Disappointing result despite encouraging performance: Bournemouth 1-1 Arsenal Review
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Editor)
The Mikel Arteta era began with a rather underwhelming result at struggling Bournemouth, which served as a timely reminder of the enormity of the job he has taken on. Whilst there were several elements of our performance that should spark optimism amongst this impatient and impulsive fanbase, the single point marks another damaging result in a season that’s table is making for increasingly painful viewing for fans. Signs of improvement and a footballing identity are crucial, but we need to start winning football matches.
The new head coach pointed to the attitude, desire and commitment of his players being better than he had expected in his post-match interview. Indeed, this was a performance full of passion and urgency- it’s fair to say Arteta did induce this new managerial uplift that we see so often. It was the lack of quality in the final third that will leave the Spaniard so frustrated; on several occasions we wasted good opportunities with over-hit, blind or under-hit finishes or deliveries from wide areas.
His choice of formation perhaps surprised a few, deploying a conventional 4-2-3-1, a system better suited to the players he had available to him, but not one synonymous to the system deployed at Manchester City. This, a possible indication that whilst he may be stubborn and ruthless in his philosophy, he is willing to adapt in the short-term until he has the personnel to fit the 4-3-3 you’d expect to see in the long-run.
There were, however, similarities in the way we played to this Manchester City side. In possession, Maitland-Niles tucked inside, accompanying Torreira and Xhaka centrally. Saka played the Mendy role, constantly supplying an overlapping run which left us with an attacking overload on their right-hand side on numerous occasions in the first half. We controlled the ball and looked to play in between the lines, with Ozil frequently finding space in behind their midfield. Nelson occupied a high and wide role, which saw him get into good positions to deliver, and may have caused Bournemouth more problems had the quality of his deliveries been better. When we lost the ball, particularly in the first half, there was an urgency to close them down and win it back more quickly. Whilst it was still far from a cohesive press, the fact that Arteta was able to install a press of any sort, from a side that has been so passive out of possession this season, after just a few training sessions, was encouraging.
For all our first half dominance, Bournemouth took the lead from our inability to play out from the back- another feature that saw improvement, but still had its blatant problems. Saka got caught after playing a one-two with Aubameyang, and we didn’t recover from there. Luiz failed to follow the run of Gosling, who tapped home after Bournemouth found an overload of their own on our left-hand side.
We continued to dominate the ball in the second half, and looked fluid and threatening in the final third. Aubameyang in particular wasted two good chances, curling over from the edge of the box and fluffing his lines after an excellent through ball from Ozil. We kept going, and showed character to regain a foothold in the game and thus find our equaliser, albeit a scrappy goal from Aubameyang. Lacazette missed a great chance to win it, and it’d be hard to argue that our chances didn’t merit a victory (evident in our superior xG of 1.63 to Bournemouth’s 1.38).
However, as I eluded to earlier, it was our wastefulness in the final third that prevented us from getting all 3 points. Whether it’s a genuine lack of quality there or just an off day, this will be an area that Arteta has to work on intensely. It’s certainly not beyond him, with Sane and Sterling’s excellent output improvements at City being accredited largely to Arteta.
Defensively, we looked much more secure. Arteta has clearly worked on keeping the ball and constructing moves in a structured manner in his limited time with the players, and having 61% of the ball certainly restricted Bournemouth’s ability to threaten our feeble and makeshift back 4. Adding to this, the midfield pivot of Xhaka and Torreria provided much more protection to our defence, with the duo making a combined 11 ball recoveries and 7 tackles throughout the 90. With Xhaka’s imminent departure to Hertha Berlin, it’s crucial that he is replaced effectively, with his expansive passes yesterday clearly an indication of how important he’d be in a possession based system.
Still a lot to work on, but a step in the right direction. Just how much more we were able to control the game yesterday and pen Bournemouth in relentlessly after a mere 4 training sessions is a testament to Arteta as a coach. Strangely looking forward to Chelsea now.