1. Arsenal warmed to the task after slow start
Having previously squandered chances to return to the top of the table against Tottenham, Norwich, West Brom and Southampton this season, Arsenal finally reached the summit for the first time since late October, but for 26 minutes it looked like another missed opportunity could be on the cards against Eddie Howe’s hard-workers. Bournemouth, victorious on both of their trips to London this term - at West Ham and Chelsea - started confidently.
Josh King curled the evening’s opening effort straight at Petr Cech, while Marc Pugh’s endeavour on the left flank threatened to create further opportunities. In fact, Arsenal hadn’t even breached Bournemouth’s penalty area by the 24-minute mark (below) as the Emirates faithful grew increasingly irritated, having seen just 13 of their side's 31 league goals this season on home soil.
But all of the seasiders’ hard work was undone once Gabriel had been afforded the freedom of North London to head home in the 27th minute, and from there the floodgates opened. Arsenal created a further 5 chances before the break, with Gabriel hitting the woodwork and Theo Walcott denied by Artur Boruc.
“It was nervy at the start because we had to swallow the 4-0 [defeat at Southampton] and it didn’t go down well. I think we were focused at the start not to concede a stupid goal,” said Arsene Wenger afterwards. “It took us a while to get going, but in the last 70 minutes we were in control of the game and did very well.”
2. Set-pieces prove Bournemouth's undoing again
Having appeared so comfortable for 25 minutes, Cherries boss Howe will have been particularly displeased by the manner in which his troops gave away the opening goal; a manner he’s seen too often.
At the start of the day, no Premier League side had conceded more goals from set-pieces in 2015/16 than Bournemouth’s 12, and that flaw came to the fore again as an unmarked Gabriel powered home Mesut Ozil’s corner for the German’s 16th league assist of the campaign. Lightning almost struck twice as the Brazilian defender headed another flag-kick against a post, and the Cherries didn’t help themselves by conceding no fewer than 6 corner-kicks between the 24th and 45th minutes, as Ozil’s deliveries continually caused chaos.
“I felt we were well in the game in the first half,” Howe told the BBC afterwards. “We started very brightly, but after we conceded there was a slight wobble up until half-time. We started very well and we caused them problems, we got our passing game going and dominated possession. But we just lost our grip on the game slightly, and the first goal compounded that. Every set-piece we looked vulnerable. The last game was a real highlight as we defended set-pieces really well against Crystal Palace. Today we got our organisation wrong. They were a threat and put good balls in with good movement, but we didn’t deal with it very well.”
3. Superlatives flow for in-form Ozil
The best player in the league? As good as Dennis Bergkamp? Have you ever seen him play better? The questions kept coming in Wenger's press conference regarding his string-puller's latest star showing.
“Mesut is the focal point of our team because we had a new midfield and he gives reassurance with his technical security and ability,” he said. “I have seen a few good games from Ozil but what is important is that he convinces everybody that he is not only a talented player but a player that is willing to work hard.”
Ozil is now just 4 assists short of Thierry Henry’s record haul of 20 in a Premier League season, and Bournemouth couldn’t cope with the playmaker’s prowess once the opening goal had gone in.
By half-time the 27-year-old had set up 6 chances for his team-mates, and after playing a cute one-two with Olivier Giroud to double Arsenal’s advantage after 63 minutes, there was no way back for the visitors who, like in the first half, had started off well but lacked a cutting edge.
“Something that I enjoy very much is the timing of his passes. It is never surprising,” said Wenger. “He is somebody whose song is always the right tone. Bergkamp was more of a goalscorer and Mesut was more of an assister, but now he becomes more of a goalscorer. They are really comparable.”
4. Gabriel gives Wenger food for thought
With Laurent Koscielny watching on from the substitutes’ bench, Gabriel was handed only his seventh league start of the season and made the most of his opportunity to help the Gunners bounce back from their Boxing Day battering and Petr Cech break the record for Premier League clean sheets.
The 25-year-old’s first goal for the club could easily have been doubled as he twice met Ozil’s pinpoint corners, but more importantly for the North Londoners’ title prospects, the defender was a solid presence at the back, crucially blocking King’s cross after the striker had sprung Arsenal’s offside trap at the start of the second period. By the end, Gabriel had made a team-high 8 ball recoveries and weighed in with 6 interceptions, twice as many as anyone else, while only Aaron Ramsey completed as many passes as his 60.
“I think he was dangerous from set-pieces and defended very well,” said Wenger. “He had good focus, was agile, quick and very strong in the challenge.” Will he start the next game, against Newcastle on Saturday? “I don’t know yet. I rested one or two for the game, but there is a possibility."
5. Cherries lack punch but prospects promising
The south coast side's six-match unbeaten streak may have come to an end, but the way in which Bournemouth went about their business at the Emirates suggests they can remain among the elite.
Few sides come to N7 and complete more than 100 passes in the attacking third of the pitch, and with more of a killer instinct in front of goal, Howe’s charges may have come closer to matching their recent feats against Chelsea and Manchester United.
Bournemouth completed 439 passes to Arsenal’s 453 overall and registered 10 attempts to the hosts’ 13, but rarely looked like troubling Cech in his bid to surpass David James’ tally of 169 clean sheets. “We’re developing all the time as a side,” said Howe. “We’ve got some way to go, but I’ve seen a huge improvement in the team and in the performances we’ve produced throughout the season. If we make the same improvement again [in the second half of the season] I think we’ll be a very good side.”
- Petr Cech recorded his 170th Premier League clean sheet, surpassing David James’ long-standing record.
- The Gunners are unbeaten in their last 22 Premier League meetings with newly-promoted opposition (W18 D4).
- Arsenal have scored in each of their last 30 Premier League games against newly-promoted opposition.
- Mesut Ozil recorded his 16th assist of the season, only 4 short of the Premier League record (20 by Thierry Henry in 2002/03)
- Ozil created all 6 goalscoring chances Arsenal had in the first half.
- Ozil has scored or assisted 16 goals in his last 12 Premier League appearances.
- Ozil created 9 goalscoring chances in this game, more than any other player in a single Premier League game this season.
- This was Bournemouth’s first defeat in 7 Premier League games.
- 8 of the Cherries’ 10 shots came in the second half.
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