Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta outlined what has made the resurgent Ainsley Maitland-Niles a “different player”, and gave his verdict on the Nuno Tavares v Kieran Tierney squad battle.
Arsenal extended their unbeaten league run to nine matches after notching a narrow 1-0 victory over Watford. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could’ve opened the scoring in the first half, but saw his effort saved by Ben Foster.
The Gunners stuck to their task, however, and broke the deadlock through Emile Smith Rowe prior to the hour mark.
Arsenal remained the dominant side for much of the contest, and a late Juraj Kucka red card did little to aid any small hopes of a Watford fightback.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Watford boss Claudio Ranieri was asked about the commotion surrounding Smith Rowe’s strike.
Ranieri said (via Football London): “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.
“After this it was very strange. Sarr take the ball and in my opinion there was a big foul and then nothing and then they scored a goal. Very strange. It’s ok that’s football and I’m very satisfied about our performance.”
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In response to Ranieri’s comments, Arteta said: “I have to defend my players my team and my club. We are the most honest all of them. Even at some stages we are naïve. If he felt like that I apologise, but there was no intention.”
On Ainsley Maitland-Niles who deputised in midfield for the injured Thomas Partey, the Spaniard said: “I think he’s a different player in terms of his urgency commitment, his clarity in play and his commitment.”
“Let’s see what happens with Tommy [Partey]. He’s got an injury, a muscle injury let’s see how it evolves.”
On the decision to stick with Nuno Tavares ahead of Kieran Tierney, Arteta added: “Well Nuno is playing because he deserves to play.
“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.
“Kieran is going to go with Scotland. He was training inside the stadium today and he’s going to be available.”
Smith Rowe reacts to England snub
Arsenal matchwinner Smith Rowe also spoke to the press, telling Sky Sports: “It was a difficult game for us today. Watford are a strong team. Happy we got the three points.
“I am happy [to score] I have been practicing during training. It is really special and doing it at home and in front of our fans is even better.
“We have been working really hard, really important we got three points today.
“I think we always believed in ourselves and each other. It was just about coming together as a team and we are such a family.”
On his snub from the England senior set-up despite his superb form, Smith Rowe concluded: “It is important I just keep my head down and working hard I am happy whoever I get called up for.”