At the moment, Arsenal find themselves at a bit of an impasse. With fixtures coming thick and fast, the Gunners are facing down the barrel of a very real (and very worrying) injury crisis while trying to field a strong enough side to keep them within striking distance of league leaders Manchester City. As of Friday, Arsenal face up to seven absences this weekend through injury. Jurrien Timber remains the lone long-term absence, but the Gunners have seen a number of key players go down with varying knocks and niggles the past two weeks.
Leandro Trossard, Gabriel Martinelli, and Thomas Partey all missed the North London Derby through injury, and all three are doubts for Saturday. Declan Rice came off at half with a back spasm. Bukayo Saka, who has been reportedly carrying an Achilles issue, hobbled off in the second half after his leg was awkwardly landed on. Fabio Vieira and William Saliba were both absent for the midweek Carabao Cup victory over Brentford, although no explanation for their absences were provided.
Arsenal misfortunes when it comes to injuries are well documented, but rarely are they as compounded they are right now. All of last season’s karmic juju that kept key players healthy has evaporated, it would appear. If there is a silver lining to be found, it’s that the majority of the injuries seem to be short term. Arteta has reportedly been positive on the recovery of key players before the crucial tie with City. But short term easily becomes long term if the players and manager aren’t careful.
Before the Gunners can begin looking ahead to the City match, they travel to Bournemouth first. The Cherries, in their second successive season in the Premier League, already find themselves hovering right above the drop zone on three points after six matches. Fortunately for them, the three newly-promoted teams all occupying the relegation spots have been worse than they have been, each on one point apiece and in a three-way race back to the Championship.
But the Gunners cannot take any of that as comfort ahead of Saturday. Despite an overwhelmingly one-sided history against the Cherries, Arsenal’s most recent match against them required last-gasp heroics with Reiss Nelson’s dramatic 98th minute goal proving the decisive winner at the Emirates in March. The 3-2 victory saw the Gunners shoot themselves in the foot early after gifting the visitors a goal in the opening minute and inviting the guests to test their defensive resolve early.
Arsenal should win this match. but that does not feel terribly certain considering the other issue Arsenal are facing this season - finishing. The Gunners have seen their attack go cold at the worst possible times. It’s hard to pinpoint any one major issue as the root cause. The fluidity is missing and the chances are not occurring with the same regularity, a frustrating fact considering the attacking lineup is the same as last season with the exception of Granit Xhaka, a player whose influence on the attack was moderate at best. Something is rotten in Denmark.
Last season saw Arsenal exceed their xG - not by any astronomical margin, but enough to inch them over the line in tight fixtures when it mattered. This season, though, they are underachieving in that department, and it is starting to catch up with them. Against Tottenham last weekend, Gabriel Jesus missed a gilt-edged chance to put the Gunners up 2-0 in the first half after nicking the ball off James Madison in the Spurs box before firing over the bar. It was bewildering, but also entirely on-brand for this season’s Arsenal, who seem averse to putting away the competition when given the chance.
Bournemouth, whose only major injury absence is Tyler Adams, are not a team that has resigned themselves to sitting back exclusively in a low-block like most mid-to-bottom teams do, which might work to Arsenal’s advantage. The Gunners looked their fluid best against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League last week when the visitors played open and attempted to press the hosts. Arsenal can weather a press well, but Bournemouth will be ready to recreate the same start they had at the Emirates in March if the Gunners don’t come prepared.
At the risk of being unnecessarily dramatic, this is firmly Arsenal’s match to lose. Three points are the goal for both sides, with a draw doing neither side any favors. Even with injuries, Arteta has enough talent to rotate and frustrate the opposition. With Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe both having solid showings against Brentford, Arteta should find some relief as he tweaks and tinkers with lineups. But until an hour before kickoff, anyone’s guess as to who starts is as good as ours.
It’s not fun to consider a match this early as this important, but there’s weight to the old saying that you can’t win the title in the first month, but you can certainly lose it. The Gunners have already seen two winnable matches turn into draws this season. A third winless performance in seven matches will sound some serious alarm bells. Arsenal need to remember who they are and what they are capable of - namely, scoring and winning. What better time than Saturday?
WHAT: Arsenal at Bournemouth
WHEN: Saturday, September 30, 10:00am EST/6:00am PST/3:00pm GMT
WHERE: Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on Peacock.
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