Arsenal 3 Bournemouth 1
Two goals from Alexis Sanchez and one from Theo Walcott lifted Arsenal to within three points of the top of the Premier League, but their first win in four games was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has often been mentioned as a potential successor to Arsene Wenger and even without Arsenal loanee Jack Wilshire and other key players, he showed he has the tactical nous to go toe-to-toe with the best.
Getting Bournemouth to the Premier League was a footballing miracle, but keeping them there with an effective brand of passing football has perhaps been even more impressive.
Wenger admitted afterwards: “Bournemouth are not the side I ideally wanted to play after a run of difficult games, and you could see we were nervous after they came back into it. They can keep possession as well as the best teams in the Premier League and I knew they would give us a difficult match.
“We became nervous after they scored and they showed more coming forward.”
A poor backpass gifted Arsenal the lead and a debatable penalty got Bournemouth back into the game, but there were enough opportunities for Howe’s team to get at least a draw from this match.
That said, the best team won and Arsenal have all but survived their traditionally tricky November fixtures largely unscathed, with just Wednesday’s EFL Cup quarter-final visit of Southampton to come.
Howe has reason to be confident his side will survive in style again and commented: “The future of the team looks good and I would back us to be okay. I thought we were very good.
“It is very difficult when you go down to an individual mistake, but the group responded very well and we grew into the game and there was very little between the two sides in the end.”
The main difference was probably the tireless energy and talents of Sanchez, who prompted Wenger to comment: “Even when he looks dead, he comes alive. He always finds the resources to do something special when the ball comes towards him.”
Wenger brushed aside questions about the lack of progress on the Chilean striker’s contract negotiations by joking it was an opportunity for him to spend more money as the player’s value seems to rise with every performance.
The inconsistent refereeing of Cheshire’s Mike Jones did not endear himself to either manager, however, with both rightly feeling they were the victims of his decision-making.
But both coaches were upbeat about their players and Wenger said he could not remember when he had so many strong selection options.
As it was, he made three changes to his team with right-back Mathieu Debuchy starting for the first time in 385 days and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Granit Xhaka selected ahead of Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey.
At least Debuchy was on long enough to see his team-mates take a 12th-minute lead through Sanchez, who was gifted an easy goal when the already rattled full-back Steven Cook under-hit a pass to stranded goalkeeper Adam Federici.
Debuchy pulled up with a severe looking hamstring injury two minutes later and the introduction of a central defender, Gabriel, at right-back seemed to unsettle arsenal’s confidence in defence.
But the neutral consensus in the press box, for what it is worth, was that Jones’s decision to award a penalty against Nacho Monreal, for his 22nd-minute challenge on Callum Wilson, was harsh.
The Bournemouth striker regained his composure to send Petr Cech the wrong way with his spot kick and Arsenal let their collective anger get the better of them, almost allowing Bournemouth to take the lead moments later.
Only a poor headed finish by Adam Smith saved them.
The visitors’ profligacy was always likely to be punished, however, as Sanchez rattled the crossbar with a reminder of his potency on the stroke of half-time.
Bournemouth could have had another couple of penalties before the game turned fully Arsenal’s way as they regained the lead in the 53rd minute.
Mesut Ozil toyed with a group of defenders on the right and chipped to the far post where Monreal knocked the ball straight back for Walcott to head in and celebrate the recent birth of a son with his ninth goal of the season.
“He has two boys so has to work twice as hard now,” Wenger joked.
Arsenal looked far from settled, though, and there was a growing anxiety in their play until any arguments were wiped out in the final minute of regular time, when Ozil and substitute Olivier Giroud combined to lay on the easiest of finishes for Sanchez to score Arsenal’s third and his ninth of the season.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Debuchy 6 (Gabriel 16, 6), Mustafi 5, Koscielny 6, Monreal 6; Elneny 6, Xhaka 7; Walcott 7 (Giroud 75, 6), Ozil 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Ramsey 75, 5); Sanchez 8.
Subs not used: Ospina, Gibbs, Iwobi, Coquelin.
BOURNEMOUTH (4-4-2): Federici 6; Brad Smith 5 (Mousset 80, 6), Ake 8, Cook 6, Francis 5; Adam Smith 6, Gosling 6, Arter 7, Stanislas 6 (Ibe 70, 6); King 5, Wilson 7 (Afobe 63, 6).
Subs not used: Allsop, Pugh, Afobe, Fraser, Mings.
Referee: Mike Jones 4/10.
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