Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, and Arsene Wenger will be pleased to see the team pick up the three points with his title rivals all winning.
Keeping pace with the top of the league is one thing, but getting a win after three consecutive draws was a welcome fillip, and the confidence earned from this performance will be needed as the slew of fixtures shows no sign of abating.
The depth of the squad came into play for this game, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka ccame in for Alex Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, but more surprising was the inclusion of Mathieu Debuchy for his first Premiership game of the season. Carl Jenkinson had taken the right back spot since the unfortunate injury to Hector Bellerin, but rotation gave Jenko an opportunity to rest – and a chance for Debuchy to hopefully kickstart his Gunners career once more.
Nacho Monreal also returned to the side in place of Keiran Gibbs, and Alexis returned to the striking berth ahead of the benched Olivier Giroud, and it would be the Chilean who would make the breakthrough.
A dreadful backpass was sniffed up by Alexis, and he sidestepped the Cherries keeper and slotted it low into the net. It was the purest evidence that the incessant chasing from Sanchez does reap rewards.
Soon after, the unlucky Debuchy crumpled to the floor through injury and was replaced by Gabriel. It then got much worse for the home side.
A bouncing ball into the Arsenal box saw Monreal and Calum Wilson contest it, only for Wilson to jump into Monreal and claim a penalty. It was ludicrous to suggest Monreal impeded Wilson, but referee Mike Jones adjudged that the Spaniard had fouled the striker. Petr Cech went the wrong way for the spot kick and all of a sudden, Bournemouth were level.
The Cherries had taken the initiative and Adam Smith could have given Bournemouth the lead. A free header sailed over the bar wthout testing Cech and the sighs were audible around The Emirates.
Arsenal dug their heels in, and a Mesut Ozil through ball found Alexis in the box, who fizzed a shot at goal with only the bar putting up any resisitance. It was the last act of the half and a combination of Mike Jones and the frame of the goal had denied Arsenal the lead.
The second half saw Arsenal snap out of their reverie, and they snapped at the away side, pressing and looking pumped for the challenge. The home side then restored their lead.
Mesut Ozil twisted and turned and put in a cross which Nathan Ake got a head to. The ball looped to Nacho Monreal, who found Theo Walcott in the centre to head the ball emphatically home. The rhythm that Arsenal had dictated from the start of the second half had proved the difference.
Bournemouth didn’t give up though, and former Gunner Benik Afobe looked to have earned a point, but a point blank save from Cech denied him and kept the scoreline in the Gunners favour.
Arsenal then wrapped the points up, as a wonderful move saw Giroud – a second half sub for Theo – found Ozil. The German noticed Giroud had continued his run so he fed him accordingly. A first time pass from inside the box was perfect for the lurking Alexis, who slotted home from close range.
Job done. There was far more to take from this game though, so here are the five keypoints from the ninety minutes:
Elneny and Xhaka need time, but the signs are good
Both were busy, both never relented. They attacked at the right time and sat back when required. The ball ticked over nicely and they performed their roles satisfactorily. Both need a run in the side and although different opponents will dictate which midfielder gets the nod, these two more than deserve their chance.
A moment of beauty nearly realised
A passage of play in the second half really did illuminate the match. Alexis scampered away from a broken Cherries attack, and with the ball he made up twenty yards. A quick look up and with the outside of his boot, he curled a ball around the Bournemouth backline to find the run of Ozil. It was sumptuous, but Ozil was being tightly man-marked. He pulled the defender out of position and backheeled it into Theo Walcott, but the ball was snuffed out. If theo had found the goal, it would have been a goal to remember. As it is, it was merely a reminder of the football that we can play at times.
Cech quietly showing everyone
Not much is ever written about Petr Cech, but that speaks volumes of his class. It is only when a mistake occurs that he will garner words in the media, but once again the tall Czech performed well and possibly saved us dropping points. Not for the first time. An air of experience, adab hand at winning, Cech is an asset.
Ramsey ousted, but he will play his part
Ramsey had played a fair few games since his return from injury, so it was sage to bench him and allow recovery, but some may have took it for a straight replacement. Rambo did take to the pitch as a second half sub, and his input during his cameo smacked of a player eager to prove the doubters wrong. The players who make the difference will always lose possession as it is difficult to perform what they do without making errors. Ramsey is the same. Xhaka and Elneny played well, but Ramsey always looks to get his side on the front foot. He will be back in the side sooner rather than later. Fitness and a long run in the side will see him back to his best.
Bournemouth proved to be a real challenge
More corners and the same amount of shots on target may give a clue as to how tough a test the Cherries gave Arsenal. They play football on the deck as opposed to lumping it into the mixer, and they always look to get the ball forward with pace. They posed questions all over the pitch, and on this evidence, they should be looking for a midtable spot rather than the trapdoor. Eddie Howe has them set up well, and they avoid being overly negative, even away at The Emirates.
There was far more goings on than these five salient points. Alexis was on fire, Gabriel adapted well playing at right-back, and Oxlade-Chamberlain showed again how fragile his confidence is with an under-par game.
All that is important though, is that three points were gained. Midweek sees a chance to rotate and rest key players, with the EFL Cup tie against Southampton, and then the Premier League is back on Saturday as we go to the London Stadium to take on West Ham.
We are back on track, but every game is a huge test.