Resolute Arsenal triumph on the south coast with the help of some Mesut Ozil magic
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Arsenal triumphed on the south coast here this afternoon with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Bournemouth – complete with a bit of Mesut Ozil magic.
The Gunners won a much-needed three points here today – to set them up for a blockbuster at The Emirates next Sunday against high-flying Leicester City as they reignited their title bid in determined fashion.
There was a cracking atmosphere at kick-off at The Vitality Stadium as Arsenal paid their first visit to this ground in its history.
It is a measure of how far this homely – but fiercely ambitious club – have come that in only the third match between these two sides in the 105 years of the Cherries existence the Gunners were the team under pressure.
With Arsene Wenger’s team firing blanks in their last three league games, and with his team slipping down to fourth, from first place less than a month ago, it was imperative the visitors brought back three points with them from the sunny south coast.
The opening stages were full of endeavour from both teams as they looked to get the measure of each other. Mathieu Flamini encapsulated this by showing an overeagerness to compete with a juddering challenge on Dan Gosling as early as the eighth minute – which if had been on another day in front of a less lenient referee than Kevin Friend at a more partisan ground could well have seen the Frenchman sent off for a two-footed tackle.
It was just as well Wenger said afterwards he didn’t get a good look at it otherwise he could have been answering some tricky questions.
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Arsenal started with Alexis Sanchez, and Gabriel, who scored in the fixture between the two sides at the end of December.
It was no surprise to experienced Tomas Rosicky watchers to learn the hugely talented but consistently injured Czech playmaker – who played in the 2-1 win against Burnley in the FA Cup 4th round last weekend – had been ruled out for at least three months with a thigh injury.
Relegated to the bench from the frustrating midweek goalless draw against Southampton, which saw heroics from the former Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, were Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell – who despite his increasingly impressive performances this season has looked tired over the last weeks.
Alexis Sanchez, looking rusty early on despite offering his usual intensity, fired over from the left when well placed in the 13th minute - but in truth if he had scored from the position out wide on the left hand side of the box it was have been one of the goals of the season.
Arsenal’s first trip to what used to be known as Dean Court, first played on by Boscombe FC in 1911, saw a warm welcome off the pitch by many from this wonderful club with a big heart – and surprisingly impressive facilities. Indeed a conversation with the club’s press steward with this correspondent on the initial game between the two sides that took place in September 1987, saw, with a smile it must be said, events resurrected from a contentious 3-0 defeat for the Cherries in a League Cup third round tie.
Memories are long at this passionate little club, even if ambitions are high. However, the first 21 minutes, it is safe to say, will not be talked about for long by anyone.
What will be talked about will is Mesut Ozil’s opener in the 22nd minute,
A deep lying Aaron Ramsey lifted a high ball deep into the box, where an alert Olivier Giroud nodded the ball back into the middle – in front of an onrushing Ozil. The German, who must be considered as one of the favourites for player of the season – for his assists if not his goals – proved he also has an eye for a strike as he thumped the ball into the net to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The travelling fans had barely time to sing their favourite Ozil song – appropriated by West Ham United without crediting the original authors it should be added – before their heroes made it 2-0 fewer than 60 seconds later.
This time it was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who got in on the act with a surging run down the right flank which took him past a static – or was it startled Cherries defence – given that the visitors hadn’t scored in nearly 300 minutes of Premier League football.
As the talented England man thundered into the box, Ramsey fed him perfectly with a slide rule ball, which saw him firing a low, angled shot that flew across Artur Boruc’s right hand. The ball then cannoned against the post, and nestled in the net – as the North Londoners hit two in 120 seconds to make it 2-0 on 24 minutes.
If two minutes is a long time in football as Bournemouth found out, so is five weeks.
On December 28 Arsenal beat Bournemouth 2-0 as goals from Gabriel and an effervescent Ozil to put them top.
Fast forward to the first week in February and the Gunners lay a precarious fourth, with the rampaging Leicester City eight points clear before the game.
Equally as worrying for Arsenal fans was the fact Spurs were also three points clear in second – with a superior goal difference over the red and white North Londoner’s not seen since the days of Hoddle and Ardiles.
If a win was the bare minimum for Wenger’s men following three consecutive matches without finding the net, with the Gunners suddenly two goals to the good with barely half an hour gone it was understandable thoughts among the travelling contingent turned to narrowing that goal difference between Arsenal and Spurs.
But Bournemouth were made of sterner stuff, and like a middleweight who can take a good punch, rallied after the initial shock.
Harry Arter – who had courage of a different type highlighted this month following his bravery after a tragic loss – fired over following an incisive run.
