Despite decent results drawing at home to Newcastle and winning away at Wolves, that recent victory is Bournemouth’s only win in 2023 and with arguably their hardest away game of the season, things aren’t looking great for the Cherries. Arsenal come into this game full of confidence, and why shouldn’t they? They have been formidable and at their scintillating best when playing at the Emirates this season, and fans will expect nothing less here.
As noted before the Everton game, this bundle of fixtures in the lead up to the March international break, feel very winnable. Of course, no fixture, including Bournemouth should be taken for granted, but harder tests are on the horizon for the Gunners and keeping City at arm’s length (5 points or more) will only serve them well for the future.
What will have pleased many Arsenal fans about the last three games is the way in which the club were able to deal with Thomas Partey’s slight knock. In previous seasons I have no doubt he’d have been rushed back and played as many minutes of the Leicester and Everton games as possible. Instead, he’s only played 50.
This trust in the ‘fringe players’ ability not only boosts said players’ confidence when they are called upon, it also fosters a sense of unity amongst the squad and fanbase. There should be little cause for concern if Jorginho were to start this, or indeed any other fixture this season. Leandro Trossard looks to be every inch the player Arsenal fans had wished he would be. Chelsea have hardly been at their best, but the longer the lack of cohesion and output from Mykhailo Mudryk continues, the more Arsenal fans can afford to somewhat smirk at West London’s new €100m man.
What we can expect from Bournemouth is a deep defensive back line, with the preferable out-ball being a long punt into Solanke or the lively January signing Hamed Traore. Whilst yet to register a goal or assist, the Ivorian has looked by far and away Bournemouth’s best player since the World Cup, and it won’t be long until he finds the net. 56 touches (2nd most for Bournemouth), 5 tackles, 4 key passes and 4 successful dribbles in 75 minutes vs Manchester City is nothing to be scoffed at, and is a player who will look to exploit the space abandoned by Zinchenko.
Arsenal fans will be delighted in the variety of playstyle they have seen these last few weeks. An injury time screamer, a resolute away win limiting the opposition to the lowest xG figure since records began and a lavish, extravagant thumping at home, all showcase the strings in Arsenal’s bow. At just the right time, where so often teams and players begin to fizzle out, Arsenal are rediscovering that fluidity and momentum.
“Players cannot maintain the same level for 10 months. It’s impossible” – Arteta after victory against Leicester.
I think of all the games Arsenal have left to play, there aren’t many better opportunities to rest key players than this. Bukayo Saka is a name that comes hurtling to mind as someone who could do with an extended break (I don’t expect to see him start the game in Sporting next Thursday either). History shows us that Arteta doesn’t like to rest a player unless they really need it, so perhaps this is the optimist in me but it would be refreshing to see Nelson, Vieira or even Martinelli take his place on the right wing. Equally, Granit Xhaka has racked up a lot of minutes this season, and might be expected to add some leadership to a heavily rotated team in the Europa League mid-week, meaning we could see Vieira slot in on the left of the midfield 3, a substitute Arteta has made more and more frequently in the last few weeks.
As ever, Arsenal will dominate the ball, move it from flank to flank at pace, and use the overloads in midfield to dominate second balls, threading neat passes into the half spaces. Never in my life as an Arsenal fan has it been so simple to predict the starting line up and playstyle. It is a mark of potential Champions.
Score Prediction: Arsenal 5 – 0 Bournemouth
Predicted Arsenal Starting XI
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Partey – Xhaka
Saka – Trossard – Martinelli
Predicted Bournemouth Starting XI
Smith – Mepham – Stephens – Senesi – Zemura
Ouattara – Lerma – Billing
Traore – Solanke