Ar­se­nal show their met­tle to hang on and go up to third

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - At the Emi­rates Sta­dium

A first Ar­se­nal goal for David Luiz, a clean sheet for a nervy de­fence and three points which move Unai Emery’s side into third place. Based on those facts alone, there was plenty to like for an Ar­se­nal side who are slowly build­ing mo­men­tum in the Pre­mier League.

The rest is not im­ma­te­rial, though, and the ragged na­ture of their per­for­mance here will have left few sup­port­ers feel­ing that a cor­ner has been turned af­ter a chaotic start to the cam­paign.

Ar­se­nal were not as wide open as they have been in pre­vi­ous games, but they re­main frag­ile and vul­ner­a­ble enough for Bournemout­h to think they should cer­tainly have taken a point back to the south coast.

This se­cond-half show­ing from Emery’s side was as patchy and bro­ken as they come. Bournemout­h out­played Ar­se­nal for most of it, go­ing close to an equaliser more than once, and the out­pour­ing of re­lief in the Emi­rates at the fi­nal whis­tle told a story of its own.

For much of the se­cond pe­riod it felt like Ar­se­nal were there for the tak­ing. Only des­per­ate chal­lenges from Mat­teo Guen­douzi and the ex­cel­lent Calum Cham­bers pre­served their vic­tory, which was made all the more sig­nif­i­cant by Manch­ester City’s strug­gles against Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers.

De­spite ev­ery­thing, Emery’s side are only one point be­hind the reign­ing cham­pi­ons. If that sounds bizarre, it also feels strange to note that Ar­se­nal have lost just once this sea­son, against Liver­pool. The re­sults sug­gest that Emery’s side are on an up­ward curve, even if the per­for­mances in the league do not quite back that up.

But a win is a win and a clean sheet is a clean sheet. Ar­se­nal’s de­fend­ers showed gen­uine met­tle at the end against a Bournemout­h at­tack which re­ally should have done more to make the most of their op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We knew a win would see us third, but we did not want to feel the pres­sure,” Emery said. “In the se­cond half we were strolling more and maybe in some mo­ments we were show­ing pres­sure. We had to be calmer, but it is one step fur­ther.”

The per­for­mances of Luiz and Cham­bers, in par­tic­u­lar, will be a source of en­cour­age­ment for a de­fence which has re­ceived plenty of crit­i­cism.

This was Luiz’s best game in an Ar­se­nal shirt, by some dis­tance, and the fren­zied na­ture of the team’s cel­e­bra­tion of his goal was an in­di­ca­tion of how quickly he has set­tled since his move from Chelsea. Bournemout­h were left to rue their own poor mark­ing for the Brazil­ian’s goal and then their fail­ure to con­vert a string chances af­ter the break.

Ed­die Howe’s side have now lost 21 of 25 away matches against the so-called “big six”, and are yet to keep a clean sheet this cam­paign, but the way they threat­ened Ar­se­nal here felt like progress. “Ul­ti­mately, I think we are dis­ap­pointed not to get some­thing,” Howe said. “When we play well, we are a match for any­body.”

In a con­trolled first half, the most pleas­ing fea­ture for Ar­se­nal would have been the sharp­ness of Ni­co­las Pepe. The record sign­ing has needed time to adapt to the rigours of Pre­mier League foot­ball, but he was in a cre­ative mood here, go­ing close from the edge of the box and lurk­ing with men­ace on the wing.

It was Pepe’s cor­ner which cre­ated the open­ing goal, with Luiz bar­relling into the box to glance a header into the far cor­ner. There were other glimpses of goal, for Pepe and Pierre-em­er­ick Aubameyang, be­fore Bournemout­h trans­formed them­selves at the break.

Their sub­se­quent surges for­ward pro­vided a re­minder of how eas­ily this Ar­se­nal de­fence can be ex­posed. Cal­lum Wil­son cruised past three de­fend­ers be­fore see­ing his shot hacked away by Cham­bers. Next it was Jack Stacey caus­ing prob­lems from right­back, forc­ing Bernd Leno to fist a cross-shot onto the roof of the net. Sud­denly Ar­se­nal were wilt­ing. Ryan Fraser, on as a sub­sti­tute, prompted a block from Sokratis as Emery, wind­milling his arms on the touch­line, tried in des­per­a­tion to squeeze some more in­ten­sity from his side. Bournemout­h kept com­ing, with Guen­douzi deny­ing Wil­son a clear shot at the death as Ar­se­nal clung on to a win that was ugly, but a win all the same.

Top form: David Luiz capped his best Ar­se­nal dis­play with his first goal for the club

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