Emery: Torreira taken off at halftime because ‘atmosphere was against him’

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Unai Emery has defended his decision to remove Lucas Torreira at halftime, noting both the game’s environment and a possible injury worry.

“I decided to do the change of Lucas Torreira because after the red card, the atmosphere is against him and also the doctor said to me in the first half that he has a little pain for Thursday and I decided okay, it’s the moment [to take him off],” Emery said following Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford.

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Torreira of course was the subject to Troy Deeney‘s elbow that earned Deeney a red card. The holding midfielder had a couple of fouls of his own, with the Watford supporters baying to the referee “off, off, off” asking for a red card. Emery may have felt that as the game went on, Torreira could go hard into a challenge and come out with a red card, and Arsenal needs Torreira healthy and active for future Premier League matches.

On the field, it didn’t seem that Torreira had an injury, but ahead of Arsenal’s crucial return leg against Napoli on Thursday, Emery appears to have decided it was better not to risk Torreira in the second half and instead play with Mesut Ozil in a more attacking formation. That way, Torreira should be good to go at Napoli. Ultimately, the move paid off, with Arsenal holding on to the 1-0 victory.

Since joining in July, Torreira has been a revelation, emerging as the holding midfielder that Arsenal has been missing for a decade or more. When healthy and in form, Torreira eats up opposition attacks, cutting down space all over the field. He’s even scored a goal or two, as seen in one of the North London derbies earlier this year.

Arsenal tops ten-man Watford to move back into top four (video)

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  • Arsenal moves back into top four
  • Away win is Arsenal’s first since Feb. 9 at Huddersfield Town
  • Deeney sent off in 11th minute

All it took was one Ben Foster error for Arsenal to secure a rare road victory in the Premier League this calendar year.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for Arsenal, blocking and re-directing a long pass from Foster into the Watford goal, which was enough for a 1-0 Arsenal victory at Vicarage Road, Monday evening. With the win, Arsenal jump back into the top four of the Premier League table.

Watford, on the other hand, stayed in 10th place with 46 points.

The entire game changed around a 98-second span early in the first half. First, Ben Foster’s first touch got away from him and before he was able to make a clearance to his forward line, Aubameyang chased him down and blocked the clearance. The ball ricocheted into the net, giving Arsenal the 1-0 lead.

Less than two minutes later, Watford’s captain was given his marching orders after leaving an elbow or forearm in Lucas Torreira‘s head as Troy Deeney passed him. Deeney protested but the referee’s decision was final, leaving Watford down to ten men.

The Hornets still created chances through the rest of the game, finishing with six shots, two of them on target. But Bernd Leno held steady and kept Arsenal their first clean sheet since Arsene Wenger‘s last performance.

From bad to worse: Watford give up rare goal, then Deeney is sent off

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In a one-minute, 38-second span, Watford’s expectations for its match against Arsenal were completely flipped on their head.

[WATCH LIVE: Watford v. Arsenal]

First, goalkeeper Ben Foster‘s lackadaisical touch in the six-yard box allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to close him down, resulting in a block that saw the ball ricochet into the net. Then, 98 seconds later, Watford captain Troy Deeney was shown a straight-red card after an assistant referee spotted Deeney leave an elbow into the head of Arsenal central midfielder Lucas Torreira.

That left Watford down a man and down a goal. Perhaps to make matters worse, Watford manager Javi Gracia doesn’t have a star like Gerard Deulofeu available on the bench to add that attacking spark that Watford will need without Deeney on the pitch.

Europa League: Arsenal takes control of tie with win over Napoli (video)

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Arsenal took one major step towards qualification for the UEFA Europa League semifinals with one of its best performances of the season on Thursday evening.

Unai Emery’s tactical gamble paid off as Arsenal took an early lead and never let off, defeating Serie A power Napoli, 2-0 at Emirates Stadium. Midfield duo Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira produced the goals, with Ramsey scoring early and Torreira having a shot re-directed in.

Emery chose to start the trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette together up top, going for gold against a Napoli side know for its defending and quick counter attacks. It could have left Arsenal vulnerable defensively but the attention paid to the front-three opened up space for Arsenal’s players making late runs into the box.

That was how Ramsey scored in the 13th minute. Ozil found Lacazette in space down the wing. On attacking the box, Lacazette passed to Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the box, who spun around and found an open Ramsey. Ramsey collected the pass and chipped past Alex Meret to put Arsenal ahead.

Torreira, the little bulldog in central midfield, then forced a turnover in the 25th minute, chased it down and bore down on goal. Torreira then switched the ball to his weaker left foot and fired a strike on goal. To Kalidou Koulibaly’s dismay, the ball deflected off his leg and in for another goal to Arsenal.

Napoli came out in the second half with more energy and intensity, but they couldn’t find the way past Arsenal’s suddenly resolute defense, led by Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis. Ramsey nearly had another chance to score, with a cracking strike tipped over the bar by Meret.

At the end, Arsenal held on to secure a massive clean sheet ahead of next Thursday’s return leg in Napoli.

At the Half: Ramsey, Torreira help give Arsenal early lead, Chelsea still scoreless

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Arsenal started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil together for one of the few times all season.

So of course, Arsenal’s two central midfielders have found the scoresheet so far.

At halftime, Arsenal holds an impressive 2-0 lead over Napoli at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening, with Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira both finding the back of the net. Ramsey scored in the 14th minute off a great pass in the box from Ainsley Maitland-Niles while Torreira created his own goal almost out of nothing.

Torreira forced a turnover at midfield and then ran at Napoli’s defense before switching the ball to his left foot and unleashing a low strike. The shot deflected off Napoli star centerback Kalidou Koulibaly and wrong-footed goalkeeper Alex Meret for a goal. The goal has been listed as an own goal, but it may have been on target before the deflection.

In the Czech Republic, Chelsea is holding strong to a scoreless tie with Slavia Prague.

Here’s a look at Arsenal’s two first half goals.