Momentum has been a difficult thing to build for Unai Emery’s Arsenal this season but Wednesday night’s match with Bournemouth gives the Gunners the ideal opportunity to put some gas in the tank of their top four challenge.
Slip ups for Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham in the last week or so has thrust Arsenal right back into the mix for the Champions League places, and victory over Southampton on Sunday was a great confidence boost.
In order to keep the fire burning, though, Emery’s side will have to reap maximum advantage from being at home for the visit of the Cherries, who have lost their last eight league fixtures on the road.
The Gunners have some tricky away days ahead themselves, not least a trip to Wembley on Sunday, so ensuring they have three points in the bag by the end of the 90 minutes tomorrow will be vital. Anything less could prove disastrous to their top four ambitions.
A much better (although still far from perfect) balance between defence and attack of late should give them confidence, but they will need to wary of offering up yet more gilt-edge opportunities to opponents, much as they did against the Saints at the weekend.
On that occasion, they had Bernt Leno to thank for keeping the scores level, but in Callum Wilson and Joshua King, Eddie Howe’s side have two strikers of genuine quality who are unlikely to spurn too many opportunities between them. Concentration will be key.
For their own part, Arsenal have recaptured a little of their early-season adventure and efficiency in front of goal in the last few matches and that could well prove decisive in their efforts to avoid a potential Bournemouth banana skin. If they can show the sort of intent they showed in the first 45 minutes against the Saints, they will be incredibly difficult to live with.
With Sunday’s derby firmly in mind, I would expect Emery to favour some rotation in his midfield and defence. Who he chooses to use could be quite revelatory in terms of who he thinks makes up his best and most-trusted 11.
That said, I certainly don’t think he will field a ‘weak’ team tomorrow, knowing how important every win starts to become at the business end of the season.
Is the stage set for Denis Suarez and Mesut Ozil? It’s possible as I don’t see the manager trusting either with starting at Wembley in what is certain to be a turbo-charged 90 minutes. I would expect the manager to be cautious with playing Alex Iwobi from the start given how he limped off against Southampton, thereby making the inclusion of one of the aforementioned much more likely. I wouldn’t rule out seeing both from the start if Emery decides to rest Henrikh Mhkitaryan too.
I said after the win at Huddersfield that Arsenal needed nine wins from their last 12 Premier League matches to be all but certain of a top four spot, and I still believe that to be the case.
We chalked one of those off on Sunday and tomorrow is another great opportunity to ease a little more pressure by making it seven wins from 10.
With four wins from our last five in the league, we certainly have the form, and we certainly have the goals, we just need a 90-minute performance to get us over the line as we move in March and deeper waters.