Tuesday 26 September 2017

Alexis Sanchez rages, Francis Coquelin injured and Arsenal out of title race- why fallout from Bournemouth could be severe

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez looks dejected during the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez looks dejected during the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth

Charlie Eccleshare

Tuesday night's 3-3 draw at Bournemouth was in many ways a perfect encapsulation of Arsenal's last 10 years.

As Sam Wallace wrote in The Telegraph yesterday, the match took Arsenal "right to the brink of catastrophe, with salvation snatched in thrilling style and then everyone left wondering whether it was enough."

The draw also demonstrated the growing divisions at the Emirates, as Arsenal players argued with one another and Alexis Sanchez reacted furiously at the final whistle.

Injuries to Francis Coquelin and Laurent Koscielny added to Arsene Wenger's anxiety, and there is a sense that the fallout from the match could end up being severe.

Simmering Sanchez

For the second match running Sanchez was Arsenal's best player but left the pitch raging. Even after Sunday's 2-0 win against Crystal Palace, the striker was visibly frustrated and left the field shaking his head after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had shot rather than passed to him in the closing stages.

Against Bournemouth, Sanchez's irritation began early in the first half when he berated Aaron Ramsey for questioning his decision to shoot instead of passing to the Welshman.

Sanchez's mood darkened as the match wore on, and at the final whistle he threw his gloves to the floor in anger and went off the pitch muttering to himself without shaking the hand of a single player.

With his contract expiring in 18 months and reports of offers from elsewhere, Alexis's clear dissatisfaction in recent matches will have made for uncomfortable viewing for the Arsenal hierarchy.

Central midfield crisis

Francis Coquelin was forced off in the first half with a hamstring injury, and the early indications are that he could be out for some time.

Wenger said after the game: "Coquelin has a hamstring (problem). We have to wait 48 hours for the scan and the result. But usually when he sits down and comes off it's not so good news.

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Britain Football Soccer - AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal - Premier League - Vitality Stadium - 3/1/17 Arsenal's Francis Coquelin receives medical attention after sustaining an injury Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

"If it's just tiredness he will try to play on but he didn't even try to play again."

The injury comes at the worst possible time for Arsenal, with Mohamed Elneny away at the Africa Cup of Nations and Santi Cazorla out injured until March. With Jack Wilshere on loan at Bournemouth, all of a sudden Arsenal only have two available central midfielders in Granit Xhaka and the low on confidence Aaron Ramsey.

The only consolation to Wenger is that captain Koscielny's injury is not thought to be serious, after he was taken off in the second half when suffering from cramp.

Soft centre exposed again

Wenger can hail his side's mental strength in rallying to get a draw, and to some extent he has a point, but this was undoubtedly another chastening evening for Arsenal.

Bournemouth battered them for the first hour and the soft Arsenal defending for all three of the goals showcased the same vulnerabilities that have blighted them for the last decade.

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Britain Football Soccer - AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal - Premier League - Vitality Stadium - 3/1/17 Arsenal's Hector Bellerin is shown a yellow card by referee Michael Oliver Reuters / Dylan Martinez Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.

Hector Bellerin in particular had a shocker, and will wince when watching his powder puff attempt to tackle Charlie Daniels for the first goal.

This was the fourth time Arsenal have played a team away from home in the top half this season, and the results have been two defeats and two hugely fortunate draws.

Arsenal need to find a way of beating the stronger sides in the league away from home if they are to maintain any semblance of a title challenge.

Title bid over already?

If Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday evening then Arsenal will be 11 points off top spot. Nine points felt surmountable but yesterday's draw could leave Wenger's side with a huge deficit, and they are also trailing Manchester City and Liverpool.

Arsenal travel to Chelsea and Liverpool in the next couple of months, and given their away record in the big matches it's tough to envisage them winning either let alone both of those matches as they surely need to do now.

Limited ambitions exposed

Football is an emotional game, and Olivier Giroud can be forgiven for wanting to celebrate his stoppage-time equaliser, but really what on earth was he doing performing such an over the top and clearly pre-meditated routine?

Arsenal had just equalised against a 10-man team who were in the Championship two years ago and he was celebrating as if he had just scored the winner against Barcelona, self-aggrandisingly referencing his stunning goal against Crystal Palace two days earlier.

In a game that Arsenal needed to win to stay in the title race, Giroud should have been sprinting back to the touchline and trying to help his team get the winner they so desperately required in the remaining four minutes.

Sorry to go all Roy Keane there, but it betrayed a small-time mentality more concerned with personal glory and self-congratulation than the business of winning titles.

Wenger has said that Mesut Ozil and Sanchez will make their decisions on whether to stay at Arsenal based on trophies won and the club's ambition rather than the money being offered.

It was hard to shake off the feeling yesterday that Arsenal's ambitions feel somewhat limited if scrambling a draw at 10-man Bournemouth provokes such a jubilant reaction from some of their players.

Xhaka will not learn

Granit Xhaka has failed to live up to his £35m price tag since arriving in the summer, and it's largely been a case of one step forward two steps back.

So it proved again at the Vitality Stadium as after an impressive display against Crystal Palace on Tuesday, Xhaka made another reckless decision that cost his team dear.

With Ryan Fraser running away from goal, Xhaka needlessly barged him to the ground to concede a penalty that left Arsenal 2-0 down inside 20 minutes.

It followed a similarly mindless elbow on Joe Allen to concede a penalty against Stoke last month that could easily have been punished with a red card, and the sending off against Swansea for an unnecessarily aggressive trip on Modou Barrow.

Wenger will be hoping that Xhaka will have finally learned his lesson because he is increasingly becoming a disciplinary liability to the team.

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