Hornets front four rock Highbury's marble hall
Graham Taylor did well to keep a straight face when he told the press after the game that the Highbury crowd must be unused to such rip-roaring entertainment. ‘When was the last time they saw six goals in a game here?’ he asked, rhetorically.
It did little to defuse the growing storm surrounding Watford’s style.
Victory at Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the month had shaken up English football’s establishment.
The new kids on the block and their take-no-prisoners approach was the big talking point, with the purists fretting that Watford’s style was going to mean the end of English football as we knew it.
Even Don Howe, Arsenal’s assistant manager, suggested that if everyone adopted Watford’s way, the game would be set back 20 years.
And that is why Taylor’s comment was loaded with sarcasm. The Highbury crowd was used to seeing defenders putting their arms and up appealing for offside. They were used to seeing more backpasses than crosses into the box. One-nil to the Arsenal was not just a terrace chant. It was a mantra.
Stewart Robson drove in a fine goal to open the scoring but Watford’s pace, commitment and refusal to lie down completely unsettled the hosts.
The press complained about the long ball that led to Watford’s equaliser just before half-time. A big punt upfield from Steve Sherwood was flicked on by Ross Jenkins, then Luther Blissett found John Barnes in space in the area. Barnes drilled a low shot that George Wood could not keep out of the net.
But they ignored the beauty and simplicity of a goal that started in one penalty box and ended in the other, taking just six touches from four players.
Shortly after half-time Kenny Jackett put Watford ahead when Arsenal failed to cope with a long Steve Sims throw.
Barnes made it 3-1 when he got in behind a flat-footed Arsenal defence. Brian Talbot pulled one back before Watford got a fourth. Barnes thought he had a hat-trick but the last touch came from Robson on the line so it was officially an own goal. It was harsh on Barnes because the ball was going in anyway.
Taylor prevented Pat Rice, the former Arsenal captain, from talking to the press afterwards but it did little to quell the controversy. However, they could talk all they liked. One thing was clear: Watford were here to stay.
Watford Sherwood, Rice, Rostron, Taylor, Sims, Bolton, Callaghan, Blissett, Jenkins, Jackett, Barnes
Manager Graham Taylor
Scorers Barnes 43, 58, Jackett 50, Robson og 76
Arsenal scorers Robson 39, Talbot 72
Why was this match chosen? Everyone wondered how Watford would cope in the top flight. Taylor impressed on them the importance of challenging the top sides to prove how good they were. Two performances in North London in November 1982 showed that at least a couple of the top sides didn't fancy it.
How do I feel about this game's inclusion now? We can look back at the furore over Watford's 'style' of football with amusement now. This was a display packed with pace, direct football and a desire to win – but it is also telling that goalkeeper Steve Sherwood won the 'display of the season' award for this game. That says something about what an open, attacking game it was.