I wondered what type of Arsenal we’d get for yesterday evening’s FA Cup fourth round away tie to Bournemouth. On the GT Radio show last night I missed that each match had played out very differently so far:
- One game in which we’d not taken our chances and were frustrated (Bournemouth away in the league)
- One in which we’d been the better team but ran out of puff for the last 30 and were sucker-punched with some poor individual errors (Chelski at home)
- One in which we’d got our two goal lead in the first half and kept a team at arms length (United at home)
- One in which we were surprised by our high-intensity opponents, but bettered them in the second half (Leeds)
- One in which VAR had denied us a clear penalty and win (Sheffield United)
- One in which VAR has seen us go a man down and stopped us from going on to win (Palace)
- One in which we had absolutely no chance of winning and a slim chance of drawing and yet found the resolve to battle to a draw (Chelski away)
Bournemouth don’t have a big ground as it is but those players last night did what you’d love every Arsenal team to do away from home; they completely sucked any life or energy out of the home fans. We dominated possession, we created chances, we got in behind their full backs and we looked in complete control.
I suppose it helps that we got an early goal through the excellent Bukayo Saka who once again showed just how much potential he has, but also that he is already realising it at the tender age of 18. He absolutely leathered that’s ball from Martinelli’s feed in, then was pivotal in finding Nketiah for the second goal which left us in complete control of the game.
Second goals are so, so, vital and this one proved decisive because it gave Bournemouth a mini mountain to climb, such was our dominance.
What I did notice and I’m sure you did too, however, was little tactical changes by Arteta which are helping our players so much. Especially the young ones. Saka is thriving, for example, and last night was no exception. Whenever we had possession Saka would take about 10-15 paces further up the pitch and play like an auxiliary wide man. Xhaka would slip in the gap he was leaving to cover against any turnover of possession, then Martinelli would either support the line running or move infield for a ball inside.
It’s this clever movement and positional variance that is helping us to find more space, to create angles that are enabling our players to pull apart the opposition, and then allow us tine and space to get in behind opposition defences.
Saka steals all the headlines but there were so many other good performances. I thought Mustafi did well until his injury and isn’t it typical that in a game in which some of the away fans were actually singing his name, he was stretchered off and will probably now miss a bit of football as a result.
In front of them I thought Xhaka was once again very good and filled gaps when we needed them, but also distributed the ball well all night. In the first half he was picking out long diagonals but in the second, when we needed to be compact against an inevitable pressing forward from Bournemouth, he was there in the thick of it scrambling the ball away when needed. It was a performance of leadership.
Next to him we also got an imperious Guendouzi display, especially in the second half, which feels like it was important too because we sat back and allowed Bournemouth to come on to us a bit. That meant that when we did have the ball we needed retention above all else and I think Guendouzi really stepped up on that front.
As did Willock. He started the season well, faded, but in a couple of times that I’ve seen him recently and certainly last night, he showed that he’s very capable of filling the box-to-box attacking midfielder. He won tackles, was strong and on a number of occasions was the one winning the ball back high up the pitch which kept pressure away from our defence. That’s really important in football because it stops your opponent setting themselves up as a unit and means teams like Bournemouth who might want to break with pace as soon as the ball turns over, have men set too far up the pitch to about face and do their defensive duty. It gave us space to counter and Pepe and Martinelli both had plenty of time throughout the match.
And finally, to the top end of the pitch, where Eddie bagged an important goal for his confidence. He worked hard all night and got his reward with a poachers finish. I wonder if Lacazette would have been in that position had he been playing last night? I don’t mean that as a dog, but more that Lacazette seems to be more involved in build up than on the end of the moves at the moment and I wonder how much that is affecting his goalscoring game. Eddie wanted to play as the main striker and positioned himself accordingly, which resulted in a goal that will give him yet more belief, as well as ultimately securing us safe passage to the next round, which is an away trip to Portsmouth in just over a month.
The second half felt a little bit more of a containment exercise and unfortunately we did concede a late goal, but we got what we deserved in the end and Arteta can feel pleased that some of the young players really stepped up.
It’s now onwards and upwards to Burnley at Turf Moor, with plenty of young players knocking on the managers door, which can only be a good thing.
Catch you peeps tomorrow.