Bournemouth vs. Arsenal: Gunners stay in title race with clinical 2-0 win

Arsenal defeated Bournemouth 2-0 on Sunday to snap a four-game winless streak in the Premier League and stay in contention, five points behind leader Leicester and level on points with Tottenham.

Bournemouth vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Ramsey created both goals in the first half. Giroud redirected Ramsey’s long ball into the path of Ozil, who gave Arsenal the lead in the 23rd minute with a powerful half-volley under the bar. A minute later, Ramsey pounced on a loose ball to release Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right flank. The England international doubled the lead by firing a low strike inside the far post.

The Gunners were much more clinical than in the goalless draw with Southampton last Tuesday as they converted their first two shots on target. Ramsey produced an outstanding all-around performance, winning 4 of 5 tackles (the most by any player) and 57.1% of his duels (the highest percentage among Arsenal midfielders), making 4 interceptions, winning 3 fouls and conceding 4 fouls (the most by any player for both categories) and having just 1 turnover (compared to 3 for Ozil and 2 for Sanchez).

Ramsey was also the heartbeat of the team, making more passes than any other Gunner. The Wales midfielder initiated the first half-chance with a ball over the top for Giroud in the 13th. The France striker let the ball bounce for Sanchez, whose angled half-volley sailed over the bar. In the last minute of regulation time, Ramsey was a bit too greedy on a counterattack. He tried to slip the ball past Boruc but the Bournemouth goalkeeper made the save. The better option on that play was to cut the ball back to an unmarked Giroud.

Playing a high defensive line with Paulista

Both Ozil and Ramsey finished the game as Rosicky’s recent hamstring injury has limited Wenger’s rotating options. Until March, when Wilshere and Cazorla might be back, the manager can replace Ozil or Ramsey only through those two options: 1. Trusting Iwobi or the Ox in the playmaker role; 2. Playing with two holding midfielders.

Wenger made just one change to the side that was held by Southampton by replacing Campbell with the Ox in the starting lineup. Flamini got the nod over Coquelin, who is not 100% match fit yet. At the back, the manager left Mertesacker on the bench to start Paulista.

The most common assumption among Arsenal fans is that Mertesacker/Koscielny is a more complementary pair than Koscielny/Paulista because Koscielny and Paulista are too similar. There’s some truth in it. Mertesacker is the one marshalling the defense and setting the offside trap because of his sounder positional play while Koscielny has better man-marking skills and more pace. A bit like the duo formed by Adams and Campbell in the 2001-02 season.

But then we had Campbell teaming up with Toure from 2002 to 2006. Campbell was stronger in aerial duels while Toure was the more attack-minded of the two. However, they had a quite similar profile as physical defenders with quick feet. So could Koscielny and Paulista replicate the success enjoyed by Campbell and Toure?

Giving the nod to Paulista over Mertesacker makes our high defensive line more efficient by putting less pressure on the midfielders to protect the back four as Paulista is a better defender than Mertesacker in one-on-one situations. It also puts less pressure on Bellerin, who sometimes covers the right-side centerback.

The Ox’s 1st league goal of the season

In his post-match news conference, Wenger said that Ozil had a “top performance.” I thought Ozil had a decent game but nothing near the stratospheric levels he reached in the first half of the season. He showed against Southampton his ability to shine in the role of a second striker by making runs in behind the defense and finding pockets of space inside the area. The difference on Sunday was that Ozil had his killer instinct for the opening goal.

The manager made a good call on the right wing by picking the Ox after Campbell and Walcott missed chances last Tuesday. Things didn’t start well for the Ox, who turned the ball over with an underhit pass in the 10th and ignored two good passing options in the 20th for a speculative long-range drive that was blocked. But the Ox redeemed himself in the 24th by scoring his first league goal this season. Hopefully, this will boost his confidence and finally kickstart his season. The Ox lost a bit of focus after the break, especially on defensive plays, and was replaced by Coquelin in the 67th.

Giroud and Sanchez have been our most prolific scorers this season but the Cherries didn’t give them much to feed on. Giroud did not get much service but managed to meet a corner from Ozil in the 55th for a header straight at Boruc. Sanchez had a couple of turnovers and was caught offside three times but let’s give him some credit for playing hard in the second half when the Gunners played with less intensity. The Chile forward cut inside in the 55th to curl a shot that Boruc turned around the post. Five minutes later, he rounded Smith to square the ball back. Four Gunners were inside the area but none could connect with the cross.

Cech’s crucial save before the break

The Gunners nearly shot themselves in the foot in the eighth minute when Flamini made a studs-up tackle on Gosling. The referee gave Flamini just a yellow card because he won the ball but that was a silly initiative from the Frenchman. Flamini didn’t learn his lesson as he made another rash challenge in the 27th. His luck was that he missed both the ball and Arter.

Bournemouth was no threat until that Flamini challenge, which allowed Arter to pick his spot and fire a swerving shot that Cech tipped over the bar. The biggest save Cech made on Sunday came on the stroke of halftime. Smith ghosted past Monreal to chest down a cross and bear down on goal but was denied by Cech. Monreal had a below-par performance, winning only 50% of his duels (the lowest percentage among all the defenders).

Our centerbacks also had their dodgy moments. The Ox forgot to track Smith, who took a pass from Gosling and dribbled past Koscielny to shoot into the side-netting in the 51st. Koscielny then deflected a low cross from Stanislas into the path of Pugh, but Cech was quick enough to intercept the loose ball in the 74th. Sometimes you wonder how the Arsenal website compiles statistics. They showed Paulista winning 100% of his duels, but I’m sure the Brazilian defender lost at least one challenge. Chasing a long ball down our right flank, Pugh cut inside Paulista in the 31st and was about to pull the trigger when Bellerin dispossessed him. A turnover from Paulista in the third minute also forced Cech to come off his line to clear the ball into touch.

Now or never

The Gunners completely switched off in the closing minutes. Monreal failed to stop a cross in the 86th as Koscielny couldn’t climb high enough to head it away. King couldn’t control the ball, which bounced off Paulista and back toward Koscielny. Gibbs, who replaced Sanchez in the 81st, then failed to close down Smith. Grabban connected with a cross from the Bournemouth fullback in the 89th for a tame volley that Cech easily saved. In stoppage time, Arsenal lost three duels inside the area, forcing Cech into a double save. Smith headed a long ball toward King, who set up Cook for a close-range effort that Cech stopped with his leg. The rebound fell to Arter, whose 20-yard drive was parried by the Czech goalkeeper.

The Gunners host Leicester next Sunday in what could be the defining moment of our season. The Foxes have the best record on the road and the pace of Vardy and Mahrez will definitely cause problems on the fast break. However, no Arsenal fan would understand how Leicester could win the title since only Vardy and Mahrez are good enough to be in our starting lineup. It would highlight Ranieri’s great managerial skills but also Arsenal’s under-performance because the Gunners have a stronger squad and a much bigger budget.

I’m not sure Arsenal will ever have such a great opportunity in the league. Chelsea, Liverpool and the two Manchesters will be stronger next season. And looking at Guardiola’s record at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, you can bet that City will confiscate the title in the next three seasons.

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