The pressure that has been building steadily around the Emirates will come to the boil this afternoon as the Gunners face their most important match of the season so far.
Wins for Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester City on Saturday saw daylight open up between the league’s three top sides and Arsene Wenger’s men and, even at this early stage of the season, we can’t afford to let the gap grow beyond control.
The league will not be decided this weekend – it’s important to stress that – but falling five or six points behind teams who are picking up results that way the aforementioned teams are would be dangerous.
Add to that the malaise that Arsenal currently find themselves in and you begin to see why getting a result in this match is so important.
The Gunners have been pretty turgid this month. Aside from an early win in Bulgaria, we have seen the team struggle in draws against Tottenham, Manchester United, and Paris Saint-Germain – and all three matches carried the distinct whiff of good fortune about them.
I’m not bemoaning that good fortune, god knows we’ve managed without it for years, but it won’t hang around forever. Sooner or later we are going to have to take control of our own performances and not allow circumstance or good fortune to bail us out.
This weekend has to be that weekend. Another draw simply won’t cut the mustard. Taking points in matches against PSG and Manchester United is palatable, but another draw, particularly against Bournemouth, is not.
The south coast side are no mugs, that’s for sure, but they are not the sort of side who should cause Arsenal enough problems as to take anything from this game. I have no doubt that Eddie Howe has been watching Arsenal carefully this month and knows well how teams have managed to suppress them. But his side simply should not have enough about them to get a result.
Getting a convincing win is the best way to snap a run of poor form and this match is the best opportunity we have had to do that for three or four weeks.
As Arsene has said in his pre-match interviews, we have to rediscover our passing fluidity, and our speed of movement. We have been strangely sluggish and affected this month, with our attacking instincts stifled and the urgency of our press decidedly lacking. We must focus, as Arsene said, on getting the ball from “deep midfield to high midfield” and making use of the world class talent we have up there.
The clear positive for Arsenal is that these are things that are easily rectified. It’s not as if we require an entire new playing system and the personnel to fill it. What we need is, in simple terms, a collective kick up the backside.
We need to increase the intensity, the speed, and the forward-thinking nature of our game. Back and square has been tried this month, and it has made for some very average performances indeed.
In terms of the starting line-up I would move Aaron Ramsey to the bench and start Granit Xhaka alongside Francis Coquelin. Aaron has been something of a symbol of the current slump and would do better to start again in midweek in the League Cup, when he can throw off the shackles in a match that carries much less importance than this.
Despite the success of Alexis Sanchez as the lone striker earlier this season, Olivier Giroud is in such excellent form that I would be compelled to start him up front again against Bournemouth, with Mesut Ozil floating in the space behind and the Chilean on the left wing.
I would like to see Theo Walcott restored to the right wing and for the Englishman to get back to doing what has brought him such success so far this term, putting in the miles, winning the ball back, and picking up excellent positions in attack.
If we can set the tone from the first whistle, get the crowd behind the team, and get creating chances, there is no reason why we can’t win this game at a canter. If we start this game as we have started our last three, I fear it will be a very long afternoon at the Emirates, and the fallout will be messy.