Arsenal 5 – 1 AFC Bournemouth
You can only beat the opposition in front of you and despite six changes to the starting line-up, Arsenal did just that and then some. Bournemouth resembled a punch-drunk boxer by the end of the first hour and ended up on the canvas thanks to Alexandre Lacazette’s fine free-kick.
At the centre of the performance were Mesut Özil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Both produced their best moments since Moses stepped out his reed basket to give us the perfect start. Özil scored in the fourth minute to give us the lead with his now-trademark finish. Fair play to the Telegraph for asking the question “Has Mesut Ozil invented his own finish – the Ozil chop?” in their headline. Only two years too late
The German turned provider, setting up the Armenian for a simple finish after Bournemouth gifted possession with a sloppy cross-field pass. Arsenal in the ascendancy and set fair for a comfortable victory which is the cue for us to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Matteo Guendouzi took aim and fired. Collecting the ball on the edge of the area, he needed to quickly distribute the ball to his right. Instead, he invited a challenge and duly fell to earth; the referee signalled play on and in an almost carbon copy of Mkhitaryan’s finish, halved the deficit. It’s a sharp learning curve for the youngster but one he has to take to heart quickly. That moment doesn’t define his season, however.
Half-time came not as a relief, I think that’s too strong, but time for a breather. Whatever Unai Emery said, had the desired effect. The social media logic emerged that the Spaniard has “won” the dressing room, whatever the hell that means.
Ninety seconds into the second half, Koscielny’s shot found its way into the net, with Artur Boruc clawing the ball back with a look of total resignation at conceding. Which relaxed us and killed off what little fighting spirit Bournemouth possessed.
It set the scene for the strikers to take over. Aubameyang rammed in the follow-up to Koscielny’s goal but it mattered not; the ball had already crossed the line. Sensing Bournemouth’s weakness, he became increasingly desperate to score and when the opportunity presented itself, did so with consumate ease.
Mkhitarayan countered and as opponents closed him down, sent a lovely pass spinning into Aubameyang’s path. A blink of an eye later, the ball was in the net with defenders and goalkeeper left trailing in PEA’s wake. Lacazette finished off the scoring with a touch of class.
From 1 to whatever, nobody had a bad game. Guendouzi’s wasn’t the only mistake made but certainly the costliest. However, in the scheme of things, it is just a part of his learning curve, nothing else.
Standout performers Özil and Mkhitarayan could do no wrong as far as this match was concerned. In playing so well, they underlined where the bar must be set for the future. Can they reproduce against better opponents? We will find out this weekend.
I suspect the 3-4-3 formation will return at Wembley at the weekend with Torreira and Xhaka at the heart of the midfield. The game will be more physically demanding than last night and that will be the question mark over Özil. Let’s not beat about the bush; if Özil couldn’t handle the physicality of Bournemouth away, the North London Derby is another level. In Emery’s mind, is the German ready to handle that match?
If he plays, then Ramsey and Lacazette will be on the bench.
Give The Man A Hand
Unai Emery spoke afterwards about whether the pair will play:
We are speaking and we want to get our identity first, be competitive – and being competitive how? First is being organised with our quality and skills, our combinations with different players in different systems and it depends in each match. After is the intensity with the ball and without the ball. The last matches we are doing this. Saturday is the same, but with every player can be okay. This is what we want and I think every player is convinced to do that, and we can use different players in different matches, but the idea is that every player can play with this idea.
I’m guessing the extent of Koscielny’s injury will tip the balance in whether it is a three or four. Mustafi was absent, the jitters weren’t; we’re just a jittery defence at the moment, it seems. I should think, however, he will return with Kolasinac seemingly nursing himself through games.
Those are thoughts for tomorrow. What remains of today is just enjoying last night’s win.