Ozil bewitches Bournemouth as Gunners hit back to go top
Arsenal 2 Bournemouth 0
by definition, it was a bounce-back time here, an evening when by increments the malaise that gripped them at Southampton lifted to allow the Arsenal of such vivid colours to sign off 2015 with temporary ownership of the Premier League summit.
Who knows how this victory will impact on Arsenal since none foresaw the lamentable collapse at St Mary's.
Arsene Wenger makes great play of his team's capacity for responding to disappointment. While the point is well made in the round, in his case it becomes something of a sleight of hand to disguise the unacceptable collapses.
He might have had use of it yesterday had the game progressed as it began. For half an hour Bournemouth encountered the Arsenal that sank so miserably on St Stephen's Day. Then out came the kaleidoscope, triggered by a Gabriel header from a corner, his first goal for the club and a gift at this level.
Mesut Ozil, in particular, operated in a dimension utterly beyond the visitors, for whom it was another lesson learned.
So organised and composed in the opening exchanges they left dizzied by the pace and patterns inscribed by Ozil, and blanked by the bucket hands of Petr Cech, who marked the occasion with his 170th Premier League clean sheet, relieving David James of the record.
"We struggled at the start. We had to swallow the 4-0. It was a big disappointment," Wenger said. "You can't go through the season without one so it's how you respond. For the last 70 minutes we were in control and did very well."
Ozil proved unanswerable, pivotal in the build-up that led to the decisive corner and the choreographer behind his own arresting second.
Wenger purred his appreciation. "Mesut was the focal point of our game. I have a seen a few good games for him. What is important is that he convinces everybody not only that he is a talented player but one who is prepared to work very hard.
"He has added the ability to score goals to his assists and is now the complete player, an exceptional player. You have to give me credit for defending that point of view, which I have done consistently. He has remarkable technical quality and the timing of his passes are exceptional."
Wenger's opposite number, Eddie Howe, is also an admirer, however painful the spectacle when viewed from the opponent's technical area.
"Ozil is a difficult man to mark. I didn't enjoy watching him but from a football perspective you have to admire his standard," Howe said.
"Arsenal are a top side and he is an exceptional player. There is always a plan but sometimes you have to just admire the opposition.
"We couldn't get our organisation right, particularly from set plays and could not cope with their movement. They are a very good side and could well be champions."
Howe does himself a disservice. In the week when Arsenal mourned the passing of Don Howe, who played for, coached and managed the club, it was fitting that another of that name should continue to lay down his teaching credentials so impressively.
Howe was a proper, old football name from an era of endless Dons, Rons, Billies and Bobbies.
Among his many accomplishments, Howe coached Arsenal to their first European trophy, the 1970 Fairs Cup, and to the League and FA Cup double the following year.
He would have appreciated the work of Eddie, whose players looked like defenders without the ball and attackers with it during that bright opening.
That is not as straightforward a coaching achievement as it might sound, and had the effect for a while at least of erasing any talent deficit.
Pity they fell asleep at set-pieces, Charlie Daniels the guilty party allowing Gabriel to gain a yard and plant a firm header in the roof of the net.
Hitherto insipid, Arsenal awoke. In the space of five beautiful minutes Ozil fed Theo Walcott with two sumptuous passes, creating danger with each. From the first Per Mertesacker should have scored when the ball rebounded off a post on to his head, and from the second Artur Boruc denied Walcott.
Having been grateful to reach the break just one adrift, Bournemouth might have been level immediately after the restart when Joshua King found himself in acres down the right.
Unused to so much space and time he just could not fathom the appropriate response and dithered his way to a lame cross easily blocked by Gabriel.
Ozil embellished his display with another expression of brilliance. Olivier Giroud played a flicked one-two with Ozil, who gave it the finish it deserved.
Arsenal could have added to their plunder, crafting a number of stunning late raids.
Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain combined thrillingly only for the latter's shot to deflect wide of goal off a befuddled defender.
And in added time Ozil burst clear again down the left feeding Walcott with another precision delivery, this time with his left foot.
A heavy touch cost Arsenal the chance to embroider the scoreline, and spared Bournemouth from the rout it might easily have been. (© Independent News Service)