Sunday, November 27, 2016

Arsenal Bounce Back from Early Penalty Equalizer (3-1 over Bournemouth)

Arsenal took a much needed three points at the Emirates today, triumphing 3-1 over Bournemouth after the visitors put up a valiant fight. Sanchez scored a brace and Walcott sandwiched those two goals, with Bournemouth’s goal coming on a questionable penalty by Monreal. Three thoughts on the game:

1. Arsenal Keep Up with Those Above Them: Arsenal are still undefeated since opening day, a record that has extended to an incredible 19 games. It is not even halfway to the Invincibles 49-game streak, but shows a mettle long lacking from the side. However, that streak has not been enough to usurp the three sides above them in the league or to take first place in their UCL group. Too many draws, including costly ones against Tottenham, United and PSG recently, have kept them from the summit, but the victory today provided three vital points as they kept pace with Liverpool, Chelsea and City, who all one, while further distancing themselves from Tottenham and United.

The game today could have easily gotten out of hand after their early lead evaporated after an extraordinarily poor penalty call on Nacho Monreal, who seemed to go in shoulder to shoulder with Wilson, before the Bournemouth striker flopped down dramatically. Wilson stepped up to the spot and converted easily, sending Petr Cech the wrong way in the 23rd minute. Sanchez had given the Gunners the early lead in the 12th minute, after a poor back pass was picked out and slotted past the keeper. From the moment Bournemouth equalized, their belief appeared to amplify dramatically and they had two or three good chances to jump ahead. As the half entered its final eight minutes or so, Arsenal reclaimed the impetus, without finding a strong scoring opportunity.

Arsenal continued their ascendancy early in the second half and finally jumped ahead again when a fine cross from Monreal was headed home by Walcott. The one-goal lead was perilous though, as Cech had to make a save on the line and Bournemouth continued to push for an equalizer in an increasingly techy affair. Ramsey came on for the Ox in the 75th minute and Giroud replaced Walcott a minute later. Arsenal seemed to settle from there and were on the counter several times before an excellent cutback from Giroud was slammed home by Sanchez from close range (90’+1).

The win kept the Gunners a mere three points behind Chelsea, and two behind both Liverpool and City, though with the worst goal difference of the four. With a run of winnable fixtures coming up, as well as a matchup against City, Arsenal could move even further up the table if they keep their nerve and play their best football when it counts.

2. Gunners Provide Further Proof of New Spine: for years, Arsenal have been defined by a lack of belief and consistency that has cost them opportunities to win silverware. They have a penchant for bottling it whenever they moved too close to the top coupled with a tendency to underperform in the biggest games or with the most on the line. This was not the case, of course, with their back-to-back FA Cup titles, particularly the first, when they had to come back from 2-0 down early. On the other hand, that same psychological frailty seemed to beset them again last season, when they began dropping points right after a last second victory over Leicester seemed to give them a route to the crown.

This season has been different so far. While they have drawn a few games they probably should have won, they have come back in several others, including taking the lead from behind against PSG last Wednesday and equalizing late against United the weekend before. Today, after ceding the lead and being on the back foot for a good part of the first half, they calmed down and showed an energy and flair that ultimately gave them the three points. They will now need to show that they can keep this up for an entire season, particularly with three other quality teams shaping into form at the same time.  

3. Bournemouth Look Good Bet to Stay Up: though this might be a tough one to swallow for the Cherries in the short term, it was an impressive display for much of the match and their industry and creativity in and around the final third could well have earned them a point today. They seem to be rediscovering the form that brought them up to the Premier League a season ago and now sit in 12th place, four points above the drop. They have a major offensive weapon in Calum Wilson and he is surrounded by a side that has become more stout defensively and have the offensive nous to score goals. If they can win the points they should and continue to play with the style instilled by the exciting young manager Howe, they could easily finish in the middle of the table. They will have to limit mistakes on the defensive end like the one that ceded the early deficit and finish chances presented to them, like two or three they missed out on today, but this is a side that looks unlikely to drop this season, after being odds on favorites to do so in their first season in the top flight. In fact, one could see Howe considered as a viable candidate to replace Wenger when he finally hangs up his zipper-challenged long jacket for the final time. 

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