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FOOTBALL: WATFORD GAP IS TOO WIDE!; Watford......2 Arsenal......4: Classy Gunners are on another level.

Byline: John DILLON

OUT of the FA Cup after precisely nine minutes, taken apart and put in their place after 90, Gianluca Vialli and Watford must have felt as far removed from the big time as ever at murky Vicarage Road.

Vialli has spent 15 months away from the limelight since his astonishing sacking by Chelsea.

That counts as several lifetimes in football, but after so many successful years as a player and manager at the very top, he knows a serious team when he meets one.

The break from the top flight has given Vialli an added perspective and he used it to play sweet music to the fans of Arsenal, the team he says have become even better since he left the Premiership.

With so many Frenchmen around - on both sides - and a smooth, stylish Italian like Vialli at Watford's helm, a touch of romance ought to have been on the cards.

Not a bit of it. Arsenal had it all wrapped up with goals from Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg after those opening nine minutes of the first half, then got two more from Kanu and Dennis Bergkamp in the second.

It left Vialli oozing admiration for Arsene Wenger's slick and now consistent side.

Vialli said: "They have improved a lot since I was last a coach against them.

"They have always been a very good team but now they have signed new players and have young ones coming through. And it seems to me they have a real spirit now. They know they can do it in all three competitions - the Premiership, the Champions League and the FA Cup.

"They have a lot of desire to do well. And with the quality they have, they will.

"I think that spirit comes from pressure - the fact that they haven't won a trophy since 1998. They also have new players who want to make a point and they all want to do well for each other.

"And they have a manager who is good at keeping them motivated.

"In the past, the spirit came from the back four, the English core of the team. Now everyone feels important and they really want to work for each other.

"Arsenal have done some special things already this season. They beat Manchester United and Juventus and they came back from behind to beat Aston Villa. They also won at Liverpool with 10 men.

"When you do those special things, you feel it can be a successful season and that makes your confidence grow even more.

So much so, in fact, that this was a tie won at a sophisticated canter by Arsenal.

It was the sort of game in which Henry went on the occassional dangerous break, when Kanu could refine his increasing ability to miss easy chances and, with the match long won, Bergkamp and Sylvain Wiltord strolled out for a late leg-stretch as substitutes.

Watford could not be faulted for effort , but were simply out of their depth, although there were a couple of late opportunities for Tommy Smith.

The first-half headed goal by Gifton Noel-Williams and an injury-time consolation from Marcus Gayle just painted a little respectability on to the scoreline.

Vialli added: "Hopefully, one day we will be facing sides like Arsenal week in, week out. The gap at the moment is quite wide, but if you get promoted and get extra cash which you use wisely, then it can be closed.

"We competed and I am proud of the players for that.

"The most pleasing thing was that we didn't give up, as the injury-time goal showed.

"At times this season our spirit has let us down. It didn't here. We worked hard and played as a team.

"Wenger diplomatically summed up events with the simple phrase: "We were in control."

Yet although it was an easy win, he is smart enough to recognise that its importance was in maintaining the momentum of his team's impressive recent run.

He said: "The team isn't concerned which competition they are playing in at the moment. They just want to win every game.

"We were in control and we are showing consistency.

"The FA Cup is not the highest priority, but we want to do well."

WATFORD: Chamberlain 7, Blondeau 7, Vernazza 7 (Hand 6), Vega 6, Nielsen 7, Smith 7, Noel-Williams 7, Fisken 7 (Helguson 6), Gayle 7, Issa 6, Cox 7.

ARSENAL: Taylor 7, Luzhny 7 Keown 7, Campbelll 7, Cole 7, Ljungberg 7, Vieira 7, Van Bronckhorst 7, Pires 7, Henry 7 (Bergkamp 7) , Kanu 8 (Wiltord 7).

CAPTION(S):

DESPAIR for Watford boss Gianluca Vialli; HEADING FOR THE 4TH ROUND: Kanu nods home to put Arsenal in control
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 7, 2002
Words:783
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