LONDON • Watford earned themselves a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals with a display of marauding forward play yesterday that left Arsenal shellshocked and out of an English football competition they were aiming to win for the third season in succession.
Arsene Wenger had been right to flag the danger of Watford's pairing of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney. Their application and accuracy led the way for the team constructed by Quique Sanchez Flores.
The damage they caused was spectacular, and there was a moment for the Hertfordshire team to cherish as Adlene Guedioura scored what turned out to be a blistering match winner.
Arsenal's centre-halves, who strained for composure and communication, face Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar on Wednesday and their confidence is already shredded.
Watford's joy was unfettered at the end of it all and rightly so.
Their players danced in front of their supporters when the final whistle was blown. Even some of the home fans at the Emirates felt able to applaud them off, appreciative of their efforts on the day.
Any suggestions that the FA Cup might have been lagging on Arsenal's list of priorities this week were dismissed by the strength of Wenger's team selection.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oezil were back in a line-up that was in no way chosen with a fraction of an eye on Barcelona and the Champions League. But the brutal truth is that they were not clinical at either end against Watford.
Wenger has too often had to bemoan his team's lack of ruthlessness and there was a familiar feel as opportunities begged. All the while there was that threat of Watford's lurking frontmen.
The Hornets took the lead in the 50th minute. A hoiking throw was glanced on by Deeney for Ighalo, who showcased a blend of strength and focus to ignore Gabriel's clumsy attempt to hug him and send a swivelling shot past David Ospina.
Chastened, breached, Arsenal creaked terribly at the back. The combination of a badly tentative Per Mertesacker and a ridiculously rash Gabriel was an open invitation to Watford.
In the 63rd minute came the moment that transported 9,000 Watford fans into a euphoric place as the second goal arrived in spectacular fashion right in front of them.
Deeney confidently kept control and laid the ball back to Guedioura, who rifled into the roof of the net from the edge of the box. One for the FA Cup classic goal collection.
Wenger responded with a triple substitution. The momentum changed when Danny Welbeck struck in the 88th minute.
But the Arsenal striker was involved in an astonishing miss two minutes later. Alex Iwobi hit the post and when the ball came back, Welbeck missed the chance to equalise with an empty goal.
Arsenal could not summon enough to dampen Watford's deserved day in the sun.
"Our fantastic run has come to an end on a day where we felt that our performance deserved a win," said Wenger. "Credit to Watford, they created few chances but took them all."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE