Managerless Watford were relegated from the Premier League on the final day of the season as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inspired Arsenal to victory.
The Hornets, who dropped into the bottom three for the first time since 28 February in midweek, started the day level on points with 17th spot knowing a positive result could keep them up.
But they were 3-0 down after 33 minutes at Emirates Stadium and, despite pulling back two goals, finish a terrible campaign 19th in the table following a 20th league defeat.
Arsenal scored with their first three attempts on target, Aubameyang getting the first with a penalty after Craig Dawson’s clumsy foul on Alexandre Lacazette inside the opening minute.
Scotland defender Kieran Tierney doubled the lead after Aubameyang’s assist before the Gabon forward’s classy overhead kick – his 22nd league goal of the season.
Watford pulled a goal back from the penalty spot through Troy Deeney after David Luiz’s foul on former Gunners forward Danny Welbeck, who then made it 3-2 from close range.
Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez made a great save to deny Welbeck an equaliser that could have set up a dramatic finish.
Chaotic season costs Hornets
Many of their players looked upset when Mike Dean signalled the end of the match – and Watford’s place in England’s top flight.
The Hornets are left to reflect on a chaotic season on and off the pitch which saw their Italian owners sack three managers over the course of the campaign, including Nigel Pearson a week ago.
Pearson was dismissed two games from the end of the season despite steering the team out of the relegation zone, with Hayden Mullins named interim head coach for the final week.
While Watford’s previous two appointments, Javier Gracia and Enrique Sanchez Flores, managed one Premier League win in 14 matches between them, Pearson guided the Premier League’s second-oldest squad to seven victories and 25 points in his 20 games in charge.
Watford had a six-point cushion over the bottom three after beating Newcastle on 11 July but head back to the second tier along with Bournemouth, who they were promoted with in 2014-15.
On Sunday, they needed to beat Arsenal and hope other results went their way but they got off to a terrible start when Dawson fouled Lacazette to gift their opponents a penalty which Aubameyang scored after a lengthy video assistant referee check.
Tierney made it 2-0 and Aubameyang’s overhead kick after holding off Dawson added to Watford’s misery before Deeney launched a spirited comeback.
Welbeck’s clever backheel finish gave his side hope but they could not find an equaliser as they slipped to a sixth straight away defeat.
With the 2020-21 season starting on 12 September, the first task by Watford’s owners will be to appoint a new head coach capable of inspiring a return to the top flight. Significant changes to the squad are also expected.
‘Cojones’ jibe comes back to haunt Deeney
Skipper Deeney, one of the last Watford players to leave the pitch, looked crestfallen as he made his way back to the dressing room.
In October 2017 Deeney accused Arsenal’s players of lacking “cojones” after the Hornets came from behind to beat Arsene Wenger’s side at Vicarage Road.
Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka and France forward Lacazette, who featured in that game three years ago, were part of the Arsenal side that sent Watford down.
Busy summer for Arteta
Arsenal’s worst league season for 25 years at least ended on a high but the record books will show they finished 10 points off the top four – and 43 behind runaway champions Liverpool.
They will secure a place in the Europa League if they beat Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup final but Mikel Arteta knows an eighth-placed finish is not good enough for a club of Arsenal’s stature.
Regardless of the outcome at Wembley, it promises to be a busy summer at Emirates Stadium.
Top of Arteta’s list of duties will be to convince Aubameyang to sign a new contract after the forward scored another two goals to finish joint runner-up with Southampton’s Danny Ings in the Premier League scoring charts on 22 – one behind Leicester’s Jamie Vardy.
In addition, there is a decision to be made about on-loan midfielder Dani Ceballos, who is due to return to Real Madrid.
The future of Mesut Ozil, who became the highest paid player in the club’s history when he signed a three-and-a-half-year deal in January 2018, needs clarifying after he was left out of Arsenal’s last 10 games, while French midfielder Matteo Guendouzi has not featured since the defeat at Brighton on 20 June.
Man of the Match – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
‘I didn’t like what I was watching – what they said
Watford interim head coach Hayden Mullins: “We’re really disappointed with the start we made. To concede a penalty in the opening minute was always going to make things tough. I’m disappointed with some of the goals we gave away.”
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “It was a really tough game. The level of urgency they had is not what we had.
“After going 2-0 up you think this is going to easy but that’s a big mistake because without the ball we weren’t at the races. In certain aspects of the game I didn’t like what I was watching. I tried to correct that.”
Third Premier League relegation for Hornets – the stats
- Watford have been relegated from the Premier League for a third time, with the Hornets also suffering the drop in 1999-00 and 2006-07.
- Despite the victory, Arsenal have had their lowest Premier League finish since 1994-95 when they finished 12th.
- This was the first Premier League match to see both sides win a penalty in the opening half since Arsenal against Tottenham in December 2018.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal after five minutes was the earliest penalty Arsenal have scored in a Premier League match since April 1999.
- Kieran Tierney became the first Scottish player to score for Arsenal since Scott Marshall against Newcastle in March 1996.
- Danny Welbeck’s goal made him the fourth different player to score at Emirates Stadium for three different clubs – Manchester United, Arsenal and Watford.
Arsenal will spend the week preparing for Saturday’s FA Cup final with Chelsea at Wembley (17:30 BST) – a match they have to win to qualify for Europe.