The Gunners overcame injury issues and disallowed goals to beat Watford 1-0, and manager Arteta may have found the squad depth he has been craving for a number of weeks
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tasted victory in his 100th game in charge of the club, with his team surviving a tense final few minutes to beat Watford.
Emile Smith Rowe scored the only goal of the game, finding the bottom corner after a Ben White run helped open up the visitors’ defence, and only some big saves from Ben Foster kept the score down.
The Gunners had two goals disallowed in their victory, with both Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang straying offside before putting the ball in the back of the net.
And after the game, Arteta spoke of the impact made by one player in particular as his team dug deep to come away with all three points.
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Arsenal were forced into a change in midfield, with Thomas Partey ruled out after suffering a muscle injury.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was given the responsibility of stepping in alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga, and Arteta was blown away by the academy graduate.
It was only the second time the 24-year-old has started a league game this season, and he made an early impact with an interception and pass in the build-up to Bukayo Saka’s disallowed goal, prompting the manager to heap praise on his all-round impact.
“I think he’s a different player in terms of his urgency commitment, his clarity in play and his commitment,” Arteta said.
“When I see him in training sessions, when I see how he prepares, asking the questions he’s asking, the level of attention to everything you talk through, his response is immediate.
“He’s a really clever, intelligent boy and I think [he] has needed to transmit that and how much he cares with his body language and his determination and I think he’s come a long way.
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Maitland-Niles’ only previous league start this season came in the 1-0 victory over Norwich City in September, but he didn’t look rusty at all against a Hornets side who ended the game a man down after Juraj Kucka’s late red card.
And the midfielder, who had been sent out on loan to West Bromwich Albion last season and linked with a permanent summer move away from the Emirates Stadium, wasn’t the only player who demonstrated the London side’s depth.
Nuno Tavares kept his place despite Kieran Tierney’s return from injury, and the Arsenal boss was clearly pleased with the depth he has at left-back.
“Well Nuno is playing because he deserves to play,” Arteta said.
“He’s been exceptional since he’s been given the opportunity, but I cannot say anything different with Kieran. This is what we need. Two top players that are raising the level in the position.”
There was some controversy around the winning goal, with Watford believing Arsenal should have given the ball back after it was put out of play by Danny Rose following an injury.
“We put out the ball and everybody expected the Arsenal players to give back the ball. Sissoko and Rose said give the ball to us we put the ball out because there was an injured player,” Ranieri said, while also arguing there was a foul on Watford’s Ismaila Sarr in the build-up to the goal.
However, when asked about his opposite number’s comments, Arteta said “If he felt like that I apologise, but there was no intention”.
The victory took Arsenal up to 20 points, four clear of neighbours Tottenham and just outside the top four on goal difference.