Arsenal close gap to top four
Aubameyang’s 10th goal of the season wins close encounter
At the end of a week in which Unai Emery stated his desire to lead Arsenal back into the Champions League, having had it stated on his behalf by the club’s managing director, Vinai Venkatesham, came a result that pushed them closer towards that objective at the first time of asking.
Victory over Bournemouth puts Arsenal just one point behind Chelsea in fourth as well as extends their unbeaten run to an impressive 17 games.
These remain early days, of course, and much more will be know about Arsenal’s ability to not only get into the Champions League qualifying places but stay there after their next two games – Sunday’s visit of Tottenham followed by a trip to Old Trafford – but this was an undoubtedly encouraging afternoon for Emery’s men.
They were not at their fluent best but showed character and determination against spirited and talented hosts and having lost a lead right at the end of the first half, regained it midway through the second-half thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 10th goal of the season in all competitions.
For Bournemouth this was a third defeat in row but Eddie Howe and his players can take encouragement from how they performed here. Saying that, Jefferson Lerma may be keen to forget this encounter in a hurry given the jaw-dropping own-goal he scored to give Arsenal the first of their two leads on 30 minutes. Joshua King somewhat spared the Colombian midfielder’s blushes with his equalising goal on 46 minutes, and Lerma himself came close to scoring at the right end with a low, long-distance drive on 84 minutes that hit the post. But ultimately for those in red and black, it was not meant to be.
Emery sprung a tactical surprise prior to kick-off by deploying a three-man defence for the first time in the league this season. Mesut Özil was also only among Arsenal’s substitutes, while Alexandre Lacazette was absent altogether having failed to recover from a minor groin strain.
The switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 suggested Emery expected Bournemouth to line up in a similar formation, yet that proved to not be the case. Instead the hosts went old school – 4-4-2, with Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, who scored for England and Scotland respectively during the international break, among the starters.
As was another player who caught the eye for his country during the past fortnight – Wales’s David Brooks. It was Brooks who had the ball in the net after only eight minutes following a neat one-two with Joshua King only for the goal to be ruled offside by the assistant referee on the near side.
Arsenal were struggling to get into the game, looking disjointed and a little clueless in their rarely used formation. Slowly but surely, however, the visitors took control of proceedings.
Alex Iwobi and Aubameyang both delivered shots on goal, following an earlier one from Lucas Torreira that hit the post, and then came the breakthrough.
Torreira was again involved, playing a pass to Iwobi whose in turn moved the ball towards Sead Kolasinac as he drove into the left channel of Bournemouth’s area. His subsequent cross was heading towards the back post – until Lerma stretched out a leg in an attempt to block the delivery but instead managed to volley the ball first time into the back of his own net from 15 yards out. It was a sensational finish by the player, yet only served to give Arsenal the lead and make him look foolish.
The visitors maintained control and appeared on course for their first half-time lead of the season. But then a minute into stoppage time, Iwobi lost the ball inside Bournemouth’s area following a corner and, from the subsequent counterattack, King equalised with a curling drive into the top corner of the net.
Going somewhat against type, Emery did not change his formation during the interval. The men in mint green came out again in a 3-4-2-1 formation and, also again, initially struggled to get to grips with the tempo of play. But there is undoubted steel about Arsenal these days. They did not buckle under the pressure and carried forward by the excellent Torreira, began to again impose themselves on their opponents.
The visitors were now dominating possession and territory and on 67 minutes regained the lead. Again Arsenal’s goal came from Iwobi playing in Kolasinac but this time his subsequent cross was diverted past Asmir Begovic by one of his team-mates in the shape of the sliding Aubameyang.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kolasinac both had chances to make it 3-1 to Arsenal while Junior Stanislas, on as a 72nd-minute substitute, tested Bernd Leno with a close-range drive. Lerma then raised hopes further of a second Bournemouth equaliser, and in stoppage time it appeared well and truly on after Shkodran Mustafi gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area with a typically reckless challenge on Wilson. But Stanislas hit the set piece well over.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores Arsenal’s winner against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium yesterday.