Date: 28 December 2015
The fact that any Bournemouth fan is disappointed by us losing 2-0 in a league match at the Emirates Stadium shows just how far our club has come in a short space of time. The odds on us winning, before the game, were only 6 to 1 (not 33, 66, or 100 to 1!); Arsenal put out a very strong team of household names and internationals; and they didn’t beat us by the 4 or 5 nil that one might have expected when comparing the teams on paper. We’ll not get a tougher match this season, yet we only lost 2-0.
I walked past the old Highbury (that I’ve visited many times) to arrive at the Emirates for my first ever visit. It’s an impressive sight, and who can forget that they began building it after the new Wembley but completed it before? As with any new build, though, there are one or two things designers didn’t quite get right. There’s a very narrow entrance to the toilets, that doubles up as an exit, resulting in long queues outside whilst they’re nearly empty inside! And the numbers on the seats are right down at ground level – where you have to stoop low and put on your glasses to read them! Oh and, of course, you have to stand throughout the match – though we’re becoming accustomed to that now. It’s nice when half time arrives and one can sit down, briefly!
As already mentioned, Arsenal named a strong side. We, meanwhile, had simply substituted King for Murray (to everyone’s relief), and Pugh for Stanislas. And Gosling/Arter had swapped sides in midfield, so that Arter played alongside Pugh. Boruc had a good game; Surman and Daniels were not up to their recent standards; Pugh was a bit slow. But Arter was popping up everywhere on the pitch, left and right, attack and defence; keeping very busy indeed. Stanislas, as pretty well everyone expected, replaced Pugh at half time to add some pace to our attack. Subsequently on about the hour mark, with us trailing 1-0, O’Kane replaced Gosling but played as a ‘number 10’ in what was now a 4-4-1-1 set-up. (Though, tragically, we conceded our second within moments of this substitution.) And, towards the end, King pulled up with what looked like a hamstring, and was immediately replaced by Murray.
We matched Arsenal well for the first half hour, showing our customary confidence and giving them no respect. King had a very early shot at goal. But the game turned around the half hour mark when Ozil took a corner on Arsenal’s right (Ozil was taking all set pieces, including corners on both sides) and an unmarked Gabriel scored easily with his head. For the remaining quarter hour of this half Arsenal won numerous corners (one was gifted to them when Boruc couldn’t reach a Francis back-pass) and used the same method every time. We looked nervy, and our fans held their breath during each one of these corner kicks. But fortunately we went into half time only one goal down.
We had another purple patch early in the second half, though our best chance of the half was arguably later on when a long shot from Ritchie sailed straight into the goalie’s hands. In fairness, Arsenal were missing chances too (especially so Walcott, in both periods) and Boruc was pulling off some fine saves. But Arsenal’s second goal was – one must admit – a brilliant one. Ozil managed a one-two with Giroud, and the former scored. So Ozil now had one goal and one assist to his name in this one match. Meanwhile, for us, it was all over now.
I later learned on Match of the Day that the Cherries currently have the worst record for defending set pieces in the Premier League. Certainly failure to do so on the half hour mark today proved to be the turning point in the game, and added to the nerves (for both players and fans) from that moment on. Meanwhile at the other end we lacked the killer instinct when in sight of goal. One or two things to work on, I think, Eddie!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Smith (7), Francis (7), Cook (7), Daniels (6);
Ritchie (8), Gosling (7), Surman (6), Arter (9), Pugh (6);