Bournemouth 1 – 2 Arsenal
Arsenal returned to winning ways at Bournemouth, ending a run of three consecutive draws which so vexed Unai Emery in the build-up to the match. The obligatory slow start to the game gave way to some good attacking display and the usual disturbing capacity for self-destruction. Defensively we were poor, saved on more than one occasion by an excellent performance from Bernd Leno.
That’s no more than a footnote in the history books which record 17 matches undefeated and counting. Overall, we were good for the victory which contained a hearty mix of missed chances and harum-scarum moments.
Bournemouth started the quicker of the two teams and had the ball in the net on eight minutes. David Brookes was ruled offside in the moment, offside by the immediate match replays but morphed into an onside position thanks to a prostrated Mustafi’s head by the evening. When the accuracy of the decision is decided by the thickness of the line used in the replay, it’s bound to be contentious.
It sparked us into life. Slowly, we asserted ourselves on the game as the gaps behind the home side’s full-backs were exploited. Inexorably, Arsenal turned the screw on Bournemouth; Torreira’s long-range effort bounced off the post, a fate which also befell Lerma in the second half while Aubameyang rifled over from close range before the opener arrived.
And what a goal it was as well. When you think of great own goals, add Jefferson Lerma’s effort to that list. A sweet volley from inside his own area which left Begovic with no chance. It followed good work from Kolasinac down the left.
That’s not a phrase to describe his defensive work. In attack? The Bosnia performed well; is that why Emery opted for a 3 – 4 – 3 formation?
Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad
I suspect there were a multitude of reasons, to be honest. I know there were and one of them is a six-foot tall German centre-back.
Being Arsenal, we conceded before half-time; leading at the interval is just so passe. It’s no surprise that the goal came from a counter-attack; Bournemouth broke at pace and while the right-side and centre of the team flooded back, Noah parked his ark in the gap on the left.
The lackadaisical tracking back was so bad that when the final pass went to King for the equaliser, Hector Bellerin almost intercepted having run from the right-side of the pitch. Kolasinac? He was browsing in a different aisle having decided defending is so louche.
His third assist for the afternoon came for the winner. Excellent interplay on the left freed Kolasinac in the area and his pass was inch perfect for a poacher’s finish from Aubameyang. Had the Bosnian shown that turn of pace to get back to defend, he might have been in contention for Man of the Match.
That deservedly went to Torreira, who Emery substituted so that we don’t knacker out the 2018-19 Player of the Season before Christmas. He was surely pushed hard by Leno, whose handling was exemplary. I genuinely cannot recall a mistake he made for crosses or any of the key saves which were fumbled. All were cleanly handled as he asserted himself as the club’s Number One.
As Bournemouth ratcheted up the pressure while looking for an equaliser. Sokratis drew a good save from his goalkeeper while the last seconds saw Mustafi on his arse, having crunched into an opponent’s leg a foot outside the penalty area. The ‘”Sorry guys, it was just a crazy moment” look on his face and hoisted hand apology’ is really wearing thin.
A Watching Brief
That the referee blew the instant that free-kick landed in the crowd highlights the dubious nature of the timing of the final whistle. Craig Pawson is, I suggest, guilty of letting an attack unfold rather than keeping to regulation time.
I wondered briefly if his Clive Thomas moment had arrived. A timely peep from his whistle as the ball was struck, rendering the trajectory irrelevant. Nothing so prosaic; it was just a craven attempt to allow Bournemouth the opportunity to score while avoiding upsetting the home fans.
Which brings us to a point where the elephant in the room can no longer be ignored: Mesut Özil’s absence. It was, Unai Emery said, too physical a match for the German. As you scratched your head wondered where Bournemouth acquired this ‘Crazy Gang’ reputation, it dawned that Emery was calling Özil lazy.
Or more diplomatically, not energetic enough for the pressing game the formation required. The German didn’t warm up at all in the second half, suggesting he knew he wasn’t coming on. Was there a sulk here or ruptured relationships there; for the good of the team, it was the reality.
Would he have made a difference? Well, instead of Mkhitaryan or Iwobi, yes. He’d have been hard pushed not to. Iwobi was the better of the two which considering Mkhi auditioned for the Invisible Man reboot…
The XI which travels to the Ukraine, if it goes ahead, will be interesting. Spurs followed by Manchester United are the priority fixtures; two big matches in which the 17-game unbeaten run will be sorely tested. Unai will be hoping for some good news on the injury front this week, that’s for sure.