A refreshing 3-nil win over an outplayed Bournemouth team represents a first step forward from the depths Arsenal plumbed in August. Coming off a 4-nil drubbing in Liverpool and a confused but ultimately inactive end to the transfer window, Arsene Wenger’s team desperately needed a good result and performance. Fortunately, they got one.
With the sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Liverpool, Wenger was able to restore key players to their more natural positions. Notably, Hector Bellerin moved from left wing-back to his more customary spot on the right, with new Gunner, Sead Kolasinac, stepping into the vacated position. The move paid dividends early as the Bosnian Beast (the Herzegovinian Hulk?) took a well-weighted Aaron Ramsey pass down the left touchline, pushed powerfully into the box and found Danny Welbeck for the goal. Welbeck whiffed with his head but, as often is the case for the Englishman, another body part was there to bundle the ball into the goal, in this case his shoulder. One-nil to the Arsenal after only six minutes.
The early lead allowed Arsenal to confidently ease further into the match. Bournemouth looked a step behind in all aspects of the game and were unable to mount a convincing response to the early goal. Sharp one-touch interplay in the 15th minute between Alexandre Lacazette, Ramsey and Welbeck was called back by referee Anthony Taylor when he probably should have played an advantage that might have seen Lacazette in on goal. Mesut Ozil, on the ensuing free kick, however, drew a fine save from keeper Asmir Begovic, clearly Bournemouth’s best player on the day.
Arsenal’s controlled pressing from the front and good spacing and quickness to the ball in midfield led to further incursions into the Bournemouth area and, ultimately, a 2nd goal. This one started with a long pass from Ozil that Lacazette just touched around Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake to Welbeck who cushioned it back to the turning Lacazette. One quick touch set up a blasted right foot into the top corner. The Gunners looked home and free after less than half an hour.
Arsenal’s three man back line of Shkodran Mustafi flanked by Laurent Koscielny on the right and Nacho Monreal on the left, didn’t so much have to work as a unit to absorb Bournemouth pressure–there was really none to speak of– but did solid individual work, stepping in to steal possession time after time while quickly transitioning the ball forward into attack.
Bournemouth’s best chance came just after the half-time break and immediately following an injury scare to Koscielny. A Kolasinac throw-in inexplicably found the chest of Bournemouth’s Adam Smith who pushed the ball out to Jordon Ibe. Ibe’s first touch cross found Jermaine Defoe who headed well but only found the base of the post. An inch to the left and our lead would have been halved.
Instead, Arsenal added a third goal moments later. Lacazette nipped in from behind Bournemouth’s Dan Gosling as he tried to play the ball out of his own half. Ramsey took the gift forward, assessing his choices of Ozil on the right, Lacazette central and Welbeck on the left. He chose the latter with a well-weighted pass and this time Danny finished with precision, sliding the ball across Begovic and just inside the far post.
After the goal, the game became more like a training ground exercise with Bournemouth having real trouble getting any time on the ball. Arsenal, for all their mid-field dominance, however, didn’t create too many clear-cut chances. The closest may have been a whiff from Ramsey after a lovely pass in from Ozil and a chipped ball just wide from Welbeck that would have completed his hat-trick.
On 67 minutes, Wenger took off Ramsey for Francis Coquelin, muting the Arsenal dominance slightly. The best attempt on goal, in fact, probably came from Coquelin himself who might have scored his first Arsenal goal but for a deflection that took his 22 yard shot wide of the post. On 75 minutes, the Arsenal goal scorers, Welbeck and Lacazette, came off for Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez, whose introduction was greeted by a smattering of boos before other fans sang a song of support. His quality on the ball appeared intact and included a couple of blistering shots (though blocked or saved) and a neat cut-back to Giroud that required a good save from Begovic. Ambivalence, however, reigns around his presence after a summer full of obvious desire to leave the club, culminating in a failed move to Manchester City on the final day of the transfer window.
With the three points secured, these sorts of dramas took precedence until Coquelin went down with a hamstring pull, hitting the ground after a spectacular fish-leap of a fall. As all three subs had been used, Arsenal had to play the final dozen minutes with only ten men. Bournemouth were able to force a Petr Cech tip over his bar from a looping header but Arsenal could have added more goals had they been more clinical on the counterattack. The game ended meekly after three added minutes.
Overall, in my view, this was a very solid outing characterized by excellent team play. As such, I’m not putting out any player ratings as everybody, I thought, contributed strongly. The goal scorers probably deserve some extra plaudits but the other lines also played very well. In my view, the midfield trio of Granit Xhaka, Ramsey and Ozil were nigh on imperious with the pace and quality of their passing and quickness to the ball. Bournemouth, however, were not a strong opponent, and Gooners, as they have been for years, will remain unconvinced until their team gives similar performances–with similar results–against the bigger clubs. All told, however, it was a much needed good day at the office and a step up–both in the league table and for the collective confidence of the group–but, unfortunately, nothing definitive. The injury to Coquelin is also a concern. Thursday, the club begins its Europa League campaign vs Cologne before a real test at Chelsea next Sunday. If the Gunners can carry the good work from today’s match through the week and onto the match at Stamford Bridge we may truly be onto something.