Tonight’s 2-1 Arsenal victory in the FA Cup 4th round over Bournemouth rivals the Manchester United match on New Year’s Day for the “most complete match of the year” title. The Gunners were firmly in control of the match basically from start to finish. The Cherries’ goal in the 4th minute of added time at the end of the second half was more consolation than anything to really trouble Arsenal.
The Gunners seized control early; Bukayo Saka scored in the 5th minute. Eddie Nketiah added another in the 26th. Both goals came after an extended period of ball control and a multiple-pass sequence from Arsenal. It was fun to watch.
Joe Willock had a particularly strong match, and I think it’s important that Mikel Arteta find more playing time for the young midfielder. He was strong on the ball and involved in the buildup. Tonight was not the first time he has looked strong against a lesser side, but he has also wilted against stiffer competition. Hopefully more playing time will help him to improve his play across the board and become a reliable option for bigger games.
On the other hand, Dani Ceballos, who replaced Nicolas Pépé in the 69th minute, failed to impress. To be fair, it was the Spaniard’s first time out after a long layoff. But he is likely headed back to Real Madrid at the end of the season. It doesn’t make sense for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal to be giving significant time to a player who isn’t going to be here next season. Ceballos isn’t enough of an improvement than Joe Willock or Matteo Guendouzi or whoever to justify it, and he may not be a step up at all.
Bournemouth’s goal aside, the only blemish on the evening was the injury to Shkodran Mustafi midway through the 2nd half. The German defender landed awkwardly on his left foot after colliding with Emi Martinez, who had come out of the box to cut out a long ball. To be honest, the replays did not look good. Mustafi had to be stretchered off the pitch and was replaced by Rob Holding. Mustafi was having a good game, and apart from his glaring mistake against Chelsea, has played well under Mikel Arteta. Regardless of what you may think about Mustafi as a player, Arsenal really cannot afford to lose another centerback to injury; they are too thin at the position right now.
Arsenal travel to Portsmouth for their FA Cup 5th round match the week of March 3rd. They are next in action on Sunday, February 2nd away to Burnley before a two-week break. The Gunners were undefeated in January, and a win against the Clarets would see the club into the time off on a nice string of results.