Never one to shy away from the spotlight, Troy Deeney’s feud with Arsenal started in October 2017, with a last-minute winner and an abrasive post-match interview.
‘Well, I’m not going to be one to tell Mr Wenger [Arsenal manager at the time] about himself, but there’s a reason that they lost and it wasn’t because of one penalty…’ began Deeney, in an interview which would overshadow every fixture between Watford and the Gunners in the years that followed.
‘It’s having a bit of cojones. Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think “let me whack the first one and see who wants it.”
Troy Deeney (left) famously said Arsenal lacked ‘cojones’ after Watford’s win in October 2017
Yet Deeney’s words could come back to haunt him as Watford look to avoid relegation
‘I came on today and jumped up with [Per] Mertesacker – I didn’t even have to jump, actually. I nodded it down, the crowd got up – “yeah we’ve got somebody who can win it” – and they all just backed off.
‘For me as a player I just think, “happy days”. That’s my strength. I know I’m not technically gifted like they are, not as quick, but if you want to fight with me, I’m gonna beat you all day.’
At the time, and arguably in the Emery and Arteta eras since, it is an accusation that riles Arsenal players and supporters alike. Unfortunately for Deeney, such strong words are rarely forgotten and football has a habit of coming back to bite you where it hurts.
This Sunday, as the longest of Premier League seasons reaches its climax, Arsenal can relegate Watford and Deeney.
The Hornets are currently in 18th on goal-difference – by just one goal no less – to Aston Villa above them. A Villa side who secured the biggest three points of their season with a 1-0 victory on Tuesday night. The opponents? Arsenal, of course.
The irony is palpable. With that loss, Arsenal are 10th in the league and face finishing below Burnley and Sheffield United in the table, completing their worst league season in 25 years.
But Gunners fans, particularly on social media, are somewhat excited at the thought that Tuesday’s result, combined with a victory on Sunday at the Emirates, could relegate Deeney and Co.
Arsenal fans on Twitter are excited at the prospect a win on Sunday could relegate Deeney
Even manager Mikel Arteta, who only joined the club in December, revved up the significance of those ‘cojones’ comments nearly three years ago.
‘I think revenge and when you want to correct things is probably because you feel that what was said is right,’ Arteta said this week.
‘If you don’t feel that it’s right or it doesn’t justify the way you approach the game or you fight, it doesn’t affect you. So I think that’s a very personal thing.’
When asked whether he thought Deeney should have said it, the Arsenal boss added: ‘Every player is free to say whatever they want – I cannot comment on every opinion.’
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta admits the ‘cojones’ jibe could fire up his squad ahead of Sunday
TROY DEENEY VS ARSENAL SINCE ‘COJONES’ COMMENT
- Appearances: 3
- Goals: 0
- Shots/On Target: 4/2
- Chances created: 5
- Penalties missed: 1
- Red cards: 1
Statistics provided by Opta
And yet, since that 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road – with Deeney scoring the equalising penalty and Tom Cleverley the last-minute winner – it has been nothing short of a struggle for Watford against Arsenal.
Since that match, Watford have not won a game out of four played between the two teams, with the Gunners winning three of those encounters.
That sole draw came this season, as Arsenal squandered a two-goal lead in September at Vicarage Road, in a game that Deeney did not feature in.
Actually, the 32-year-old has not scored against Arsenal since that ‘cojones’ comment.
In the reverse fixture during that 2017-18 season, Arsenal steamrolled through Watford 3-0, in a game where Deeney saw a penalty saved by then-Gunners keeper Petr Cech.
Yet last season, it got even worse for Deeney when he was memorably sent-off after just 11 minutes for a forearm in the face of Lucas Torreira at Vicarage Road.
Livid, he flung off his shirt as he trudged off the pitch, in a scene Arsenal fans no doubt revelled in.
But it could be all the more serious this Sunday. Off the back of a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Manchester City, Watford’s Premier League journey is on the brink of collapse.
Five years after promotion from the Championship, and three years after those ‘cojones’ comments which have followed Deeney around wherever he goes, they need a result in Sunday’s do-or-die clash.
Troy Deeney was shown a straight red card last season against Arsenal and was furious
The Watford skipper was sent-off for a forearm to Lucas Torreira’s face after just 11 minutes
A defeat at the Emirates doesn’t guarantee their downfall. After all, should Villa lose to West Ham by a two-goal or more margin to Watford’s potential loss, then it’d be Villa who would face the drop.
Yet on paper, Arsenal is the trickier fixture. Mikel Arteta’s side have beaten what he says are the ‘two best teams in Europe’ in Liverpool and City in the past 10 days, and despite a hiccup at Villa Park will want to finish strongly going into the FA Cup final against Chelsea on August 1.
For Watford though, with just two wins to their name out of eight games since the Premier League restarted, Deeney and his team-mates need to show some ‘cojones’ of their own in order to stay in the top-flight for another season.
Watford are in desperate need of a result after their 4-0 defeat against Manchester City
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s side will want to lay down a marker ahead of the FA Cup final