For the first time in the Premier League, Arsenal rallied from three goals behind to grab a point from an eventful 3-3 draw at Bournemouth.
Again, Olivier Giroud provided the decisive touch. His deft header in stoppage time capped a furious final 20 minutes. Though it might not be enough to sustain Arsenal’s title challenge, the result avoided what looked to be an embarrassing defeat.
Here are three things we learned from the match.
Alexis will not surrender
The Gunners needed a hero. Up stepped their Chilean leader.
With his team trailing 3-0 midway through the second half, Alexis kept driving his teammates forward. He dribbled at the Bournemouth defense. Attempted more through balls and crosses. Harried Bournemouth players when they had the ball.
Alexis’s goal to get Arsenal off the mark was all desire. He ran past Bournemouth right back Simon Francis just as Giroud was flicking on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross. He got to the ball at point blank range and buried his header past keeper Artur Boruc.
The stats bear out the dynamo’s influence: No player created more chances for teammates (three) or attempted (38) or completed (25) more passes in the final third.
In the absence of playmaker Mesut Özil, Alexis ran the show. And he dragged his teammates along with him.
This group deals with adversity in a novel way
This match could easily have ended as one of Arsenal’s most humiliating defeats in recent years. Just two days removed from their previous, victorious, outing, the Gunners looked vulnerable from the start.
Although the end of the festive period often produces such a strained dynamic, manager Arsène Wenger’s starting lineup seemed to point to a more solid setup. Francis Coquelin returned to the midfield and should have created a better shield with Granit Xhaka. Aaron Ramsey, usually more defensively aware than other forward options, got only his third league start.
However, a defensive lapse led to Bournemouth’s first goal. Ramsey failed to cover Bournemouth left back Charlie Daniels. The late, ineffective intervention of Hector Bellerin gave Daniels a sight of goal he didn’t forsake.
Surrendering the opening goal—bad, but not insurmountable. The early deficit didn’t revive the Gunners, whose scuffling play continued.
Then, referee Michael Oliver delivered two decisions that went against Arsenal. The first was a penalty against Xhaka, who tangled with Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser just inside the area. Callum Wilson shot straight down the middle for a 2-0 Bournemouth advantage.
Later, Oliver ignored a more egregious foul that Fraser himself committed, which left the Bournemouth man one-on-one with Arsenal keeper Petr Cech. 3-0.
Add an injury to Coquelin and the exit of captain Laurent Koscielny, and you’d be forgiven for fearing the worst.
But Arsenal did not cave. Alexis’s goal energized the team, while substitute Lucas Perez’s cracking volleyed finish across Boruc provided a realistic hope of avoiding defeat. A
red card to Francis for an overly aggressive tackle on Ramsey enhanced the opportunity.
This Arsenal team delivered a message, of sorts, when they took this chance when many of their predecessors would have wilted.
Petr Cech rescued his performance–and this point
Rarely can you credit a goalkeeper who sees his net bulge three times in a match. In this case, though, Arsenal’s Petr Cech deserves some recognition.
The veteran faced six shots on target and saved three. None was more critical than his stop of Harry Arter’s drive in stoppage time, after Arsenal had pulled level.
Goalkeeping experts can decide whether Cech’s inability to get close to any penalties this season—he’s faced six—should be a concern. He will also be disappointed that his string of two shutouts came to an end and perhaps upset that he didn’t do better with Bournemouth’s two goals from open play.
Still, at the end of an intense nine-day period, with pride on the line, Cech stayed focused and stood tall.
On the heels of an outstanding performance against Crystal Palace, Arsenal’s fullbacks would probably prefer to forget this game.
Bellerin, normally such a weapon, struggled to get involved in the offense. He completed just 34 passes (76 percent of those he attempted) and had just 64 touches, second lowest among Arsenal’s outfield players in action the full 90 minutes.
On the defensive side, Bellerin had problems as well. He failed on both his attempted tackles, he picked up a first-half yellow card, and all of Bournemouth’s goals emanated from his side of the pitch.
After the match, Wenger said his right back was playing with a minor injury.
Nacho Monreal didn’t have a banner game on the left, either. The Spaniard, 30 years old next month, looked off the pace so soon after his previous outing. He might not be able to bear such regular exertions; the club’s inquiries about left back targets suggest as much.