With the visit of league leaders Leicester City looming, Arsenal simply must get back to scoring goals and winning matches. Trips to the South Coast aren’t usually the easiest but somehow we have to find a way. How?
Probably by trying to pick up where we left off in the reverse fixture.
In that one, Mesut Ozil created 10 chances but we only scored two goals. The first was Gabriel heading home an Ozil corner, the second Ozil put in himself on a lovely 1-2 with Olivier Giroud.
Since that match, the last one of the 2015 Calendar year, Arsenal have struggled in league play. After scraping past Newcastle with a fortunate 1-nil win in very heavy weather, the Gunners have drawn three times and lost once, grabbing only three points from the twelve on offer and tumbling from the top of the league to 4th place. With Leicester City’s stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City today, we simply must take the full points at Bournemouth.
AFC Bournemouth actually come into this one as the team in better form. Since our match, they’ve drawn at Leicester City and Sunderland, won at home vs Norwich and, most recently, beaten Crystal Palace in Croydon. (They did lose at West Ham back on 12 January). All told, that’s eight points from fifteen in 2016 and they now find themselves seven points clear of the relegation places.
Part of this strong form in the new year can be ascribed to the arrival of former Arsenal youth player Benik Afobe from Wolverhampton in the January transfer window. While Arsenal have failed to score in our last three matches, Afobe alone has scored three times, more than justifying his ten million pound transfer fee, a Bournemouth record.
Stopping Afobe will be essential as Eddie Howe’s group, much as they did in the reverse fixture, tend to come out and play, enjoying the smooth pitch at the Vitality stadium. Arsenal will have to show defensive solidity, win the midfield battles and control possession better than they did on Tuesday vs Southampton. Most of all, they will have to convert their scoring chances.
At this point we need much more of the three Fs: functionality, fluidity and finishing, or else Gooners will likely be employing other words that begin with that letter. How do we get there?
Most likely by dropping one whose name also begins with an F: Mathieu Flamini. The 31 year old Corsican has been a key element in keeping Arsenal afloat after November injuries to Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin and Alexis Sanchez. With the latter pair available for selection, manager Arsene Wenger most likely needs both of them in the starting group.
Picking that group correctly and Arsenal commanding the match from the opening kick-off seems essential. Perhaps it’s actually an easier task away from the Emirates. The traveling support has seen it all and tends to bring fewer nerves and, on the road, there’s less of a “here we are now, entertain us,” vibe that can take over in the home ground.
I feel far from sure this time, but here’s the group I think Wenger will put out.
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott
I have to say that I’m quite unsure about some parts of this group. I thought Mertesacker would come straight back into the team vs Southampton after serving his one match ban for the red card picked up against Chelsea. That he didn’t perhaps indicates that Wenger has lost some faith in him. For me, Gabriel hasn’t looked settled in the BFG’s spot. Then again, he scored vs Bournemouth so maybe he goes again.
Similarly, while Joel Campbell works hard and has done very well since getting his chance, I wonder if he’s really the best choice over on the right. In the first half of the Southampton match he and Hector Bellerin looked to have their wires crossed with basic possession play down that side. Could Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a start over there instead? Or maybe Aaron Ramsey plays his football from that starting position, in that ‘free role’ he made his own for much of 2015.
That could mean a chance for Mohammed Elneny, Flamini or Mikel Arteta alongside Coquelin at the rear of our midfield. Arsenal’s only January signing, Elneny, looked lively a week ago in the FA Cup vs Burnley but wasn’t included in the squad vs Southampton and has yet to kick a ball in league play. Arteta was also left out of that team. Does Wenger include one or both? Could Flamini go again?
It’s hard to say, but I will suggest that Wenger needs to get his selection right–proven, of course, in the eyes of most, only by the scoreline– and no matter who plays we need the full points and improved confidence ahead of the showdown with Leicester City.
Go on then…