side held firm.
It was a really encouraging way to head into the international break after a fine afternoon’s work.
Arsenal are up and running.
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Referee: Kevin Friend
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