Date: 27 November 2016
The Cherries acquitted themselves well today against one of the Premier League’s top sides, and the final scoreline somewhat flattered the hosts.
After a pleasant lunch at one of the best pubs the Exiles have ever met in (delicious food and a good selection of beers, but hardly any customers!) we made our way to the ground. The matchday announcer insisted on calling us “Bournemouth FC” – which seemed deliberate (i.e. Arsenal don’t like the fact that they’re no longer the first Premier League team when listed in alphabetical order). The team news revealed that Daniels was unavailable – gifting Brad Smith his league debut – and that Wilshere’s ineligibility meant that Adam Smith would return to the starting line-up. We all guessed the two Smiths would be full-backs, Francis and Cook at centre back, and Ake just in front of them in a 4-1-4-1 system. Wrong! Francis, Cook and Ake had retained their positions from the previous match, with Adam Smith at right midfield and King further forward.
We started brightly, Adam Smith getting in an early shot. But then Francis and Cook were both yellow-carded in the first ten minutes, meaning they’d have to play a bit cautiously to avoid second bookings. And in the twelfth minute: an act of madness! Cook – with plenty of time and space on the ball and many options ahead of him – made the crazy decision to pass back to Federici. He didn’t even seem to look at Sanchez, who gratefully intercepted the misdirected pass and scored an easy goal. 1-0. Alexis Sanchez was to prove the overall man-of-the-match and would never stop running all afternoon, though neither of his goals was a particularly difficult one. Ten minutes after his first goal, the Cherries unexpectedly equalised. Ake failed to connect with a Bournemouth corner, but the ball reached Wilson via Gosling – and Arsenal’s Monreal panicked and brought Wilson down in the penalty area. He took the penalty kick himself, sending Cech the wrong way and scoring one of the neatest penalties you’ll see. At 1-1 we now had everything to play for, and we dominated the rest of the first half. Arter was stamped on at one point, but the referee was unimpressed and Harry now knows better than to argue overmuch. I lost count of how many corners we were awarded, whilst it was nearly half time before Arsenal were awarded their first! But the score remained unchanged at the break.
The scorer of the next goal would obviously be critical, and sadly that proved to be Theo Walcott. Monreal cancelled out his earlier error, crossing perfectly to Walcott who scored with his head. Only ten minutes of the half had passed and we were now chasing the game again. Our first substitution was to bring on former Arsenal player Afobe, the home fans rising to give him an especial welcome back. Our second substitute was Ibe for Stanislas, demonstrating a real lack of depth in the squad. Neither Afobe (on current form) nor Ibe (ever since he joined the club) is comparable to Wilson or Stanislas. Contrast this with Arsenal whose first two subs were Giroud and Ramsey! Even Giroud with a hamstring injury proved more effective than Afobe! For our third and final change Brad Smith, who’d fitted in very well in his first game and got forward as often as Daniels would, left to an ovation from the away fans – though unfortunately for him his last act before coming off was to get himself booked. He was replaced by a striker – Mousset – showing Eddie’s determination to push forward to the last.
But the equalising goal never came – though Ibe had a golden opportunity to score with his head near the end – and, to add insult to injury, in time added-on Giroud passed to Sanchez and all he had to do was walk the ball home for a 3-1 home victory.
This had been a good game of football and I imagined that any neutrals would have particularly enjoyed it. Sure enough, the next day I discovered that a Southport-supporting friend had somehow availed himself of a ticket and enjoyed the match very much. I asked whom he’d been supporting and he replied, “Myself – and I won!” It transpired that before the game he’d put good money on a 3-1 victory for the Gunners - at 10:1!
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (6), S Cook (6), Ake (8), B Smith (8);
A Smith (7), Gosling (7), Arter (7), Stanislas (7);
C Wilson (7), King (6)
Francis, S Cook, Ake, A Smith;
Ibe, Gosling, Arter, King;