Minutes later the lively – if slightly erratic – Matt Ritchie also fired over.
Elvis Costello once said: ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – pointless’. In the same vein it may been seen – by Arsenal fans at least – to be equally as aimless to extoll the virtues of a former Gunners striker who has long since ceased being of use to the North Londoners.
But it was the hugely promising Benik Afobe – who told the Islington Gazette afterwards that he wants Arsenal to win the Premier League – who gave the visitors backline a reminder of his burgeoning talent as the half wore on.
The powerful forward, who had six loan spells before finding a haven in Milton Keynes, prior to being snapped up by Wolves is enjoying life at his new home on the south coast.
The pacy 23-year-old who signed for Arsenal at the tender age of eight has been on fire at the Vitality Stadium for Eddie Howe’s emerging tyros since his £10million signing from the midlands in the January transfer window, netting three goals in four games before this game, including the winner in their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace earlier this week.
Wenger this week admitted Afobe was ‘too young’ to make an impact at The Emirates as he began an odyssey around the lower leagues, his progress stalled as much by injuries as it was by having Robin van Persie far ahead of him in the pecking order.
Yet it was slightly disingenuous of the Frenchman to cite squad strength as a barrier halting the young Afobe’s progression – not when you consider Marouane Chamakh, Nicklas Bendtner, Park Chu-Young and Yaya Sanogo were also considered to be ahead of the Leyton-born youngster at different stages.
Afobe proved he not only has brawn but footballing intelligence by going wide at times in search of the ball. He was also not afraid to drop deep either in search of possession to try and work an opening.
It nearly succeeded in the second minute of injury time as a deep ball into the box for the impressive Adam Smith saw Petr Cech slide out to block, but as referee Friend blew at the end of a hard-fought opening 45 minutes, the scoreline read 2-0 to the Gunners.
As the afternoon clouded over and a chill was found in the coastal air both teams started the second half lined up the same as the first.
Afobe again dropped deep looking to orchestrate attacks. On 53 minutes he fed a ball to the right which saw Marc Pugh fire across goal, but to the relief of Arsenal, away to safety.
Minutes later Ozil shot narrowly wide after a slight deflection, and from the corner a Giroud header was gathered comfortably by Boruc.
It was a lively few minutes for Giroud as he was booked shortly afterwards for an overzealous challenge on Smith.
With the Gunners backline thwarted every foray, Cherries manager Eddie Howe made a double substition on 64 minutes with the ineffective Dan Gosling replaced by Joshua King, and the rapidly tiring Matt Ritchie hooked for Junior Stanislaus. Both players coming off deserved their ovation.
Wenger then responded two minutes later as Oxlade-Chamberlain was subbed for Francis Coquelin. The man known as The Ox to Arsenal fans for his strength should be proud of his performance. As someone wondered out loud: ‘If only he realised how good he could be.’ For now though his first league goal since September 2014 to make it 2-0 this afternoon was enough satisfaction for one day.
Manager Howe then made his final call by taking off Afobe on 75 minutes – who despite all his endeavour and promise could not break down the resolute Arsenal defence.
Perhaps their solidity stemmed from Hector Bellerin’s revelation this week that Steve Bould tells his defenders they haven’t had a good game unless they come off the field exhausted with at least one head wound.
Whatever it was Afobe looked disappointed at being taken off, even if it will be interesting to chart his progress as the season progresses.
Because if he carries on showing as much promise in the Premier League as his has done since hie signed for the Cherries it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to suggest he could be looking at an England call-up for the friendlies ahead of this summer’s European Championships.
Another who looked disappointed at not playing the full 90 minutes was the irrepressible Sanchez who was subsituted for Kieran Gibbs with ten minutes remaining.
With seconds left Ramsey made a burst into the box as the rain started lashing down and could have made it 3-0 – but Boruc blocked.
On 90 minutes Cech showed his class by blocking a late Cherries attempt as Arsenal held on for three much-needed points – to set up a Valentine’s Day top of the table blockbuster against Leicester City next weekend – and who would have thought that at the start of this remarkable season?
Artur Boruc, Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Dan Gosling (Joshua King, 64), Andrew Surman, Marc Pugh, Harry Arter, Charlie Daniels, Adam Smith, Benik Afobe (Lewis Grabban, 75), Matt Richie (Stanislas, 64),
Petr Cech, Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud (booked, Walcott, 90), Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain (Francis Coquelin, 66), Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez (Kieran Gibbs, 80), Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini (booked), Hector Bellerin.
Referee: Mr K. Friend