Arsenal look to add some distance in their top-four challenge
Arsenal are looking to maintain and gain in the fight for a Champions League spot, as Bournemouth come to the Emirates this evening. The Gunners successfully made some headway in the chase with their 2-0 win over Southampton, but the Cherries offer a sterner test but it will be important to get all three points with even harder fixtures coming at the weekend and shortly thereafter.
Against Southampton, made some subtle adjustments again to how Arsenal played opting to play just one of his two forwards playing the hot hand of Alexandre Lacazette. It was decision likely with a nod to getting more creativity out of the side. It was a move with moderate success.
Still, the creativity was lacking, even in a 4-2-3-1 but was much improved. Arsenal are going to need to continue building on that foundation as they look to win again at home.
When last we met
Back in November Arsenal saw off Bournemouth with a 1-2 win as the Gunners had extended their unbeaten run to 11 matches in the Premier League. Goals were an own-goal from Lerma off a Kolasinac cross and an Aubameyang goal midway through the second half.
Against Arsenal, Eddie Howe rotated the formation of his squad, starting with a 4-4-2 for the first half, then a 3-4-3 for most of the second, ending in a 4-2-3-1 through stoppage-time.
Emery started with and ended with three-at-the-back in an attempt to add some defensive solidarity on the road. Unfortunately, as had been seen even up to now, the formation failed to get the best out of the Gunners.
We tried to effectively play through Bournemouth as much as possible and did enjoy success playing through Iwobi and Mkhitaryan. As one would go forward with the ball the wing-back on that side would overlap for a forward run behind the Bournemouth full-backs.
Opposite that, the other attacking midfielder would make a diagonal run towards the ball for any run in behind. On the day there was ample fluidity in our attack as Torreira and Xhaka provided a solid base in the midfield to offer security in attack.
Defensively, Arsenal set up in a man-oriented press and would as Emery wishes try and win the ball as far forward as possible. The striker would press the centre-back and show wide with the ball-side attacking midfielder moving towards the full-back to press the first pass option – also using the sideline in effect as another defender.
The press executed by Arsenal caused Bournemouth lots of problems in possession, forcing the Cherries to opt for long, inaccurate passes sometimes resulting in turnovers in their defensive third.
Continuing the home form
The five out of the remaining 11 fixtures, including this one, are at home. That’s a good thing for the Gunners. With the clean sheet against Southampton, Arsenal’s goals-against average at home now sits at an impressive 0.79. The two goals scored average now sits at 2.14.
If Arsenal are going to maintain their chase for the Champions League, they will need to use that home for to their advantage especially given the pathetic nature of their away form.
The shape of things to come
We’ve been openly forthright in our feelings about Emery and his use of three-at-the-back. Early on, it was a nice change of pace for Arsenal and allowed them to contend with injuries to their defenders and get the best out Sead Kolasinac, who seems better suited as a wing back than a defensive full-back.
However, as matches progressed and the defensive issues continued, Emery opted to stick with the three-at-the-back but with less fluidity and more focus on sitting back and trying to counter opponents. It has been one of his biggest missteps at Arsenal.
Arsenal are team with a myriad of creative players. They thrive in environments of flowing, expansive football. When he opted for a more defensive structure and it took away any creative impetus, the team may have had and it has resulted in Arsenal looking anything other than like Arsenal.
The last two matches, Emery has restored the 4-2-3-1 and each of those matches has resulted in a little more fluidity in play. However, play still tends to be predominantly down the wings – especially the left.
It works in a limited capacity but against teams that have well-disciplined defensive structures, it becomes predictable. We face such a side in Bournemouth today.
Howe has been opting for a 5-4-1 away against bigger sides, the intent is to let the opposition have the ball and stifle any movement – opting to allow the opponent to have the wide play and defend the crosses in.
That’s why its important for Emery to use the flexibility and solidity in the midfield the 4-2-3-1 gives you to begin trying to move Bournemouth’s expected low block.
Players to watch
Arsenal: Granit Xhaka
Bournemouth: Ryan Fraser
Form (last five)
Arsenal league record vs Bournemouth
7M – 5W 1L 1D
Goals scored average per game
Arsenal: 2.14 (home)
Bournemouth: 0.92 (away)
Goals conceded average per game
Arsenal: 0.79 (home)
Bournemouth: 2.31 (away)
The head coach’s take (courtesy Arsenal.com)
“Good afternoon. Performance. I want a performance in each match and our focus is tomorrow. Some players after playing Sunday with a very big intensity and energy, maybe can give us the same intensity and the same energy and I am going to find some players with this energy, this fresh intensity and also quality. But above all is to do the balance between all the individual qualities and capacities for finding the best performance tomorrow.”
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (15M 27Y 1R)
Assistants: Daniel Cook, Dan Robathan
Fourth official: Jonathan Moss
UK: Audio only, available on Arsenal.com
US: NBC Sports Gold 2:45 PM EST
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal have won their four home meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions by an aggregate score of 11-1
- Bournemouth’s only win in eight competitive fixtures against Arsenal came at the Vitality Stadium last season (D1, L6).
- Arsenal have won seven consecutive Premier League home matches.
- They have the second-best home record in the division, behind Manchester City, with 11 wins and 35 points from 14 matches.
- The Gunners have gone two years without losing a Premier League home fixture against a team from outside the established top six since a 2-1 defeat by Watford on 31 January 2017.
- They could keep consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time since September.
- Alexandre Lacazette could become the first Arsenal player to score in five consecutive Premier League home matches since Robin van Persie from December 2011 to March 2012.
Arsenal 2 – 1 Bournemouth