Is anybody else getting tired of this script? Because I know I am. Arsenal came out slowly in the first half (again) and raised their level in the second to earn the full three points. I really shouldn’t be complaining - the Gunners won a tough away match and have gone unbeaten in 17 straight. But man, it’s mind-boggling that this side cannot seem to start a game well.
Credit to Unai Emery, he’s trying to change things up. Arsenal came out in more of a 3-4-3 formation than their usual 4-2-3-1. Expected starters Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were relegated to the bench in favor of an extra center back and Alex Iwobi (who, given how well he has been playing, deserved a league start). Unfortunately, the changes did not do the trick. Bournemouth dominated the first 30 or so minutes of the first half before Arsenal truly came into the match.
The Gunners “scored” first on one of the most impressive own goals you’ll ever see. Sead Kolasinac made a run down the left and played a hopeful ball across. Jefferson Lerma slid to block the cross and, unfortunately for him, rifled it into the top corner of his own net. It was as clean and as pure of a sliding strike as humanly possible.
Bournemouth pulled one back before the break. Josh King finished off a counter with a rocketed a shot into the upper corner. Bernd Leno didn’t have a chance. The goal wasn’t really anybody’s “fault” - Bournemouth caught Arsenal out. They countered well, Sead Kolasinac couldn’t get back, and Sokratis had to defend two men in the box. Could he have closed King down quicker? Maybe. But sometimes the opposition gets it all right and scores a great goal - this was one of those.
If you’re keeping track, Arsenal still haven’t led at the half in the Premier League.
But, as they have all season, Arsenal looked much better in the second. They bossed the play, had the lion’s share of the possession, and got the goal they needed to take the points. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang knocked in his 8th goal, tying him with Sergio Aguero for the league lead. Aubameyang’s movement to get himself free was a thing of beauty. Equally as impressive was Sead Kolasinac’s cross - he put the ball on a platter. What Kolasinac lacks in defensive acumen, he more than makes up for with attacking threat.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not have a good day. The Armenian couldn’t find his touch - he miscontrolled balls, misplaced passes, and sprayed shots all game. Today’s performance highlights Arsenal’s biggest need in either the January window or the offseason - an upgrade (or two) at wide attacker. Aubameyang (as he showed today) is much more effective when played centrally. Mkhitaryan runs hard but lacks the consistency an aspiring Champions League club requires. Even Alex Iwobi, who had a fantastic game (and set up the winning goal with a peach of a ball), would do well to improve his defending. The Gunners need reinforcements on the wings.
I’m not sure if it was the change in formation, playing on the road against a strong team, or something else, but Arsenal felt much more shaky holding onto a one-goal lead late in the match today than they have at other times this year. Bournemouth hit a post and Bernd Leno had to make a few saves to preserve the victory. Shkodran Mustafi gave away a silly free kick at the death right outside the box, but fortunately, the shot went harmlessly over the bar.
But as I’ve said all season, a win is a win. It doesn’t matter if it was a good performance or an undeserved points-snatching, they all count for three in the table. Arsenal are unbeaten in 17 straight and keeping pace with Chelsea and Tottenham. They are one behind the Blues and three behind Spurs in the table.
Next Sunday’s North London Derby at the Emirates looks as if it may make or break the season for the Gunners. Should be fun. Oh, Arsenal also play on Thursday at Vorskla in the Europa League.