The trip to the south coast in on the cards for the Gunners and it presents Arsene Wenger’s men with a chance to finally win a league game and somewhat improve their away record in the process.
Last year’s game was absolute bonkers. Eddie Howe’s men expertly capitalized on our slow start and susceptibility to high pressing and went 2-0 up in 20 minutes, adding a third on the hour. In response the Gunners mounted one of their better comebacks in recent history, scoring 3 in the last 20.
A year on it’s fair to say the Gunners are still plagued by the same problems, even if the personnel is slightly different. No Lucas Perez and no Olivier Giroud to bail us out his time, while questions marks over Alexis Sanchez’ future might preclude all three of our goalscorers last time around from playing.
There is a silver lining to this ugly cloud though. I’ll start with it.
Team news update
Our injury list is as swollen as Mesut Ozil’s knee, and includes Monreal, Koscielny, the German himself and the aforementioned Olivier Giroud. The good news here is that Aaron Ramsey is back with the squad, Xhaka and Mustafi both overcame their knocks (and played on Wednesday) and Jack WIlshere’s injury doesn’t appear to be serious. Oh, and Sead Kolasinac was pictured training.
While Monreal and Koscielny are our senior, most consistent and, arguably, best defenders, Chambers and Holding somewhat atoned for their previous poor form against Chelsea, and in Sead Kolasinac we will finally see a fit left-back. So our defence is looking decidedly less shakier.
Ramsey’s and Wilshere’s fitness, meanwhile, allow to cover for the departed Francis Coquelin, albeit his direct replacement will likely be Ainsley Maitland-Niles. The youngster might finally be given a chance in his preferred position, another huge bonus of Kolasinac’s return.
Giroud’s and Ozil’s absences bother me more. The Frenchman is our most reliable goalscorer, and it doesn’t help his injury coincided with Lacazette’s poor form. You have to admit he is a much better option from the bench too, much better than Welbeck or Walcott that is. The former is in dreadful form, the latter has one foot in Southampton and the other in Everton.
Ozil-shaped hole is a massive concern too. We lack inventiveness and spark in his absence, Ramsey’s return won’t account for the shortfall. Iwobi is still much too young and erratic, in poor form too at the moment, so it looks like it’s #TeamWilshere until Ozil returns.
Cech will once again man the space between the sticks, in a desperate hope of finally get that 200th clean sheet in the league. He’s failed to do so in the last four games in a row now, which I think is in large part linked to Monreal’s absence.
Our defence is less straightforward to pick than our guardian of the goal. I think Wenger will be tempted to stick to the trio which got a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge, with Bellerin and Kolasinac playing wing-backs.
That being said, even though Ozil is not yet back in the first team picture, our midfield is getting congested. Wenger can just about squeeze all of Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere and Alexis in there, although Iwobi will obviously suffer from the Welshman’s return.
What will happen when Ozil returns? Well, one scenario is Alexis leaving by then, not inconceivable by any stretch of the imagination. I’m dead sure the fanbase will explode if the Chilean leaves without Arsene securing a replacement. Not that it will affect the manager’s thinking, who has pretty much given up on Alexis signing a new deal.
A more probable scenario is one of Wilshere/Ramsey dropping out. Unless they can play in a pivot, which I’m not sure they can, however mouth-watering the prospect of having all three on the pitch at the same time is.
Up front Alexandre Lacazette will continue to plough a lone furrow, though I’m backing him to finally break that goal drought. Ramsey’s return will help the Frenchman there, although I have never been worried about Lacazette. Despite not finding the net in recent games, I can’t say he played badly. His moment will come, and I think it will come today.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Chambers – Mustafi – Holding – Bellerin – Xhaka – Ramsey – Kolasinac – Wilshere – Alexis – Lacazette
Player in focus: Jack Wilshere
The Englishman has been our star performer recently, becoming better and better from game to game. Although Ramsey’s return should take him out of the firing line to an extent, in Mesut’s absence he remains our most important player.
He is the only player currently capable of stitching together defence and attack, with Iwobi misfiring and Alexis sitting on the suitcases already. Much will depend on Jack again, if he finds that burst of pace and weight of pass against the Cherries, our chances of coming away with all three points will be that much higher.
The last word
The Gunners’ diligent defensive performance at Stamford Bridge in midweek gives me some cause for optimism. It might be down to Conte’s side tailing off, their lacklustre performance against the Foxes yesterday lends some credence to that theory, however we shipped four to Forest just days before. It was totally not beyond us to let in a hatful against a much more experienced opposition.
Bournemouth are not exactly in a healthy shape either. Despite managing 5 points in the last three games, they haven’t kept a clean sheet in 9 league matches and have already lost 5 home games this season. On top of that the Cherries will be lacking Jermaine Defoe and probably Josh King, a double hit likely to restrict their attacking force.
However with the Gunners you just never know, especially these days. We’ve seen turgid away performances this season aplenty. Hopefully Arsene Wenger’s men understand how much a win is needed this time around and perform to a better standard.
So come on you Gunners.
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