Super Eagles and Watford striker Odion Ighalo returned to scoring to help Watford to a comfortable 2-1 victory over Arsenal in Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final encounter at the Emirates stadium.
The Nigerian international who has only manged to one goal since the turn of the year scored in the second half to hand the Hornets the lead before Guedioura’s superb effort from outside the area ensured the visitors secured their first FA Cup quarter final ticket in years.
Much of the pre-match chatter centred around the level of rotation that would take place for this match, considering Wednesday’s visit to Barcelona and the crucial Premier League clash at Everton less than 72 hours later.
But those expecting a much-changed side would have been surprised, as Wenger named close to his strongest available XI, with Mesut Ozil, Francis Coquelin and Alexis all restored to the team.
The latter had admitted to Arsenal Player in midweek that not scoring often keeps him up at night, but with five goals and four assists from his six previous FA Cup starts, he would have been confident of adding to his tally.
Watford, meanwhile, came into this quarter-final as one of the season’s surprise packages. Not only have they apparently preserved their Premier League status with serene ease, but in Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo they have one of the best strike force’s in the top flight.
The pair had scored 24 of the Hornets’ 28 goals in all competitions prior to kick off at Emirates Stadium, and Wenger admitted that keeping them quiet would be crucial if Arsenal were to secure their place at Wembley once more.
Having won the competition in the past two seasons, the Gunners had racked up 15 consecutive round victories before coming unstuck against the Hornets.
Arsène Wenger’s side had dominated the first half, having the lion’s share of possession and creating the best chances of the opening period.
Mohamed Elneny twice fired just over the bar during a lively performance, while Joel Campbell volleyed just wide right on the stroke of half time.
But Watford were revitalised after the interval, and took a shock lead when Odion Ighalo fired beyond David Ospina.
Ighalo twice went close in quick succession as the visitors continued to threaten, and they doubled their advantage when Adlene Guedioura drilled a fierce shot into the top corner.
Substitute Danny Welbeck added some late drama as he reduced the arrears two minutes from the end, before slicing over the bar moments later after Alex Iwobi had hit the post.
It was a disappointing end to an FA Cup campaign that had promised much, but with a trip to Barcelona coming up in a matter of days, an instant response will be needed from Arsene Wenger’s men.
Next up for Ighalo and his team-mates is a premier league home tie against Stoke City next Saturday.