Arsenal gave themselves a near-perfect lead in to the weekend’s north London derby with a 5-1 demolition of Bournemouth on Wednesday.
The Gunners built on victory over Southampton on Sunday by really turning on the style against the Cherries, racking up a hatful of goals and showing signs of much greater cohesion too.
From an attacking perspective, the first-half effort in particular was excellent.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil combined superbly up top to cut through a poor Bournemouth defensive line. Shorn of several senior players, the visitors were left exposed and vulnerable – and our attacking triumvirate made hay.
Their efforts were well-aided by the excellent pressing work of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, who forced their opposite numbers into rash clearances and misplaced passes, playing right into our hands every time.
Unai Emery spoke in the build up to the match about intensity and energy and his players had bags of that in the opening 45 minutes. Clearly, the game plan was not to allow Bournemouth to settle in possession and that was well executed.
Ozil’s goal was the result of a clever run into space and a sublime dinked finish over the goalkeeper to put the Gunners ahead, and the German – restored to the starting lineup after warming the bench against Southampton – turned provider not long after to allow Mkhitaryan to finish neatly.
At 2-0, Arsenal were well in control and so, accordingly, they shot themselves in the foot (presumably to make things a little more interesting). Despite all the hard work to keep Bournemouth at bay, the hassling, harrying, and organisation, the Gunners – and more specifically Guendouzi – found a way to concede.
Some would argue the young Frenchman was fouled on the edge of the box in the build-up but I think any side would be disappointed to see that given against them. Quite simply, Guendouzi was caught on the edge of his box trying to do far too much. As has so often been the case, Arsenal were robbed in an area which left us absolutely no chance to recover. Bernd Leno was 2v1 and it was a simple tap in to bring the score back to 2-1.
Though Bournemouth had had a few reasonable chances in between Arsenal’s two goals, they were largely ineffectual so to gift them a way back into the game really did take the shine off an otherwise smart and disciplined first half performance.
Emery has said often that he doesn’t mind conceding goals as long as his team wins but he has to find a way to stop his players making suicidal errors in silly positions. I understand it is a risk when playing out from the back but, if they focussed on getting the simple things right, they could iron out half of those errors in the blink of an eye.
However, most of that was swept aside in what was a scintillating attacking display in the second half, in which Arsenal really did shift up through the gears.
They needed scarcely two minutes to ease jangling nerves as Laurent Koscielny was brilliantly picked out by Mkhitaryan. In all honestly, it looked like another situation from a dead ball that the Gunners had aimlessly over-played in favour of a simple delivery but, to their credit, they opened Bournemouth up superbly to create the chance.
After that, the fight seemed to drain out of the visitors and Arsenal took full control. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang combined for a fourth goal, Ozil struck a post, and Alexandre Lacazette buried a free-kick late on to keep up his scoring streak.
There was even a little more calm and solidity in defence, though, tired legs and a lack of options from the bench meant the visitors struggled to pose much of threat in the second half and the defence remained untested.
Leading into the north London derby at the weekend, it was the ideal performance for Arsenal, who won the game with the sort of style and panache fans have longed for this season. There was some guile to match the practicality and some balance at the back too.
This team will still concede more goals than they should, but they have looked much more comfortable as a whole in the last three weeks.
There will also be a few questions in Emery’s mind looking ahead to Spurs. Has Ozil done enough to be considered for a starting berth? Does he start with Lacazette and Aubameyang or just one? Do Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka come back into this side?
Good problems to have, I think we can all agree.