For once, November brings positive signs for Arsenal
PUBLISHED: 12:34 28 November 2016 | UPDATED: 12:34 28 November 2016
PA Wire/PA Images
After numerous autumn failings, Arsenal fans would have been forgiven for initially dreading November’s set of fixtures.
On the 11th month of the year in 2015, the Gunners’ title challenge took a massive dent when they lost spinelessly at West Brom, while the previous season their traditional pre-winter shortcomings came at Swansea in a 2-1 defeat.
However, this campaign has seen a welcome improvement and after two respectable draws against title challengers Manchester United and Tottenham and a home win against Bournemouth, which extended the Gunners’ unbeaten run to 19 games, supporters may now be thinking November isn’t so bad after all.
Even though Sunday’s victory wasn’t dazzling and was expected, it was still vital in turning a month which usually brings disappointment into one of encouragement – and that will boost Arsene Wenger’s men psychologically and make them believe yet another hurdle has been passed in their quest for a strong title challenge.
With Arsenal searching for an early goal to eliminate lingering jitters and uncertainty after three successive draws, their early pressure paid off when Alexis Sanchez was rewarded for his tenacity as he capitalised on Steve Cook’s dreadful short backpass to finish assuredly and give his team the lead.
However, just when you thought the Gunners’ November blues might be behind them, Nacho Monreal’s clumsy tackle inside the box on Callum Wilson gave referee Mike Jones the opportunity to give Bournemouth a penalty – to the disgust of Arsene Wenger, who paced up and down the touchline like he had just consumed a litre of Red Bull, with a thunderous face Victor Meldrew would have been proud of.
Bournemouth’s equaliser created an anxious and blood-baying atmosphere inside the Emirates as the home fans, frothing at the mouth, began jumping up and down out of their seats irately, resembling scenes more typical of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Arsenal briefly lost their composure while Bournemouth were full of confidence and, but for Petr Cech’s fine save from Brad Smith, the north London side could have gone in behind at half-time.
But Arsenal’s ability to stay in games and grind out results this season has been a reason for optimism, and this was on show again as Theo Walcott headed home a Monreal cross just after the interval despite his side only motoring in third gear.
Impressively, and unlike in years past, the Gunners then managed the game extremely cutely, with few players venturing wildly forward but instead being conscious of staying behind the ball in a defensive shape.
Nevertheless, Wenger still looked as if he had ants in his pants on the touchline and he was right to – ex-Gunner Benik Afobe should have levelled for Bournemouth after connecting with a corner, but his shot was saved excellently by Cech.
Although the Gunners were always assured, the moment of relief came minutes before the end as Arsenal broke with substitute Oliver Giroud, who hit a low cross to an unmarked Sanchez, and the speedy Chilean tapped in his second goal from six yards to wrap up the points.
Unbelievably, after originally cutting an exhausted figure, Sanchez somehow found the energy to charge into the box in the dying embers and bag his eighth league goal of the season.
“Even when he looks dead, he’s still alive and always finds the resources to do something special. He has that conditioning which allows him to always find an extra gear to be dangerous,” said Wenger.
If Arsenal are to continue prevailing over their obstacles or “inconveniences”, as Wenger likes to call them, then Sanchez will be key.