When you read the Arsenal.com match preview it starts with offering 2 different points of view. Essentially, are Arsenal on an 18-game unbeaten run or stuttering without a win in three. When looking at Arsenal v Bournemouth, you wouldn’t be blamed if you didn’t know which side of the divide you fall.
Bournemouth come into the Emirates firmly ensconced in the middle of the table. They are a well-coached team with Eddie Howe often linked as one of Arsene Wenger’s eventual successors. They play a style of football favorable to Arsenal, as Howe prefers attacking football over parking the bus.
Arsenal are in fact riding an 18-game unbeaten streak. If it weren’t for the lackluster nature of their last 3 performances (in all competitions), that might be a good thing. As it is, the last 3, especially the last 2 (versus United & PSG) have been especially flat, leaving many to question whether if it’s same old, same old at the Emirates.
We came into November touch-tight to the top of the table. With every match in November we’ve had a chance to set the pace for the title race and we’ve failed in that exercise. All the league matches thus far have been draws but it’s draws that truly keep you from the top.
Alex Ferguson used to tell his teams he’d rather win 2 then lose 1 than have 3 draws (or something like that.) His point is he’d have picked up 6 points versus 3. I’d rather we’d done the same at this point. Neither Spurds or United were especially strong to bully us but we didn’t play to our potential and let them each get a point.
Now, in retrospect the draw versus United could be claimed as a character-building match by the face of how we drew that match. But it never should’ve been the case. Arsenal came and played flat and had to rescue the point they never should’ve had to rescue.
Another performance against Bournemouth will erase all the good work done in the early 2 ½ months of the season. It could also force them out of the top 4 for the first time this season. Arsenal simply put cannot afford to rescue a point again – they need to take all three points or face more intense scrutiny of what’s going on.
Arsene readily admits that the club is underperforming of late:
“It’s important that we find our simplicity, speed and pacy combinations back. We missed that fluency, and that security in our decision-making that made us dangerous in the final third a little bit. That is what is at stake for us.”
It’s clear that he understands he has 5 foot 4 size hole in midfield. The man who truly makes the Arsenal tick, Santi Cazorla, sits out once again with ankle inflammation. Without him in the lineup all those qualities Arsenal have been missing have become more pronounced.
The question for Wenger is who does he put in to that deep lying play maker role.
While Bournemouth are a good team and not one to overlook, they do offer an opportunity to maybe juggle things up. It seems like the perfect opportunity for Wenger to roll out the Xhaka-Ramsey. Ramsey can operate in that box-to-box role and Xhaka can work as the midfield enforcer and deep lying play maker.
Sure Xhaka doesn’t have the nimbleness that Cazorla has, but he does have a range of passing that Coquelin doesn’t and he has the discipline to either sit in front of the back 4 to break up play or to come into the space created behind the pressing attackers and transfer the ball from the centerbacks to the midfield or wide players.
It’s that first pass from deep to either Özil or the pushed up fullbacks that has been missing. Xhaka offers us the best chance to at least bring some of that back.
Where to Worry
In the last 3 matches, Arsenal have been their own worst enemy. In fact no one beats Arsenal like Arsenal beats Arsenal.
We’re at home, with a superior lineup and if all matches were played on paper or FM17, it’s likely Arsenal would win. But the fact remains the team needs to actually show up.
As Wenger rightly points out the fluency of our play hasn’t been there. And one of the key effects of this is, it negates having Mesut Özil on the field. Without the first pass coming from deep he can’t be set free to make his killer pass.
Instead he has to come back deep and is forced to run at players. This is not what makes Mesut Özil who he is. He likes to receive the ball up the field and then make either that single move before the pass or immediately make that pass to a runner in front of him.
If we don’t start effectively bringing the ball from our CBs effectively, you can this being another stale affair which over time would likely embolden our visitors. We do that again and that is where we should worry.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Granit Xhaka. I think Wenger dropped a big enough hint that the Swiss-Croat will get a nod in the midfield today. If so it’s a step in the right direction to add some of what we’ve been missing back to the squad.
Bournemouth. Calum Wilson. Effective at making runs between the center backs, he can cause even the best tandem in the league fits if not properly accounted for.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Bellerín (ankle), Akpom (back), Mertesacker (knee), Welbeck (knee), Cazorla (achilles)
Bournemouth: Boruc (back), Ibe (ill), Surman (hamstring), L Cook (ankle), Wilshere (unavailable – terms of loan)
Goals Scored Per Game:
Goal Conceded Per Game:
Manager’s Point of View (courtesy Arsenal.com):
“When you go through a spell where you’re less good and you don’t lose, it’s still a sign of quality and of spirit. I think what you want is to acknowledge what we can improve. We have lost a bit of creativity, fluency and speed in our movement. That’s what we want to find back and keep our strengths. If you start to win again, the whole thing together will look great.”
“That point about creativity is telling. No team has completed as many passes in the final third as we have, and yet it’s the pace and positivity of those passes that matters most to the manager.
“Yes, and the speed of our combination matters if we want to be efficient,” said Wenger. “We lost that a little bit. Is that down to the quality of our opponents? Certainly for a fraction. Do some legs start to be a little bit less fresh? Certainly as well, because you come back from international duty and we are in November.”
Referee: Mike Jones (9M, 27Y, 2R)
Assistants: A Holmes, M Scholes
Fourth official: G Scott
UK: Sky Sports 1, 14.15 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network 9:15 AM EST
Arsenal 2 – 1 Bournemouth
Match Facts (Courtesy FourFourTwo.com via Opta):
- Arsenal have won all three of their previous meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions, scoring seven and conceding none.
- Mesut Ozil has had a hand in three of Arsenal’s four Premier League goals against the Cherries, scoring two and assisting one.
- Of current Premier League managers, Arsene Wenger (20 years, 58 days) and Eddie Howe (4 years, 47 days) are the two longest serving managers at their respective clubs (on the day of the game).
- When Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal on October 1st 1996, Eddie Howe was only 19 years old and had made just five league appearances as a player (all for Bournemouth).
- Arsenal have conceded twice as many Premier League goals at home this season (8) as they have away from home (4).
- In his last eight Premier League appearances, Olivier Giroud has attempted eight shots on target and scored with seven of these.
- Giroud has scored against 20 of the 25 different teams that he’s played against in the Premier League, but Bournemouth are one of the sides that he’s yet to score versus in the competition (0 goals, 2 apps).
- Bournemouth have hit the woodwork 13 times in the Premier League this season; six more times than any other team.
- Arsenal have averaged 163 successful passes in the final third of the pitch per game this season; more than any other side.
- The Gunners have seen their substitutes provide five goals and five assists in the Premier League this season; more than any other team.
- Arsenal are the only side in the Premier League yet to be losing at half-time in a match this season (winning six, drawing six). In fact, they haven’t been behind in a PL game at half-time since February 28th 2016