Bournemouth vs Arsenal: 3 key battles

With Arsenal heading down to the South Coast this Sunday, RealSport look at three key battles which could tip the balance in favour of one of the teams.

There was a time when Arsenal fans would have killed for a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge. 

As José Mourinho’s suffocating dynasty took hold in the mid-Noughties, Arsene Wenger fared no better than the rest of the Premier Leagues’ managers, with the Portuguese coach going 78 home games unbeaten in his two separate spells on the touchline. 

Antonio Conte’s side were more charitable on Wednesday night, allowing the Gunners to emerge unscathed after long periods of pressure failed to transmute into goals. 

With memories of the calamity at Nottingham Forest suitably purged, Wenger leads his charges into another tricky game on Sunday afternoon. 

It’s been a strange season for Eddie Howe, with most of Bournemouth’s underdog sheen having melted away in recent months. 

A year ago, he was a bright and blonde-haired prodigy ready to prove himself at a higher level. Right now, though, his side are just one point off the relegation zone. 

A brutal calendar saw them churn through 215 hours of football over Christmas, with only a solitary win to show for the graft. To make matters worse, Jermain Defoe has been ruled out for two months with an ankle injury. 

Bournemouth, after the élan of their early Premier League years, are fighting for survival. It is crucial then, that they come out on top in the following three battles:

  1. 1 Alexandre Lacazette vs Simon Francis

    Another decent display, another early substitution. The routine has become tiresome for Arsenal fans. 

    It must be worse for Alexandre Lacazette, though, who isn’t trusted enough to even complete a full 90 minutes. 

    What Wenger hopes to gain from managing his star so callously remains to be seen, but it is a risky way of dealing with a man whose confidence looks increasingly brittle.

    Simon Francis won't be doing him any favours, either. The Bournemouth centre back is in line for his 250th appearance for the club he first joined on loan from Charlton back in 2011. 

    It’s been an astonishing rise for both player and team, with Francis’ defensive partnership with Steve Cook a crucial foundation in their ascension to the Premier League. 

    Tall, strong and uncompromising in the challenge, Francis will hope he can extend Lacazette’s scoring drought to 810 minutes. 

  2. 2 Ainsley Maitland-Niles vs Jordan Ibe

    With Francis Coquelin sealing a £12 million move to Valencia, Arsene Wenger believes Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the Frenchman’s successor in midfield. 

    With both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac out injured, however, the elegant 20-year-old will be asked once again to deputise at left-back. 

    He’ll need to improve on his performance against Chelsea though. As comfortable as he was going forward, Maitland-Niles was inert defensively, allowing Chelsea forwards the time and space to get shots away on Petr Cech’s goal. 

    Jordan Ibe, meanwhile, will be looking to build on his promising displays of late. 

    It’s been a difficult 18 months for the former Liverpool man, who still hasn’t scored since joining the club for a considerable fee. 

    He has, however, shown overdue flashes of his quality in recent games, even hitting the post against Brighton last time out. 

    Maitland-Niles will need to be switched on against his resurgent threat.

  3. 3 Lewis Cook vs Granit Xhaka

    The first Englishman to lift a World Cup since Bobby Moore had to wait for his chance in this Bournemouth team but injuries to Harry Arter and Andrew Surman mean Lewis Cook is likely to start once more on Sunday. 

    The 20-year-old played at almost every England youth level before being called into the first team for the recent friendly against Brazil. 

    He had mutated into a player of genuine Premier League class even before he led the Under-20s to their recent triumph, though.  

    Posessing a fearsome shot and keen distribution, Cook is more than capable of disrupting Arsenal’s passing rhythms with his energy and drive.

    Granit Xhaka, however, might not even need his help to self-destruct. The Swiss’ topsy-turvy season took another plunge over the New Year, with Gary Neville criticising him for taking four touches “when he should be taking one”. 

    Whilst Xhaka’s passing range may be impressive, the Sky man’s observation has more than a ring of truth about it, with the midfielder often slowing down Arsenal’s passing rhythms with his clunky movement. 

    His ill-discipline, meanwhile, continues to irritate – another yellow card arrived in midweek, this time for a clumsy challenge on Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger. 

    If Cook can frustrate him into a rash challenge, it might be a very pleasant afternoon for the Cherries. 

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  1. Poll: Who will come out on top at the Vitality Stadium this Sunday?

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    2. Arsenal
    3. Neither - it will be a draw
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