Yes, the headline is deliberately flippant.
But look at the facts:
- Third in the league, only a point behind last year’s all-conquering champions.
- Four points ahead of Teeteringham.
- Six points ahead of Manchester United.
- Only one defeat in eight games in the Premier League.
- In the last two and half weeks we have played 6 games in all competitions, Won 5, Drawn 1, Lost 0; Goals for 17, Goals against 3.
On paper we’re in the title race, albeit a long way behind the long-haired lovers from Liverpool.
Yet it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere close to being able to contemplate a serious tilt at the title and performances like yesterday’s against Bournemouth don’t help.
We can take satisfaction from getting our 1-0 win and three very valuable points, but life still is not a bowl of cherries. I’ll come on to possible reasons why later, but first a quick recap of the match.
Unai Emery’s team selection was fairly predictable. RC in his pre-match write up got 10 out of 11, missing only Ceballos, who was preferred to RC’s prediction of Torreira.
At the start of the day Bournemouth were only a point behind us in the league and we all know they can play a bit, so this was never likely to be a pushover.
That said, we started well with Saka looking particularly lively on the left flank, Ceballos pulling the strings in midfield, Guendouzi surging round the pitch like a remote controlled car on Christmas morning and even Pepe showing some silky skills.
The breakthrough came early, and not from any of the attackers. A corner from our right was adroitly pinged into the box by Pepe and found the curly coiffured bonce of our bouncy Brazilian centre back. He had a lot to do to direct the ball on target, but in it went. A first Arsenal goal for David Luiz and an assist for Pepe.
For the rest of the first half we were effortlessly in control, stroking the ball about easily and looking dangerous in attack, while Bournemouth offered little threat. We created multiple good situations but the final touch or pass was always slightly off and we were not able to build on our lead. As the minutes ticked into the 40s and it was still only 1-0 despite our dominance, I began to feel some familiar nerves twitching into life.
Sure enough Bournemouth came out a much more committed side after the break, presumably after a rocket from Eddie Howe. They harried us more effectively and slowly but surely became the dominant side.
As the second half wore on and our attacking thrust got blunter and blunter, an equaliser started to feel inevitable.
Some of the most perilous moments came directly from rare occasions when we were carving through Bournemouth and looking to threaten their goal, only for a piece of carelessness from one of our players to set them on the counter attack.
In the space of one period of just a couple of minutes Kolasinac, under no pressure whatsoever, passed the ball to a Bournemouth player who launched a break which almost resulted in a goal; then Guendouzi lost the ball carelessly and again, a few seconds later, we were lucky not to concede (although to Gwen’s credit it was he who made the gut-busting run and desperate tackle that saved a goal).
And that summed up our second half: sloppy. I don’t know if the conditions were difficult (the sun was shining, but had there been heavy rain earlier?), but every time we tried to do something positive it was spoiled by a wayward pass, a piece of bad control, getting carelessly caught in possession or even just tripping over our own feet.
When the whistle blew after five minutes of added time it was a huge relief.
So we had a win, but not one to send the faithful home feeling like the team is finding its rhythm and ready to push on with a serious top four challenge.
I thought our shape and system looked OK yesterday (certainly compared with some games, such as Watford or Man Utd), but – in the second half at least – there was a lack of concentration throughout the team, particularly in the attacking half.
Hopefully it was just a difficult day at the office and the sort of sustained focus we have seen in the cup games can quickly be integrated back into our league effort.
We happen to be on one of those runs (in the league) where the results are OK but the performances are worrying. From that position things can go in two directions: either the performances don’t improve and we don’t keep ‘getting away with it’ or things start to gel on the pitch and the results stay good. Take your pick.
I’ll end with some positives, beyond just getting the three points: for a start, the important thing is that we did not let Bournemouth get their goal and that was down to some committed defending, particularly from Chambers, but with Luiz and Sokratis also having some big defensive moments, while Leno was reliable as ever with his shot stopping.
Hopefully the clean sheet is indicative of a sharper defensive focus. The danger moments came from mistakes at the attacking end of the field leading to Bournemouth counters: they did not come from our defenders putting on clown shoes and red noses in our own defensive third as they have done too many times this season already.
Now we go into the international break on the back of a good run of results and with a struggling Sheffield United team waiting for us when league action resumes.
We are third in the league I said we are third in the league… (Doesn’t have quite the right ring to it, does it?).
Didn’t have too many saves to make but was in the right place when called on. One interception of a dangerous low cross sticks in the memory as an instance of his excellent anticipation.
Chambers 8 (MoTM)
Chambers is on a very good run of form. Made some top tackles and interceptions in our box and helped link play well when going forward. Best of all, he always seems composed on the ball.
Didn’t do much wrong and made a couple of important tackles and headers.
As per Sokratis, but with an extra half point for the goal.
I’m not as down on Xhaka as some, but much of this game passed him by (although he still had time to make some stupid tackles).
Good in the first half, faded in the second before being substituted.
Typically energetic performance, but his play was littered with concentration lapses in the second half.
You can almost smell the crowd willing him to turn it on. He showed some great dribbling skills at times, though usually with little end product. Not a bad a outing but this was not the game where he suddenly turns the corner. Nice cross for the goal.
Struggled to make an impact, but it wasn’t really his fault. Most of our moves broke down before the ball reached him in dangerous positions.
Very bright in the first half but was another who faded after half time.
Looked lively and clearly uses the same batteries as Guendouzi.
Another encouraging outing for Willock, but by the time he came on our second half malaise was already too deeply embedded.
A tidy 10 minutes or so from the Uruguayan.