Saturday 25 March 2017

Electric Sanchez on the double as Arsenal return to winning ways

Arsenal 3 Bournemouth 1

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday November 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Arsenal. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday November 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER Arsenal. Photo credit should read: John Walton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications

Mark Critchley

After a week in which Arsene Wenger insisted there was “no reason to panic”, there were brief moments where his Arsenal side looked close to meltdown on Sunday. Yet what will please him more than anything from this victory over a spirited Bournemouth is that his players were tested, they were troubled, and they ended a bitty and scrappy affair in the ascendancy.

When Callum Wilson cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s opener from the penalty spot, after a contentious foul by Nacho Monreal, a fourth consecutive draw and more ground lost in the title race seemed a distinct possibility. Yet a second-half turn around, inspired by Sanchez, may now restore the momentum that Wenger had feared was lost.

Arsenal made seven changes from the draw with Paris Saint-Germain, the most eye-catching inclusion being that of Mathieu Debuchy, whose last appearance for the club came a year ago last Thursday. Olivier Giroud was still not entrusted with a first league start of the season, despite scoring his two goals in the Gunners’ last two games.

Eddie Howe’s outfit have often been likened to their hosts, stylistically at least, but Bournemouth spent the early exchanges proving they can do that most ‘un-Arsenal’ of things and play rough. Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were each 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, had soon misplaced a back pass into Sanchez’s path, playing the man he had previously felled through on goal. Adam Federici, Bournemouth’s ‘keeper, could do nothing to stop the Chilean from applying a simple finish past him.

From then on, it was supposed to be so easy. A dominant display, a perfectly normal three points was expected. Even Debuchy was attempting backheeled passes until he predictably 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 departed, 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 as Nacho Monreal found sufficient force in his wiry frame to knock Wilson down in the box. A ‘soft’ call, maybe, but undoubtedly a silly foul. Wilson, like Harry Kane here three weeks ago, converted. Bournemouth were level.

Few crowds can turn on their team with as much venom as the Emirates, but for the moment, the referee Mike Jones was taking up all their attention. Had they focused on their own players over the next fifteen minutes, they would have begun to notice a team with aspirations of the title being comfortably out-passed and out-played by one content with staying in the division.

Bournemouth threatened to make their dominance count. Adam Smith, operating on Bournemouth’s right wing, should have scored but miscued a free header from a few yards out. His namesake and teammate Brad was denied by Petr Cech at the near post shortly after. Arsenal had wilted, and only the invention of Sanchez, who struck the bar moments before the break, looked like pulling them out of a rut.

Half-time, however, allowed Wenger’s side to regroup and, having now seen off Bournemouth’s best spell, they reasserted themselves. All bar one of the Cherries’ players were crowded in the box before the hosts went back in front but none could stop Monreal from making amends for conceding the earlier penalty. The Spaniard’s splendid first-time cross found Theo Walcott at the far post, who made no mistake when invited to head home.

Normal service resumed, and though there was another penalty call against Monreal for a contentious yet probably accidental handball, there was no Bournemouth comeback this time. The final clear-cut chance they had was the best of the game, 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 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 for Sanchez. The Chilean calmly tapped in and secured an important three points that had, at one point, looked remote.

(© Independent News Service)

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