Wenger’s team, who stay fourth in the Premier League after earning an unlikely point, looked dead and buried as goals from Charlie Daniels, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser put vibrant Bournemouth ahead on the south coast. But a second-half revival saw Alexis Sanchez, Lucas Perez and Olivier Giroud — in injury time — rescue a 3-3 draw and change the tone of the whole night.
Defeat here could have been hugely costly for the Gunners on an evening when they also lost midfielder Francis Coquelin to injury and had to play without Mesut Ozil, who was too ill to be selected. For a start it would have been the first time since 2011 they had lost three away games in a row (having also capitulated at Everton and Manchester City over Christmas) — and secondly it would have given Chelsea a chance to go 12 points clear of their London rivals by beating Tottenham at White Hart Lane tonight.
Even so Giroud, the hero on Sunday when his ‘scorpion kick’ goal earned a home victory over Crystal Palace, didn’t want to celebrate too hard when his late header from a Granit Xhaka cross saved his team from defeat.
The Frenchman said: “A goal is a goal – even the scorpion goal wasn’t worth two. I am pleased to score the equaliser but still a bit disappointed. The way we played at the end makes me think we should have done better. But at least we came back and at the end of the day it’s a good point because it’s not easy to come back from 3-0 down.
“Overall though it’s a shame we conceded three goals like that, we should not make those kind of mistakes. Hopefully we are going to learn from our mistakes.”
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who made his first Premier League start of the campaign, found some positives in the result, saying: “We had to show some character out there and be brave. We are prepared to fight until the end, that’s the message we hope to give out. We are few points adrift now and it’s going to be hard but hopefully there are still few twists and turns to come in the title race.”
Perhaps Ramsey is right. Arsenal’s next matches are against Swansea, Burnley and Watford — all highly winnable fixtures — before they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on February 4 in a game which could have a bigger impact on their title chances.
What they can’t afford, however, is another performance like the one they produced in the opening 70 minutes at Bournemouth — especially as it was only a late sending off for home captain Simon Francis, for a challenge on Ramsey, which sparked the final flurry which earned them a point.
Arsenal began the match in sloppy fashion because Bournemouth were 2-0 up within 20 minutes — and deservedly so. The first was instigated by Junior Stanislas, whose crossfield pass found left-back Charlie Daniels on the edge of the area. The Bournemouth man cut inside Hector Bellerin, much too easily, before calmly placing his shot past Petr Cech.
The second arrived just four minutes later. The Cherries broke quickly in midfield before Granit Xhaka shoved livewire winger Fraser in the back to give away a penalty which Wilson converted, scraping it straight down the middle as Cech dived the wrong way.
Looking at the teams at this stage it was hard to believe Arsenal were the top four side and Bournemouth the little club from the south coast who had lost all three of their previous matches against the Gunners, conceding 10 goals in the process. But there’s no doubt Eddie Howe’s side, who almost made it 3-0 through a Stanislas shot, were on top and winning every battle. In fact, Arsenal reached the half-time break without having managed a single shot on target.
Remarkably, they got no better in the second-half as Bournemouth continued to look more dangerous on the break and Arsenal struggled to create meaningful chances.
The Cherries came close to celebrating after 56 minutes when Harry Arter’s shot cannoned into the net off team-mate Wilson but referee Michael Oliver correctly noticed it hit the striker’s hand on the way in. They did make it 3-0, however, when Fraser caught out Bellerin again on the left wing and cut inside to slip the ball underneath Cech and into the Arsenal net.
Arsenal will no doubt claim the Scotsman shoved his marker to get the ball, but his finish was exquisite and by this stage Wenger’s men were rocking every time their opponents attacked.
Then, finally, they woke up. Alexis Sanchez headed home after Giroud flicked on an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cross with 20 minutes to go — and subsitute Lucas Perez produced a stunning over-the-shoulder volley to make it 3-2 in the 75th minute.
Bournemouth were down to 10 men soon after when Francis lunged into an ugly tackle on Ramsey and that set up a frantic finale as Wenger’s side finally woke up to the fact their title dream was hanging in the balance. Giroud’s late, late goal gave them hope that not everything is over with the new year only a few days old.
Boruc 6, Francis 7, Cook 8, Ake 7, Daniels 8, Arter 7, Gosling 6, Stanislas 7, King 6 (Surman 63), Fraser 8 (A Smith 68; 6), Wilson 7 (B Smith 90)
Cech 7, Bellerin 4, Mustafi 6, Koscielny 6 (Gabriel 64; 6), Monreal 6, Coquelin 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 28; 6), Xhaka 5, Ramsey 6, Sanchez 7, Iwobi 6 (Perez 63; 7), Giroud 7