The result lifted Arsenal one place up to fifth on 20 points from 11 games, behind fourth-placed West Ham on goal difference with the Hammers at home to third-placed Liverpool in the 1530 GMT kick-off.
Smith-Rowe netted Arsenal’s 100th league goal under Arteta as he drilled in a low shot from 18 metres after striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had missed a first half penalty for the home side, who also had two goals ruled out for offside.
Smith-Rowe acknowledged Arsenal were brimming with confidence as they stretched their unbeaten league and cup run to 10 games after a poor start to the season.
“I think we always believed in ourselves and in each other, it was just about coming together as a team and we are such a family,” he told Sky Sports.
“It was a difficult game for us today. Watford are a strong team and we are happy we got the three points.”
Bukayo Saka’s early effort was disallowed and Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster smothered Aubameyang’s 35th-minute spot kick before he also kept out a close-range Gabriel header with a superb reflex save.
But Foster was powerless in the 56th minute when Arsenal defender Ben White surged forward after winning possession in midfield and teed up Smith-Rowe, who found the back of the net with a first-time shot.
Aubameyang compounded a poor individual performance when he robbed Martin Odegaard of a 73rd-minute goal, needlessly poking in the ball from an offside position with Foster already beaten by the substitute’s arrowed low shot.
Joshua King missed Watford’s solitary chance in the 86th minute when he hit the side netting from a tight angle after Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale missed a simple clearance.
The visitors had Juraj Kucka sent off shortly afterwards for a second yellow card after he fouled Arsenal’s left back Nuno Tavares before Foster produced another excellent save to palm away a fierce Albert Sambi Lokonga shot.
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