Bournemouth result shows its small steps forward for Arsenal
Arsenal grinding out a 1-0 victory is something fans have been clamouring for, for the entirety of Unai Emery’s reign, and a large part of Arsene Wenger’s as well.
The Gunners’ victory over Bournemouth, thanks to David Luiz’s early goal, lifted them to third in the table, but the unremarkable, middling performance did little to dispel the concerns surrounding the football Unai Emery’s team play, and the sustainability of these narrow results in the long-run.
It was a game of nearly-moments, of fits and starts, as Arsenal continued to be plagued by their problems in midfield, although there was a conspicuous absence of glaring defensive errors on Sunday, a rare luxury in a season of alarm bells at the back.
Yet again however, the result was majorly accounted by the inferior mentality of the opposition, especially prevalent at the Emirates this season. This allowed Arsenal enough control to see out the victory, only looking troubled when Bournemouth began to play with purpose as the second half wore on.
Controlling the game…sort of
For once, Arsenal won the xG count today, as they did against Manchester United, however, this one was on a technicality – a chance at the end, which produced the highest rated xG of any shot in the match, which would’ve been ruled out on VAR for an offside had it found the back of the net.
Arsenal struggled to create chances all game, as they have all seasons, and once they conceded the emphasis of the game to the Cherries, they began to be pinned back in their own half.
The substitution of Bukayo Saka for Lucas Torreira in the 83rd minute was sensible with regards to the match situation, but it told another story too: Arsenal didn’t back themselves to take control and kill off the game.
Once again, the midfield, overloaded with creative progressive players at the expense of balance and mobility, struggled to get a foothold against a tidy and mobile Bournemouth side, who realised that taking the game to Arsenal is a strategy that can reap rewards.
Arsenal simply have to find a better balance in midfield, in order to improve their ability to defend in transition, their ability to receive the ball from the defence, their ability to link between attack and defence, and their capability to force the game forward on their own terms, and not be dictated to.
A solid defence…mostly
For once – and commendably so against an attacking side such as Bournemouth – Arsenal looked fairly solid and compact at the back, and we’re able to ensure the Cherries offered very little threat for the majority of the contest.
Sokratis and David Luiz were both unremarkable on the ball, which ensured they didn’t make any major errors in possession, and Sead Kolasinac generally stuck to his position well, something he is not well known for doing.
Calum Chambers, who was arguably Arsenal’s best player, continued to make a genuine case for the right-back slot, even with Hector Bellerin having returned. He was solid in defence, and offered a genuine threat on the right-hand side. For once, Arsenal seem to have a couple of good options in the full-back slots.
With Bellerin, Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney all seemingly re-integrated and ready to start in the Premier League, some defensive solidity and balance might finally be achievable for Unai Emery’s men.
Pepe struggling…except at corners
Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal’s record signing, is fast becoming a curious case. Offering so much in certain scenarios, he seems devoid of confidence, and is over-complicating things in his head.
Despite his poor performance last week and another rather unremarkable effort at the Emirates on Sunday, Pepe has shown glimpses of the player he can be under Unai Emery. He should have been awarded a penalty for a blatant foul (even VAR didn’t overturn it, somehow), and delivered an excellent corner for Luiz to head home.
He was also valuable in progressing the ball from deep, something Arsenal have missed since Alex Iwobi departed for Everton, a loss which has flown under the radar.
Perhaps Pepe’s education in playing in a high-possession team like Arsenal – his time at Lille was hallmarked by their exclusively counterattacking style – should be continued by dropping him deeper, allowing him to become Arsenal’s key ball progressor into the final third.
Whatever the fans may think of the Ivorian’s performances, there’s enough moments of class to suggest there’s light rapidly approaching at the end of the tunnel.
What to make of it all?
With Arsenal now third in the table, one point behind City and having lost just once so far this season, some fans have rightly pointed out that this is as good a start as the side could have hoped for, particularly with Arsenal now having played three of the top six from last year already.
However, other sets of fans point to the mixed performances as evidence Arsenal are overperforming their underlying form, and a correction is due.
Arsenal have failed to conclusively fire in any game this season, and it has truly been eight games worth of glimpses, fits and starts, interspersed with the Gunners shooting themselves in the foot. 15 points is a remarkably low total to be third at this point in the season, and the cluster of teams behind Arsenal mean the slightest slip-up could result in a steep slide into midtable.
If Arsenal can combine some of the defensive solidity, newfound grit and youthful exuberance seen in flashes so far this season, with a better balance in midfield, a more proactive mindset on the ball and a calmness during the games, there’s a lot of upside to this season.
With key players now re-integrated, an almost-full squad and some less difficult fixtures on the other side of the international break, its make-or-break for Unai Emery and his team.