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