15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 9th September; The Emirates Stadium (London, England)
Arsene Wenger may not turn water into wine, but he will need to find the positives in a dismal display from his team. Defeat against Liverpool could be the proverbial kick that his under-performing star players require, providing a catalyst for change.
After a long pause between games due to the international break, Wenger and his players have had enough time to dwell on this idea and plan how they will allay their fans’ fears for the worst.
Eddie Howe finds himself at the other end of the fan spectrum, with dignity preserved despite losing all three of his teams opening Premier League fixtures. He too will be desperate to turn his team’s fortunes around, especially following a battling display against Manchester City in which they were unlucky to walk away defeated.
Having lost all but one of his previous games against Wenger’s Arsenal, history is not on the Cherries’ side but now seems as good a time as any to play the Gunners.
Last Time Out
Liverpool 4 – 0 ARSENAL
While nothing should be taken away from Liverpool’s performance in this game, Arsenal were far from their best. Whether this was due to a lack of effort from the players, a lack of preparation and motivation by the management or because Liverpool did not allow them to play their own game remains up for debate.
However, Arsenals game-plan seemed to contribute in bringing about their downfall.
Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey in the centre of the pitch for Arsenal both continued to press high throughout, leaving a large space in front of the defence for the Liverpool forwards to run into and attack.
Not only did this leave a large area for the Reds to exploit, it also meant that Arsenal could not control the centre of the pitch, something crucial to the success of Arsenal’s usual passing game and something which raises questions about how much longer Wenger will stay with his ploy of using a three-man central defence.
BOURNEMOUTH 1 – 2 Manchester City
After putting in a considerable amount of effort for 90 minutes plus the allotted injury time, Bournemouth will have undoubtedly felt aggrieved at the manner of this defeat.
With the referee choosing to play additional time to what was recommended, a choice he’s fully entitled to do, and then penalising Lys Mousset for a perfectly good challenge, it was a case of what-could-have-been for Eddie Howe’s side.
After a blistering start to the game by Bournemouth, City upped their tempo and grew strongly into the match. For Bournemouth to come back again should draw great credit for them and Josh King was at the centre of all good attacks for the Cherries.
After a relatively quiet start to the season, King looked sharp and powerful, linking up well with Jermain Defoe in a game where both forwards struck the woodwork and looked a real problem for the City backline.
Jack Wilshere (leg) and Santi Cazorla (ankle) are both unavailable for Wenger as they recover fitness levels after suffering long-term injuries, while Alex Iwobi (thigh) and Calum Chambers (groin) are also doubtful to start this game for the Gunners.
Simon Francis (hamstring) and Junior Stanislas (groin) will both be unavailable for this fixture while Benik Afobe (knock) and Nathan Aké (ankle) are both doubts, however, Aké is expected to recover and continue at the heart of Howe’s revamped five-man defence.
Key Battle: Charlie Daniels vs Mesut Özil
After scoring a wonder-goal against City, 31-year-old Charlie Daniels signed a new contract this week to extend his six-year stay on the South coast. This is a just reward for a player who still retains his speed and athleticism and continues to provide consistently high levels for his manager every week.
While he has scored several important and impressive goals for his club, his defensive nous is what will earn him his wages this week as he attempts to shackle a desperate Arsenal side.
Facing him down Bournemouth’s left wing will be a player who has long been a scapegoat for Arsenal’s poor displays. Özil has again stood in the firing line this week as he and Wenger stood up to the blast they received from the media and ex-players alike.
While his quality is undoubted, his demeanour on the pitch can often be deceptive, giving the appearance of a player who has lost all will to stand up, though his actions this week have shown this might not be the case. This game will determine whether he can walk the walk and thousands of eyes will be carefully trained on his every move this weekend.
An inspired loss
Wild animals are said to be at their most dangerous when they suffer an injury, but Arsenal prefer to be a more considered and well-cultured side than anything ruled over by primal instinct. However they find it, they will need to take a fighting spirit from somewhere after their latest in a long line of setbacks.
Having lost 4-0 to Southampton, 6-3 to Manchester City, 6-0 to Chelsea 5-1 to Liverpool and 8-2 to Manchester United in recent memory, Wenger’s men have always found a way of raising their game for the following run of fixtures.
If this trend of recovery is to continue, they will also need to overcome the Chelsea-shaped obstacle in their path next week, a game which on paper, makes a win at home to Bournemouth even more crucial to their season’s aspirations.
Mings to the defence
Eddie Howe fielded five defenders against Manchester City and is rumoured to be keen to keep this system in place for Arsenal after it produced a good performance if not a good result. With Tyrone Mings making his way back into the team, Howe not only has good cover for Charlie Daniels on the left flank, he also has a player who has shown an ability to operate more centrally.
While he rose to notoriety last season after a tussle with Zlatan Ibrahimovic which saw him unjustly given a five-match ban, Mings has found making progress into the side a slow process since his £8m arrival from Ipswich.
This was largely due to a serious knee injury just after his arrival, however, the young defender looks well placed now to make the impact on Bournemouth’s defence he promised when the Cherries broke their transfer record two years ago to bring him into the club.
A badly timed break
Everyone always claims it’s best to go into any extended breaks in the Premier League’s fixture list on the back of a good result. With Arsenal in 16th position and Bournemouth sitting 18th in the embryonic table, it’s fair to assume that both teams have suffered a start to the campaign that is worse than they would have expected.
With the transfer window now closed and players returned from international distractions duty, there has been plenty of time for reflection on their first steps. With a set of four fixtures now before another international hiatus, there is a real chance for every team to mould the shape of what lies ahead this season.
For both Arsenal and Bournemouth, there will again be high hopes that greater things can be achieved.
PREDICTION: Arsenal 2 – 0 Bournemouth
I can see Bournemouth causing the Gunners several problems in this fixture, but to take nothing away from them. I think Arsenal’s biggest battle lies in the one they face against themselves.
Eddie Howe and Bournemouth will pull their season together before too long, but Arsenal have a way of bouncing back from catastrophic circumstances just as predictably as they have an ability to land themselves in the situation in the first place and I can see them easing past the Cherries.
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