Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted concern over the number of empty seats at Emirates Stadium as his side continued their mini-revival with a Premier League victory over Watford.
The Gunners returned to top-flight winning ways after three successive defeats courtesy of strikes from Shkodran Mustafi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as goalkeeper Petr Cech collected his 200th Premier League clean sheet after saving a second-half Troy Deeney penalty.
The official attendance was given as 59,131 – only a few hundred shy of capacity – which reflected the number of tickets sold, although the actual figure of fans in the ground would have been considerably lower.
Wenger, who was the subject of intensifying scrutiny over his future following four consecutive losses – including the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City – and underwhelming performances, suggested the tanker of despair had begun to turn.
“Yes, of course, I worry. I want our fans to be behind the team and be happy. said the Frenchman,” whose side are sixth, 12 points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool despite building upon their Europa League win against AC Milan on Thursday.
“But after what happened in that week, I understand a bit. We have to get the fans on our side, and do absolutely everything to achieve it.
“We need some more games. We had a nightmare week, and so overall we still have some work to do, but we are in a good way.”
Watford had come from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 in the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road in October, after which Deeney suggested the Gunners lacked “cojones”, something which Wenger revealed had provided additional motivation.
Deeney’s penalty miss moments after Arsenal’s second goal was greeted with inevitable ridicule from the stands. But it also ensured that Cech, who saved his maiden spot-kick in a Gunners shirt at the 16th attempt, became the first stopper to register 200 clean sheets in Premier League history.
“He had to wait a while to save a penalty, and it’s quite fortunate that it’s against Deeney,” added Wenger. “You cannot be a football player without pride. Of course it plays a part.”
Arsenal opened the scoring on eight minutes as Mustafi powerfully headed Mesut Ozil’s free-kick beyond Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, although Cech was required to deny Abdoulaye Doucoure and Richarlison on two occasions prior to half-time.
The Gunners doubled their lead shortly before the hour mark as Mkhitaryan drove at the Watford defence and released Aubameyang, who rounded Karnezis and fired home.
Moments later Deeney was thwarted from the spot following a foul by Ainsley Maitland-Niles on Roberto Pereyra, while the scoring was concluded with 13 minutes remaining as Mkhitaryan rifled a shot through Karnezis.