Unai Emery has work to do as Arsenal show grit and flaws in Bournemouth win
BOURNEMOUTH, England -- Three points from Bournemouth 1-2 Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
1. Emery momentum continues
After three draws in a row, Arsenal are back to winning ways in the Premier League and on balance, Sunday's 2-1 victory against a lively Bournemouth side was deserved. They took the lead through a bizarre Jefferson Lerma own goal but were pegged back on the stroke of half-time by Josh King. But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's winner brought them back to within a point of the top four and extended their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.
An open start brought close shaves and some controversy, too. In the eighth minute, David Brooks tucked the ball past Bernd Leno after a scramble inside the Arsenal box, only to be swiftly flagged offside. The decision looked questionable: one of Brooks' legs seemed level with Shkodran Mustafi, while there was a suggestion he had found possession via another Arsenal defender. Bournemouth's frustration was almost compounded when Lucas Torreira thudded the left upright with a 20-yard drive and watched Alex Iwobi lash the rebound over.
Arsenal began to assume control and took the lead in bizarre fashion on the half-hour. Lerma's finish would have been applauded at the other end; in this case, though, he stretched to intercept a Sead Kolasinac cross and only succeeded in lacing a firm volley into his own net from 14 yards. Kolasinac might have found it harder to deliver the cross if Brooks, who might have provided some cover on Bournemouth's right, had not been running back on to the pitch after receiving some treatment.
As half-time neared the visitors looked comfortable but, from nowhere, they were picked apart. It was a flowing move from Bournemouth, Callum Wilson and Brooks combining to tee up an emphatic left-footed finish from King -- which was immediately followed by the whistle.
Aubameyang, fed by Mkhitaryan, shot over just after the hour as Arsenal began the second half brightly. It was not long before he went one better. Again the provider was Kolasinac, running behind a dozing Ryan Fraser as Bournemouth stood off, and the Gabonese striker slid in to convert his 10th goal of the season in all competitions, and his 18th in 26 Premier League matches since joining in January.
Bournemouth huffed and puffed in response. Substitute Junior Stanislas could not quite sort his feet out 11 minutes from time and jabbed softly at Leno. Then, six minutes from time, Lerma took aim from range but struck the same upright Torreira had hit earlier. There was to be no further shot at redemption.
2. Aubameyang's central role, Arsenal still a work in progress
Aubameyang does not get much of a run in the centre-forward position these days but his predatory instincts inside the six-yard box made the difference here. Alexandre Lacazette's form has largely consigned him to a role on the left of the attack this season, where he has often looked peripheral, but the Frenchman was ruled out through injury here and that -- along with a key change in system by Unai Emery -- allowed him a run-out in his preferred role.
He responded with the kind of predator's finish that has made his name; his afternoon was otherwise fairly quiet but it was a reminder that there are few better at what he does and that, while Arsenal continue to roll along nicely, their best attacking lineup remains a matter of debate.
That goes for the defence too. Emery had sprung a surprise before kick-off by naming three centre-backs -- the first time that Arsenal had lined up that way in the Premier League during his tenure -- and leaving Mesut Ozil on the bench. "The system does not change our style," he stressed before kick-off. "Our adaptation today is 30 percent for Bournemouth, 70 percent for us."
The problem at times was that, if the question was of which team the switch had worked out best for, the percentages could probably be reversed. Arsenal's backline looked vulnerable to Bournemouth's pace from the opening moments and the goal they eventually conceded was, albeit brilliantly taken by King, an example of the system's imperfection.
Bournemouth had broken upfield slickly but Rob Holding, the left-sided centre-back, was left on his own to handle both Brooks and the unmarked King. Left wing-back Kolasinac was nowhere to be seen and what, on paper, looked a solid enough setup had been exposed all too easily.
Yet Kolasinac more than atoned for that with two assists and, in the end, Emery was rewarded for his change. Arsenal, who are yet to lead a match at half-time in the league this season, continue to look frayed at times but continue to get the job done. Encouragingly, they found a new way to do it here.
3. Bournemouth continue to trouble the elite
It looks as if Bournemouth will soon lose touch with the top six, but on this evidence, they shouldn't fall too far. Watching their evolution into a credible top-half force has been a rare pleasure in an otherwise predictable start to the top-flight campaign, and there was plenty to admire here even if they fell just short of snatching a point.
Eddie Howe has gradually changed Bournemouth from an almost obsessively possession-orientated outfit to one whose best work is carried out via rapid-fire counterattacks led by King, Wilson, Brooks and the livewire Fraser. They fizzed and flickered here, rarely dominating but troubling Arsenal down the flanks and exposing their centre-backs' lack of pace on the turn.
On another day, Lerma's late effort would have gone in and the Colombian's fortunes summed up their own on the day. Lerma looks an outstanding signing, the kind of physical force Bournemouth had lacked in the holding position and a fine recycler of the ball. But it was his mishap that broke the deadlock and that spoke of a wider failing. Lerma had not needed to intervene in the way he did as Kolasinac crossed -- there was no Arsenal player poised to convert -- and the thought throughout an often frayed encounter was the Howe's side were sometimes a little too eager, too rushed. In the first half, Fraser and Charlie Daniels made a hash of a promising free kick when the latter attempted a heel only to find his colleague unprepared. For all Bournemouth's spark and industry, a touch more composure was required.
They visit Manchester City next. Two games after that, they host Liverpool. They have played seven of the bottom eight teams so far and a trickier run is giving a truer perspective of their capabilities. But in the battle for "best of the rest" they look as well equipped as anyone.