Anyone who comes up with a definitive preview of Arsenal’s match against Bournemouth on Saturday lacks good sense or humility or both.
There’s just no way to predict how this encounter is going to unfold. Now, at a fundamental level, that’s true of any sporting contest, which is why we pay such rapt attention. Those unexpected moments of brilliance and joy carry most of the appeal.
If something can be even more unpredictable than normal—a question perhaps for the grammarians and philosophers out there—this Arsenal match would qualify.
First, Arsenal’s level of intensity is difficult to see ahead of time. The requirement on that front certainly wasn’t met in the last match against Liverpool, and despite exceeding the quality of Stoke and Leicester City, the Gunners haven’t exactly overwhelmed any opponents with a full match’s worth of effort.
Without suggesting the behavior and performance of previous teams have any bearing on this still-forming one, I will observe that manager Arsène Wenger has noted his teams often adopt caution after comprehensive defeats. Then again, the international break may have mitigated that tendency a bit.
Whatever Arsenal’s mental approach, the composition and playing style remain mysteries. We do know that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will not be taking up a position in Arsenal’s starting XI. And it’s a pretty good bet that Wenger will pick Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Alexis Sanchez, and Mesut Özil; their talent dictates their inclusion.
As for the other seven starters, you would think there’d be spots for Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, and Alexandre Lacazette, but you’d have tipped Lacazette for a start at Liverpool given he posed the greatest goal threat in the team’s first two matches. You’d have been wrong.
It’s also not 100 percent certain that Wenger will retain the structure of three central defenders. The manager has never expressed a firm commitment to that approach, and it hasn’t achieved its main purpose—defensive stability—in Arsenal’s first three league matches. Hosting Bournemouth might provide just the occasion to reintroduce the back four.
If such a return is in the offing, might we see stability provided by the inclusion of a more defensive midfielder, say, Francis Coquelin? The Frenchman could patrol the approaches to the central defense while Xhaka and Ramsey work the transitions. This might get the best out of all three.
Or it might not.
The point is, we don’t know what’s going to happen. As in our own lives, we can choose to fear that uncertainty, or we can embrace it. I know not what course others may take, but, as for me, give me serendipity.
Trends to Watch
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud has scored 14 goals as a substitute; only three Premier League players have scored more. One of those, Jermain Defoe, now plies his trade for Bournemouth. Will one of these deliver the decisive blow on Saturday?
How the Match Plays Out
Arsenal start tentatively. Bournemouth mostly foil the Gunners early on and may enjoy a chance or two. Arsenal grow more confident and determined late in the first half, and their technical superiority and application eventually carry the day.
Players to Watch
Arsenal. Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman seems to have a nose for goals, and his savvy in the area will trouble Bournemouth.
Bournemouth. Ryan Fraser. The Scottish winger caused Arsenal all sorts of problems in the frantic 3-3 draw at Dean Court last January. Whatever defensive framework the Gunners use, Fraser will create danger.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris)
Bournemouth: Wilson (knee), Francis (hamstring)
Referee: Anthony Taylor (3M, 14Y, 0R)
Assistant referees: G Beswick, A Nunn
Fourth official: D England
UK: Highlights only
US: NBCSN, NBC Sports App, Direct TV Now, Sling Blue, fuboTV, 10:00 AM EDT
Arsenal 2 – 1 Bournemouth
The Manager’s Take (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
It’s never a good time to play anybody. It’s a good time for us to focus on our performance and show that we are united. We have played three games. We have played two away games and we have 35 games to go in the championship. We will catch back [recover] the points we lost away from home. It’s important we continue our form at home. It’s important to put things into perspective. Sometimes even the press has problems in taking a little distance in things going on.
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal have won four of the five previous meetings, with the exception being January’s 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium – when the Gunners recovered from 3-0 down.
- Arsene Wenger’s side have won all three of their previous home games against the Cherries.
- The Gunners could lose three successive Premier League games for the first time since January 2012.
- However, they have won their last six league games at the Emirates, scoring a total of 15 goals.
- Arsenal have won their last 23 Premier League home matches against sides in the relegation zone since drawing 4-4 with Spurs in October 2008.
- They have conceded an average of 1.43 goals per league game in 2017, their highest rate in a calendar year since 1965.
- Defeat would leave Arsenal with their lowest ever points tally after four games of a Premier League season. A draw would represent their worst start since the 2011-12 campaign.
- Francis Coquelin could make his 100th Premier League appearance.
- The Cherries could lose their opening four games of a league campaign for only the third time in their history. The two previous occasions (in 1983 and 1994) were both in the third tier.
- Bournemouth are winless in their last six Premier League games in London, losing five of those matches.
- Jermain Defoe has failed to score in his last 10 league and cup appearances away to Arsenal, including all eight of his games at the Emirates Stadium.
- His only previous goal away to Arsenal came in West Ham’s 3-1 defeat at Highbury in January 2003.
- Eddie Howe’s five-year tenure at Bournemouth makes him the second longest-serving manager currently in charge of a Premier League club, behind Arsene Wenger (21 years).