A near perfect outing for the league leaders. A decisive 4-0 victory over a frustrating Everton defense that a few weeks before had cost Arsenal three points. A positive VAR decision, Thomas Partey playing 45 minutes, a clean sheet, and Martinelli looking back in form. The result moved the Gunners five points clear of Manchester City with now just 13 matches remaining in the season. Up next is a visit from 19th-place Bournemouth.
Bournemouth have experienced big defeats since the start of the new year, while also picking up some critical points. They lost 3-0 to Manchester United and 4-1 to Manchester City recently, but in the five Premier League matches in between those two they’ve picked up eight of their 21 points. With 13th through 19th separated by just four points, the Cherries will happily take a point from the league leaders.
To break down the club’s current relegation battle, Gary O’Neil, and the new attackers signed in January we talked with Joseph Howes from Last Word on Football.
TSF: Bournemouth head to the Emirates in 19th place, but just a point behind Leeds United in 17th and safety. Looking past the loss to Manchester City, do you believe this squad can find the results to survive their first year back in the Premier League?
LWOF: It’s going to be tight. Our business in January was smart but the jury is still out on whether or not Gary O’Neil is a Premier League quality manager, and our performances in recent months haven’t been particularly inspiring. That said, things are definitely looking up, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upturn in results over the next few weeks, albeit unlikely to start against Arsenal.
TSF: After a trio of early season losses the club sacked Scott Parker and brought in Gary O’Neil. With his arrival, the team went six league matches unbeaten. While they haven’t been able to keep up that form, what are the positives O’Neil brings to the team and do you expect them to stick with him next season even if Bournemouth is relegated?
LWOF: Many think that if we stick with him, we will be relegated, and they have pretty good reason to hold that opinion. Aside from the new manager boost we got with him, O’Neil’s time as boss has thus far been very unsuccessful. There are certainly positives of his management - the dressing room atmosphere still seems to be strong (although the general team mentality has been called into question at times) and he’s been with us for a couple of years now so has a good understanding of the squad - but in general, Bournemouth fans haven’t got a whole lot to be excited about on the managerial front. Will we stick with him if we go down? I wouldn’t put it past this board.
TSF: Bournemouth has conceded the most goals in the league (48). In January they brought in a new center back, left back, and backup keeper. Do you envision any of those three seeing significant minutes in the coming months and helping shore up the defense?
LWOF: Of the players you’ve mentioned, we’ll likely see Illia Zabarnyi the most. Senesi and especially Stephens have been solid recently (City game aside), but having cost us £24 million, and with the quality he’s got, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Zabarnyi become a starter within the next few weeks/months.
TSF: They have 12 players who have scored this season, but no one has reached five goals through the end of February. But the club made three attacking additions in January - Dango Ouattara for £20 million from Lorient, £10.5 million for Antoine Semenyo from Bristol City, and a half-season loan for Hamed Traorè from Sassuolo in Serie A. What have you seen from this trio so far?
LWOF: Honestly, all of them have been brilliant, but particularly Traore. Only seven players have created more chances than him in the Premier League since he joined us, and whenever he gets the ball it feels like he can make something happen. If we stay up this season, he’ll be the main reason why.
TSF: What is your prediction for the final scoreline this weekend and who would be in your predicted starting XI?
LWOF: I’m not confident: 3-1 Arsenal. I think we’ll revert back to the 4-2-3-1 we use more frequently and will line up: Neto, Zemura, Senesi, Stephens, Smith, Billing, Lerma, Anthony, Traore, Outtara, Solanke.
Thanks to Joseph and Last Word on Football for taking some to chat with us ahead of this weekend’s match.