Arsene Wenger has said that Arsenal "were not mentally ready" to deal with Watford's physical play in Tuesday's 2-1 loss at the Emirates, and was left questioning why his team keeps getting off to bad starts in games.
Arsenal were 2-0 down after just 13 minutes as Watford dominated the first half, using their size advantage in almost every position to prevent the Gunners from establishing their normal passing game in the steady rain.
Alex Iwobi pulled a goal back in the second half, but Arsenal could not find an equaliser and fell nine points behind leaders Chelsea in a damaging setback to their Premier League title hopes.
"It was not good in the first half. Especially, I felt, in the first 20 minutes. We were beaten in the duels, they were sharper than us," Wenger said. "We didn't start the way we wanted. In the second half it was all us. We are unlucky, let's be fair as well, to lose this game, we didn't deserve to lose this game."
Arsenal didn't have a single shot on target in the first half -- compared to six for Watford -- but looked much more dangerous after the break when Wenger took off Olivier Giroud and reverted to playing with Alexis Sanchez up front.
But Arsenal rejected the notion that his team could not stand up to Watford physically, blaming mental fragility instead.
"I don't think we have a physical power problem. I think we were not mentally ready to deal with the duels, which we usually do," he said. "You do not make 47 points in the Premier League after 23 games if you have no physical power
"But you have to switch it on 100 percent every time in the Premier League, that's what it is about. ... I think we prepared the game well, we were warned that Watford would come and make it very physical. I have no basic regret in the way we prepared the game. Did we think subconsciously that, OK, we will turn up and it will work? I don't know. But from the stands, I agree with you that our first half was not at the level that we wanted."
It was a big opportunity missed for Arsenal, as Liverpool drew 1-1 with Chelsea at Anfield and Tottenham were surprisingly held to a 0-0 draw at relegation strugglers Sunderland. And the Gunners still lost ground to all of them.
"I'm very frustrated that we didn't win the game, of course. We play at home, we have a great opportunity and we have a start like we did. Of course it's frustrating," Wenger said.
It means Saturday's trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea is now a must-win game for the Gunners if they want to stay in the title race, and Wenger called on his team to bounce back quickly.
"We want to respond and to win the game [at Chelsea], of course," he said. "But we have first to analyse well why we didn't start well. We have some situations in our team that at the start of the game, we are not completely clear. And we have to analyse that well."
Meanwhile, Watford boss Walter Mazzarri dedicated their win to the late Graham Taylor. The former Hornets manager died two weeks ago and the Italian gave a special tribute during his postmatch news conference.
"Before the press conference finishes, I wanted to say that I want to dedicate this victory to a great person that was Graham Taylor," Mazzarri said. "We wanted to do it before today [against Middlesbrough] but I think today was a great game and I want to dedicate this victory to him and to the fans as well.
"It was, for sure, a great game but I also had other important games in my career but I also remember at home was with Napoli against Chelsea. But I also don't like to live off the past. Now I'm in Watford and this was, for sure, one of the greatest."