Ozil fires superb volley as goal-shy Gunners rediscover title spark
Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30
Arsenal might already have missed a golden opportunity this season to seize the Premier League title race by the scruff of the neck but they are at least still doggedly clinging to the coattails of Leicester City.
A gap that had risen ominously to eight points can now be slashed back to just two should Arsene Wenger's team prevail against Leicester at the Emirates next Sunday in a fixture that feels increasingly pivotal to the final outcome of this most unpredictable season.
The mind games have perhaps also already started, with Wenger last night following up his observation that Leicester were "under pressure" with the repeated claim that Claudio Ranieri's team are now title favourites.
"In one week, Leicester have beaten Liverpool and Manchester City," said Wenger. "That suddenly means they become the favourite in this league.
"There's still a very long way to go. I agree that Leicester now is the favourite but we have a big game at home now against them and I believe we have enough quality and nerves to deal with that."
The questions that were mounting above Arsenal over recent weeks had certainly related more to their collective nerve than quality.
They had gone four games without winning before yesterday and, having also waited 328 minutes for a Premier League goal, they settled this game by striking twice in a sudden 88-second period of the first half.
Mesut Ozil emphatically finished the first with something of a collector's item on his right foot before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered an even rarer finish to end what had been 17-month wait for a Premier League goal.
Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud were also hugely instrumental in Arsenal establishing their decisive two-goal ascendancy although they could easily have been reduced to 10 men even before the match had settled into any rhythm.
Only eight minutes had passed when the ball rolled in front of Mathieu Flamini and, while he did reach it before Dan Gosling, the studs-up, two-footed nature of his lunge would surely have resulted in a red rather than yellow card from a more officious referee than Kevin Friend.
Eddie Howe was right to assert that Friend's decision altered the entire complexion of the match but he did also acknowledge Arsenal's early dominance.
It had been a slight surprise to see Flamini starting at all rather than the newly available Francis Coquelin in the holding midfield position but he has developed a decent understanding with Ramsey and Arsenal did soon establish their ascendancy.
Giroud was again underlining his all-round worth as the main central striker by dropping deep to link Arsenal's attacks and allow the various attacking midfield runners to break into space.
A ball forward by Ramsey was cleverly dummied by Giroud, only for Alexis Sanchez to aim an excellent chance high and wide.
Ramsey then played another precise pass in the direction of Giroud, who attracted the attention of two Bournemouth defenders before showing outstanding vision even as he leapt into the air to deftly cushioned his header back for Ozil (below) to volley a fierce shot past Artur Boruc.
Within 90 seconds of the restart, the score was 2-0 and the match effectively over. Steve Cook lost possession just outside his own penalty area, with Ramsey pouncing to release Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right and he vindicated a rare Premier League start with his first away goal for Arsenal.
Bournemouth have already been overwhelmed this season by Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur but damage limitation remains utterly alien to their mindset and they subsequently underlined their progress this season by then taking the game to Arsenal.
True, the threat to Petr Cech's goal was only occasional but, by the final whistle, Bournemouth had collectively forced three outstanding saves for his 12th clean sheet of the season.
Harry Arter went closest of all in the first-half, prompting a brilliant one-handed moment of acrobatics from a dipping shot before Marc Pugh and Adam Smith threatened.
Cech was also required to make a superb double-save when Cook drilled Joshua King's pull-back through a crowded penalty area and then Arter shot to his near-post on the follow-up.