Courtesy of Shoot Magazine for whom I write a 2 weekly column I was fortunate enough to be at the match as their reporter so I will be stepping in for Alex our usual match reviewer as he is on holiday.
There was some surprise when the team news showed Gabriel retaining his place alongside Koscienly for a second game and perhaps more consternation at the name of Oxlade-Chamberlain in ahead Campbell and Walcott. There was even some wondering if Ramsey would be restored to his right side role with Ox starting alongside Flamini. It seems Wenger is not yet convinced of Coquelin’s fitness for 90 minutes so the veteran Frenchman, who divides the fans opinion, got the nod and did indeed line up with Ramsey.
Just before Kick-off I was able to speak with Arsenal’s main man for PR, Mark Gonnella. He suggested that Ox is flying in training and just needs a run of games to get back to his best. It seems that this is the view of his manager and on this occasion it was to pay off. The issue is not one of ability but more one of in game concentration and decision making although it remains to be seen if this is the start of a run in the team.
Wenger’s selection looked spot on early in the match with Ox prominent and Ramsey after a few early stray passes looking much more like his old self. Ozil was nearly put through superbly by Chamberlain in the first few minutes and Arsenal’s pressing of the Cherries was impressive from the outset.
After only 7 minutes though, it could have been so different for the Gunners. When Gosling lost control of the ball leaving a challenge probably unnecessary Flamini launched himself two footed into a tackle. His studs were definitely showing and it was reckless so I can only assume the fact that he took the ball cleanly earned him a yellow and not a red. Certainly in the post-match press conference Eddie Howe was bemused at Kevin Friend’s lenience.
It seemed clear that Chamberlain had been asked to play the right-hand role much more like Ramsey does. He has more freedom to come in and get involved and was not hugging the touchline as he often does. He was far more involved in in Arsenal’s early play linking well with Ozil and Ramsey and it was the German continually cajoling his colleagues to push up and this enable Arsenal to win the ball back high up the pitch and limiting The Cherries offensive threat and passing game. It was the clear intent play high up the pitch and to push Bournemouth deeper that was to pay dividends.
The Premier League new boys fortunate to get a sponsorship contract with the Mansion Group, that owns sites like Casino.com, are not the sort of team under Howe to defend at home. They certainly endeavoured to carry a threat but were limited to long range efforts in the first 20 minutes. The only real concern was the threat of Bournemouth right back, Smith who seemed to be afforded far too much space by Alexis who was infield frequently and leaving Monreal isolated. Luckily the crossing was not too threatening but it is surely something that needs to be mentioned.
Despite Arsenal’s pressure and neat interplay in these 20 minutes the chances had been limited to an Alexis volley over after a sublime ball from Giroud and a fierce drive from Ox blocked also from a delightful dinked pass from the French striker. Other than that the most interesting thing was a Bournemouth fan directly opposite me who stood up to reveal he was wearing nothing but a swimming hat and Speedos. Well I supposed we were by the sea! Apparently his name is Clive Allen so perhaps we should not be surprised.
The Gunners efficient early play and pressing was to pay dividends shortly afterwards. On the 23rd minute a lovely lofted pass from Ramsey found a towering Oliver Giroud who headed down for the sublime Ozil to show brilliant technique and control on his weaker right foot to volley home. The relief among the Arsenal players was tangible and the away fans found their voice.
Only a minute later The Welshman’s growing influence was again integral as his was the final pass of many into the path of Chamberlain who did not have to break stride as he shot across the keeper and in off the far post. 2 Nil to the Gunners and Ox’s joy at scoring his first Premier League goal since September 2014 seemed to be shared by all his team mates. Despite his indifferent form and the criticism of his dancing in the tunnel ahead of Southampton at home from Arsenal supporters, his popularity with his team mates was evident.
With fragile confidence restored Arsenal should have pushed on but in truth they let a plucky Bournemouth side back into affairs. On 26 minutes it took a magnificent fingertip save from Cech to deny the very busy and in all honesty impressive Harry Arter. It was end to end for the remainder of the first half but the quality game from the visitors with Giroud inexplicably choosing to cut back on 32 minutes when seemingly in prime position to shoot on his left foot. As half time approached the Arsenal midfield of Ozil, Ramsey and Ox again linked brilliantly to release Bellerin only to see his cross blocked. Almost immediately the every dangerous Adam Smith was released in the box only for an ever alert Cech to smother his shot and take Arsenal into the break with their goal intact.
There was no doubt that the home side came out quicker and with more purpose in the second period. I am sure their manager hoped they would start the match that way and had told them so. The second half was far more even but the constant threat of Smith continued. I was told 63% of the Bournemouth attached in the first half had been down our eft and this was not a surprise. Not wanting to raise unnecessary alarms Alexis was not his usual self or shout I say had not got back to his usual self. The second half like the first saw him struggle to get back and support Monreal and his passing was overweight on many occasions. Arsenal need Alexis Sanchez at his brilliant best and let’s hope memories of his heroics against Leicester away inspire that next week. There were of course flashes from the Chilean. On 54 minutes he was fed by Ozil and he brought a save from Boruc and on 59 minutes he fabulously beat his fullback got to the bye line only sadly to pull his cross behind Chamberlain.
Wenger made his first change on 67 minutes withdrawing Ox who must have been pleased with his improved display and a well taken goal. His replacement was Coquelin who was allowed 23 minutes to improve his match fitness and sharpness. He did not disappoint as he snapped into challenges and interceptions as we have come to expect. The change saw Ramsey move back to his right-hand role and it is hard not to wonder if this is Wenger’s plan for the visit of Leicester. Hard to understand why he would not just have swapped Coquelin for Flamini unless he was not at least considering pairing Flamini and Coquelin. With Elneny missing out to be at the birth of his child it is hard to see Wenger throwing the Egyptian straight in to a match of such import,
For the last 15 minutes Arsenal players looked fatigued with Ozil seemingly on his own still showing limitless work rate and energy. Passes were being misplaced and possession retention seemingly a problem unusually and it was no surprise to see the Gibbs for Sanchez change on with 10 to go. The Cherries seemed to sense the Gunners tiredness and renewed their efforts. In the final minutes King, Grabban and Daniels all tested Arsenal’s magnificent guardian Cech but he was equal to all thrown at him. It was a relieved set of tired players in Gold when the final whistle blew but they can reflect on a professional job well done. Three points, a clean sheet and confidence that comes from returning to winning ways.
One final subject that should be addressed is the central defence of Arsenal. Gabriel played in spells and his old English centre back style clearances are reassuring. He is brave, tenacious and out and out defender. He also has pace on his side but question marks must remain over his game reading and distribution. Is he hitting it long too often because Flamini is not showing as Coquelin will more readily or is he just not confident in that role as Per Mertesacker is? If Coquelin returns for Leicester next week I suspect the German may too but time will tell.
My Man of the Match was Mesut Ozil and I will dwell on this further in my Shoot Match report.