Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal
The surprising win by the Foxes against the Northern Oilers – who looked anything but Pepped up yesterday – made our game against the Cherries even more a must-win. An eight points gap is never good, and definitely not with just 14 games to go. So the three points needed to be taken today by hook or by crook. Arsene left the BFG, Coquelin and Theo out and opted for Gabriel, ‘Monsieur Passion’ Le Flam and the Ox. The BFG and Coquelin exclusions were not a total surprise but not starting with Campbell or Theo and preferring the Ox, was – well at least to me.
Bournemouth, managed by the talented and agreeable Eddie Howe, had put up a large midfield with the aim to deny us space and frustrate our game, and initially this worked a treat for them. We tried to penetrate them from our left and at times it looked like a rugby match (without the physical contact), as so many players were attacking or defending a small area of the pitch. As a visual spectacle, this was not helped by the cacophony of colours on display: the ball yellow and pink, our away shirt blue and gold and the Cherries’ shirts black and red stripes. The Sky camera angles did not helped much either with giving us a clear picture of how our attacks from the left were going.
Out of nothing, Monsieur Passion decided to go into the tackle with both feet. They were probably not enough off the ground to give a straight red but the referee was nevertheless a bit lenient in giving the Flame a yellow rather than a red card. Was this a moment of madness or an attempt to bring back focus and passion into the Arsenal team by our old-hand defensive midfielder? You tell me!
Even though the Bournemouth ground, Dean Court, holds only 11000 spectators, there was a loud atmosphere; and the romantic in me thinks it is good to see that clubs with such small stadiums can still make it all the way into the PL. But the Gunners were not affected by the noise of the crowd and slowly played themselves into the game. And, as we got used to during the first half of the season, we took control after a quarter of the game had gone. And by blitz, as we found the net twice in just two minutes, squeezing almost all the juice out of the Cherries instantly with two fine goals.
For the first goal, Bellerin moved towards the middle of the pitch with a nice cameo, dutifully giving the ball to the omnipresent Rambo; the Welsh endurance bunny puts a teasing ball into the box and both Alexis and Giroud are ready to lay it back towards the perfectly positioned Ozil around the penalty spot; the taller one reaches it first and the lay-off is good but not easy for most midfielders; but Mesut, who no doubt had flashbacks last week of his missed opportunities against the Saints, hits the perfect volley, ever so slightly off the ground, leaving the boots-to-neck all green coloured Boric with no chance to save his effort. A sumptuous goal by magic Mesut, and the away fans sang with full gusto the beloved Ozil song.
For the second goal we needed a bit more luck. Sanchez, who was positioned a lot in centre today, had not managed to control a fine pass towards him around the ‘D’, but the hasty clearance landed into the feet of the well positioned Rambo, who saw that the Ox was making a good attacking run towards the left side of the Cherries’ box; the Ox takes one touch and puts in a fine diagonal shot, come cross, into Boric’s right corner, leaving the green man with no chance to save it. The Ox paid Wenger back for his confidence in him and I am really pleased he has finally found the net again.
Two nil to the Arsenal and what’s to do now: defend and wait for more chances on the counter or push on for more goals with the risk of letting them back into the game?
We lost a bit of focus after our second goal but the Cherries did not have the imagination and quality to become more dangerous, even though Gabriel, who had a decent game overall, almost gave a helping hand with some indecisive defending against Pugh. The Brazilian was saved by a great, just-in-time tackle in the box from Hector Vector, who had devoured some Cherry ground to get there. In general, we were set up well defensively, especially in the centre and in front of our ‘D’, not allowing Bournemouth any wiggle room and us dealing well with their occasional pressing game. Afobe tried his best to get the midfield closer to the goal with some fine link-up play, but they just did not have enough quality to really hurt us in the first half.
There is not too much to say about the second half. I don’t think Bournemouth really believed they could get something from this game, but they certainly tried. The Gunners left the initiative to the Cherries and did not bust a gut going forward to get a third goal. They sensed their chances would come to score again and were happy to sit back in the meantime. The players worked hard all over the pitch to disturb any momentum Bournemouth could build up and we saw out the game well, partly due to some fine alert goalkeeping by ‘Clean Sheet Cech’.
So, very good win and vital three points to get us back on track. We have no further injuries and Alexis has had another game to get back to full sharpness, which is clearly still missing. But this was also a good game for our Double DM-pivot: Flamini was disciplined (accept for that one moment of madness) and energetic, and Rambo was at his very best today, showing us all what an athletic and aware box to box midfielder can be capable of in the modern game. Aaron needs to play himself in form which takes time, and I am hoping that he reached a tipping point in today’s game.
We should also praise Gabriel today: except for the one moment of weakness in the first half, he was solid and positioned himself really well. Does this mean he is to replace the BFG permanently? I don’t think so, even though some will want this. Per needed a rest and Wenger has been giving his key players a rest recently, so expect him to be back soon with Koz to form our first choice central defence.
Bring on those Foxes!