06 February 2016

Arsenal arrive to pop a few Cherries—a tactical breakdown...

This would be comedic if it weren't so tragic. Maybe it's just ironic. Just as we've finally started to reassemble a full-strength squad, surviving—or so it seemed—an injury-crisis to dwarf all injury-crises, we've stumbled to four consecutive depressing results. A last-second equaliser at Anfield. a stubborn foe at the Brit. Another red-card assisted win for Chelsea. A blinder turned in by Southampton's keeper. Add them all together, and we've now dropped nine points from our last four outings. If we can't get back to winning ways, well, we can write off any chance of winning the Prem.

There are now 14 matches left, and it's looking more and more like Leicester can hang in there instead of fading as other Cinderellas have done. More worrisome, Tottenham have staked a claim to a fourth-place spot. Still, there's a silver lining just thick enough to cling to: it's taken our own stumblings to create an opening for others to squeeze through. Sunday's trip to Dean Court offers us a chance to restore some semblance of momentum going forward.

The good news is that we'll have a full-strength XI available for the first time since November. Alexis should be ready to go on the left, allowing Walcott to return to the right; and Coquelin should pair with Ramsey to give our defensive midfield more bite and energy than it's had. We more or less know what to expect from Alexis and Coquelin, but it's Ramsey and Walcott who vex. Neither man has performed to expectations, and we will need one or both of them to rediscover whatever intensity or purpose they've forgotten of late. Walcott seems Gervinho-esque in his finishing, and Ramsey continues to abandon his defensive responsibilities in his quixotic quest for goals. Pertinent questions are being asked of them, and an urgent response is in order.

In what amounts to a hopeful coincidence, the last time we faced Bournemouth also came on the heels of a dispiriting result against Southampton. We went to St. Mary's and were thrashed 4-0, and we followed that with a 2-0 win over visiting Bournemouth on Boxing Day. I don't think there's much in it, to be honest, but one does have to mark these coincidences if for no other reason than they exist.

More to the point, former Gunner Benik Afobe will be one to watch; he's scored in his last three starts since joining Bournemouth and will surely hope to remind Arsenal of the kind of player he is after never really getting a chance at first-team action. Expect Coquelin to snuff out most of the service Afobe might otherwise provide, while a rested Mertesacker, back from serving his match-ban, helps to organize the defense. I'd hope that Koscielny earns a rest; he's looked jaded and weary lately, and the Mertesacker-Gabriel pairing deserves a run-out. Ahead of them, of course, we should get to see Mesut Özil weaving all sorts of magic with Alexis on one side and Walcott on the other, and with Giroud unsettling that back-line all afternoon.

LAST 3 2
Arsenal 2-0 Bournemouth (28.12.2016)
Arsenal 3-0 Bournemouth (27.10.1987)

FACTFILE
Bournemouth have never scored a goal against Arsenal.
AFC Bournemouth briefly were top of the table—before any matches were played.
It has been at least five years since Arsenal failed to score in four consecutive Prem matches.

INJURIES
Cazorla, Wilshere, and Rosický will all miss out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Bellerín; Coquelin, Ramsey; Alexis, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

Arsenal, driven by desire and need, will overwhelm Bournemouth.

PREDICTION
Bournemouth 1-3 Arsenal