Saturday 3 December 2016

Sanchez hits the heights to drag Gunners out of their rut

Arsenal 3 Bournemouth 1

Mark Critchley

Published 28/11/2016 | 02:30

Bournemouth’s Harry Arter gets the better of Mesut Ozi. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Bournemouth’s Harry Arter gets the better of Mesut Ozi. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

After a week during which Arsene Wenger insisted there was "no reason to panic", there were brief moments where his Arsenal side looked close to meltdown yesterday.

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Yet what will please their manager more than anything from this victory over a spirited Bournemouth is that his players were tested, they were troubled, and yet they ended a bitty and scrappy affair in the ascendancy.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring their first goal. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

When Callum Wilson cancelled out Alexis Sanchez's opener from the penalty spot after a contentious foul by Nacho Monreal, a fourth consecutive draw for the Gunners and more ground lost in the title race seemed a distinct possibility.

However, a second-half turnaround, inspired by Sanchez, secured a victory that may restore the momentum that Wenger had feared was lost.

The hosts came out stronger after the break and re-established their lead through Theo Walcott's header as the England international celebrated the birth of his second son in style.

Sweeping

Sanchez (pictured) then made sure of the points by sweeping the ball home after a fluid move with the game just heading into stoppage time.

The 27-year-old now has 10 goals for the season since his move to a central attacking role and afterwards Wenger heaped praise on the former Barcelona player.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

"Even when he looks dead, Alexis is still alive and always finds the resources to do something special," said the Arsenal manager.

"He has that conditioning which allows him to always find an extra gear to be dangerous.

"Bournemouth are a tricky side who can keep the ball and, if you're not well organised, you can be in trouble."

While Hector Bellerin penned a fresh contract last week, it is new deals for Sanchez and Mesut Ozil which Arsenal fans are waiting on.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott in action with Bournemouth's Brad Smith. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Arsenal's Theo Walcott in action with Bournemouth's Brad Smith. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

Asked about contract discussions with the Chile forward, the Arsenal boss said: "It is important. How important it is, I don't know. We will not sort it tonight. We have some time in front of us."

There was one low point for Arsenal as Mathieu Debuchy managed just 15 minutes on his comeback game before being forced off with a hamstring problem.

The France international last started for Arsenal 370 days ago and was a surprise name on Wenger's teamsheet, with Carl Jenkinson having filled in for the injured Bellerin of late.

And Debuchy, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Bordeaux having attracted the attention of Manchester United, told Wenger that he thinks it could be a serious injury.

Arsenal made seven changes from the draw with Paris Saint-Germain, the most eye-catching inclusion being that of Debuchy. Olivier Giroud was still not entrusted with a first league start of the season, despite scoring his two goals in his last two games.

Bournemouth have often been likened to their hosts - stylistically at least - but Eddie Howe's side spent the early exchanges proving they can do that most 'un-Arsenal' of things and play rough.

Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were brought crashing to the turf by reckless challenges from Steve Cook and Simon Francis respectively. Both defenders were booked.

If this early show of force was meant to frazzle Arsenal, it not only failed but backfired. Cook, the blood still rushing through his brain, soon misplaced a back-pass into Sanchez's path, playing the man he had felled earlier through on goal.

Bournemouth goalkeeper Adam Federici could do nothing to stop the Chilean from applying a simple finish past him.

From there on, it was supposed to be so easy. A dominant display and a routine three points were expected.

Even Debuchy began backheeling passes until he departed injured after a quarter of an hour, replaced by Gabriel.

Perhaps the out-of-practice full-back was holding it all together, because soon after he left the field, it suddenly fell apart.

For the first time in the history of the Premier League, Arsenal conceded a penalty for the second consecutive home game when Monreal was harshly adjudged to have fouled Wilson, who like Harry Kane here three weeks ago, scored from the spot to bring Bournemouth level.

Few crowds can turn on their team with as much venom as the Emirates, but referee Mike Jones was taking up all their attention.

Had they focused on their own players over the next 15 minutes, they would have begun to notice that a team with title aspirations were being comfortably out-passed and out-played by one content with just staying in the division.

Bournemouth threatened to make this dominance count. Adam Smith should have scored with a free header from a few yards out and then his namesake Brad was denied by Petr Cech.

Wilted

Arsenal had wilted and only the invention of Sanchez, who struck the bar moments before the half-time whistle, looked like pulling them out of a rut.

The interval, however, allowed Wenger's charges to regroup and, having now seen off Bournemouth's best spell, they re-asserted themselves and soon regained the lead.

Monreal delivered a splendid first-time cross to the far post and Walcott made no mistake when invited to head the ball home.

Normal service resumed, but the game's needle remained. Sanchez, the game's stand-out player, could have easily received his marching orders for a late and dangerous tackle on Harry Arter, and there was another penalty call against Monreal, this time for handball.

This time, Jones waved appeals away and there was no Bournemouth comeback. Their final clear-cut chance was their best, but after receiving the ball from a flicked-on corner, substitute and former Arsenal youth player Benik Afobe could only shoot directly at Cech from a couple of yards out.

Then came the coup de grace. As stoppage-time began, Arsenal countered through Giroud, who showed an athleticism that he is not usually credited for.

After a couple of sharp passes with Ozil, he dashed for the byline, outpaced the jaded blue shirts around him and squared the ball to Sanchez, who applied the finishing touch. (© Independent News Service)

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