What a good night to be a Gooner.
I hear you say we dropped two points tonight in the title race and this may well be true, but to come back from (harshly) being 3-0 behind to take a point from this match is something special. In fact, this is the first time Arsenal have managed to come back from three goals down in the PL.
I will have to watch the game again to analyse it properly, which I may well do later this week. Bournemouth and Arsenal were both well up for this but the Cherries played a more disciplined first half and we paid handsomely for some very bad defending. In the second half, Arsenal were fabulous and saved our season.
Arsene opted for playing Coquelin and Xhaka in the DM positions and, as I have noticed and posted before, they are both prone to playing very deep, in front of the defence. As a result, we invite teams to come and enter our half too easily and we struggle to move from a defensive position into attacking mode, as Coq and Xhaka are both not natural B2B midfielders imo. Bournemouth were crowding us out in midfield and then used the space behind our midfield very well, resulting in a number of very dangerous ‘turnover’ attacks. We should have pushed the Cherries into their own half and dominate proceedings – something we did very, very well in the last third of the game – but were unable to do this in the first half. For games like these we need players who are very comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, like Ozil, Santi and also Elneny, and boy did we miss them in the first half tonight.
Bellerin did not have the best of games defensively, but I blame Aaron or Iwobi – not sure who was playing with the Spaniard on the right wing at that moment in time – just as much for the first goal we conceded. It really was the sort of goal we should no longer concede: very poor defending from the team. I thought the penalty was a bit harsh, even though Xhaka was to blame for the foul. By the letter of the law it was a penalty but how many times are these sorts of fouls not given inside the box? 2-0 down and the boys tried to get back into the game but there was little cohesion between the players, and the Cherries kept fighting for each other and giving our players a very hard time physically all over the pitch, which was very impressive.
A good team talk was required by Arsene and the captain, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at half time.
We played a lot better in the second half but before we could score the referee made a howler by allowing Bellerin to be blatantly pushed off the ball by Fraser, who, to be fair, then did well to beat Cech for a 3-0 lead. At that moment in time, with just 32 minutes to go, we needed character to get back into the game. It was highly unlikely that we would avoid defeat, but it was crucial for the rest of the season that we would fight back with all we had.
On nights like these we need players who know what it means to wear the red and white shirt and who will move mountains to get us back into the game. This is a matter of character and talent, but without the former the latter does not mean much. I reckon all of the players showed character but it was also clear that some just did not have the qualities to make a difference. This could be down to rustiness but it is during games like these when Wenger can really judge the quality of his players… and some did not make the grade. I am not going to mention names in this post but at one point I will come back to this.
Iwobi did his very best but this was a game too many in the nr10 role for him, which, given his age and lack of experience in the PL, is perfectly acceptable. Bringing on Perez for Alex, something I would have done at half time (if not start him in the first place), gave the team the impetus and shape to start the fight back. It freed up the Ox to add more focus to our attack, which he had failed to do until then. From a more central creative role, the Ox started to get our attackers more in the game, and I have to give him credit for this.
Perez is our new Freddie Ljunberg: his runs into space and ability to hold onto the ball are key and his ability to create space, passing opportunities and chances for others, as well as getting himself in good positions, are all very Freddie-esque. He scored with a very sweet left-footed volley from a well-placed Giroud lay-off to make it 3-2 and thus gave us hope that we could still get something from the game. But it was his running and drive that made the real difference in the second half: he lifted the total team performance significantly, making Ox, Giroud, Alexis and especially Xhaka, who had an awesome last third of the game, much more effective players.
Before that Alexis, another player we can always count on not to hide away, had scored from Giroud’s desperate flick-on header.
And then it was Giroud himself, after providing two hard fought for assists, who scored a technically perfect, classical header from a peach of a Xhaka cross to equalise in extra time. I know Ollie will always have his haters, and we can point out his fabulous stats – best goals per minute ratio in the PL this season for example – or his considerable team contributions, till the cows come home, but tonight he showed again how much he is a true Gunner and how valuable he is for us. Pound for pound, Ollie is one of the best Arsenal signings ever.
Had the game lasted five more minutes, I reckon we could have won but also lost it, as Bournemouth were as keen as us to win the match. In fact, Cech saved us very late on from defeat with a characteristic stop.
If the Chavs keep winning games the way they have done in the last few months, we will not win the league – and chapeau to them if this were to be the case. But the fight back by our boys tonight tells me that we have what it takes to make it very, very hard for them if they were to become human again, which, as we all know, will sooner or later happen.
Goodnight to you all from one proud Gooner.