Date: 27 January 2020
This match was effectively lost in the first half hour, due to a strange team selection and players not being employed in their best positions.
The initial line-up looked very defensive: only one out-and-out striker, because both Callum Wilson and Surridge were left on the bench. And why on earth was Simpson (a good centre back) playing left back, Lewis Cook (a good central midfielder) playing left midfield, or Fraser (a good winger) playing as a ‘number ten’? Well, we were outclassed in every department by an Arsenal side that dominated most of the first half, and most of the action took place in our half of the pitch. The only surprise was that, despite Bournemouth looking weak on the left wing (Simpson and Lewis Cook being unused to working together), Arsenal’s two early goals both came from their left side and our right!
The first was in the fifth minute, three Arsenal players carving Bournemouth’s defence open and Saka firing the ball into the roof of the net. On 26 minutes Nketiah tapped in Arsenal’s second and despite a seemingly lengthy VAR check (chants of “F**k VAR” from the Arsenal fans, who outsang our supporters all night) the score was eventually confirmed as 0-2.
Arsenal were using the width of the pitch better than we were, so we now changed our formation. Lewis Cook joined Surman and Gosling in central midfield (Surman playing deeper than the other two) while Harry Wilson and Fraser played wide right and left respectively, leaving Solanke alone up front. This system seemed to suit the team better, and Simpson (though he wasn’t looking his best defensively) started creating overlapping runs with Fraser. Harry Wilson got a shot in on the 37th minute (it was saved), and Gosling saw a subsequent header go over the bar, but the score remained 0-2 till half time.
Bournemouth ‘woke up’ in the second half and the teams became a lot more evenly matched, at least in terms of effort. Lewis Cook and Gosling kept swapping sides in central midfield, and Arsenal started employing delaying tactics: wasting time at goal kicks and free kicks, or feigning injuries to break the game up. Then on 76 minutes Eddie decided to bring on Francis and Callum Wilson (though they had to wait a very long time for someone to put the ball out). The reason for the somewhat surprising introduction of Francis turned out to be that Eddie wanted us now to play with a back three (Fraser, Steve Cook and Aké); so Adam Smith switched to the left while Fraser adopted his third role in a single match (number ten, left winger, and now right full back!).
But we had to wait till the 89th minute for the substitution everyone had wanted to see much earlier (if not at the start of the match!): Surridge for Solanke. Eight minutes’ added time was announced (due to injuries and lengthy VAR checks) and half way through those eight minutes Francis sent a ball over to Surridge in the box and he scored his first senior goal for Bournemouth! This seemed to justify the fans’ view that if only he'd come on earlier we might have got something out of this game. But the crowd expressed their delight, even though technically the goal wasn’t a goal until VAR had confirmed it (another very lengthy wait). Now both sets of fans were singing the ‘VAR chant’! But the goal stood and, even though it was only a consolation for us, Arsenal fans were clearly disappointed to be denied a clean sheet.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
A Smith (5), S Cook (6), Aké (7), Simpson (6);
H Wilson (6), Surman (6), Gosling (6), L Cook (5);
Fraser (7), Solanke (5)
Fraser, Francis, S Cook, Aké, A Smith;
Gosling, L Cook;
C Wilson, Surridge