Unai Emery played a back five against a smaller side at home and it worked as the Gunners smashed five goals past Bournemouth. Perhaps, like the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having in this part of the world lately, it’s another sign of the impending apocalypse, but dammit it was fun.
There was a recall for Carl Jenkinson, his first Premier League start since 2016, and a host of other changes from the team that beat Southampton – not least of which was the return of Mesut Ozil to the starting line-up. The German opened the scoring in the 4th minute, sent through by Sead Kolasinac, and he produced another one of those finishes where he chops the ball into the ground to pop it up and over the keeper.
I genuinely don’t know how he does it, it’s so difficult but he makes it looks as easy as pie. I do think he was helped a bit by Artur Boruc’s tame attempt at a save, but it was worthy of a goal on artistic merit alone. Ozil then turned provider for Henrikh Mkhitaryan who took advantage of a slack pass at the back, traded passes with the number 10 and finished with aplomb. The weight of the ball to him made it an easier chance, but he still took it well.
Bournemouth had shown it wasn’t going to be all one way traffic though. After the poor start Eddie Howe changed formation and his side were much more in the game. Bernd Leno had to make a great save and Laurent Koscielny produced a fully committed block to stop the rebound. The Frenchman was superb again at the back, you just wish we had a way of making him five years younger – or even keeping him exactly where he is now. Any artists out there want to paint a portrait of him?! He could be our footballing Dorian Gray. That ends well, right?
They did get one back when Matteo Guendouzi was caught in possession on the edge of our box. It’s a move he tries often, to protect the ball and look for the referee to award a free kick. This time the official deemed there was no foul and Mousset had the simple task of rolling the ball home. It was careless, no question, but at 19 he’s still got a lot to learn, and learning a valuable lesson in a game we win 5-1 is not the worst thing in the world – once he learns it. To be fair to him, he didn’t let his head go down, played very well in the second half, and that’s a really positive sign.
Half-time came and went, and much like in the first half an early goal put us back into a comfortable lead. We took a free kick badly, but then worked it to Mkhitaryan whose cross from the right was put home by Koscielny. There was a little confusion at first as to who had scored because Boruc scooped it away and Aubameyang made sure, but replays showed it had clearly crossed the line for the captain’s third goal of the season.
Then my favourite goal of the night. Mkhitaryan picked the ball up deep in our half, drove forward with real purpose and released Aubameyang whose run was perfectly timed to see him get in behind. He rounded the keeper and rolled the ball home, and it all looked so simple but it was devastating effective counter-attacking football. I find the Armenian a bit frustrating at times, but he was absolutely superb last night. He’s got two goals and three assists in his last two games, and we look better and more purposeful with him in the team.
Emery made changes, bringing on Iwobi and Lacazette for Kolasinac and Aubameyang, and gave Denis Suarez some minutes when he replaced Mkhitaryan. The fifth goal came late, Torreira was on the receiving end of a nasty foul just outside their box, and Lacazette displayed a new string to his bow by curling the free kick beautifully over the wall to make it 5-1. I did not know he had that in his locker, so it was both a lovely goal and a nice surprise.
Overall, it was comfortable, emphatic in the end in terms of the scoreline, and even a late scare over Koscielny who looked like he picked up a nasty injury but thankfully just took some painful studs to the knee, couldn’t spoil the night. Afterwards, Emery spoke once again about the need to rotate his squad and for tactical flexibility:
We are happy and the most important is that we are playing with different players in different matches, and the performances are continuing well in these matches, and different systems also. We need to use different players, different systems, as each match is different and it is good for this moment, and this moment is coming this week and this month.
Inevitably he was asked of Ozil’s excellent performance might see him start in the derby on Saturday, to which he replied:
I am going to watch this match for the analysis and I am going to watch Tottenham and after decide our game-plan against them with every player. We need the players in the first 11 and on the bench, and we need a big commitment from every player to help us.
I’m not sure he will, playing 90 minutes last night is probably a sign that he’s going to be on the bench against Sp*rs, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone anyway. It’s not a situation that has to be set in stone, but if Ozil can do what he did last night in games against similar calibre of opposition it will go a long way between now and May.
Once the derby and the Man Utd games are out of the way, we have the kind of run-in in which Ozil can make a significant impact, and when you consider how difficult things have been lately, his presence in the team again and his performance last night was a real positive. I don’t think it’s been an easy situation for anyone, Ozil or Emery, but as we’ve said all along, the most important factor in this is Arsenal, so it was great to see things moving in the right direction.
Last night’s win was fun, but also hugely important as United beat Palace and Chelsea bounced back from their recent troubles with a 2-0 win over Sp*rs. Those points are vital in the chase for the top four, and the boost to our goal difference is very welcome too. A win on Saturday would close the gap on the old enemy to a single point, and if that doesn’t crank up our motivation and put a bit more pressure on a team that’s going through a fallow period of form right now then I don’t know what will.
The last three games have built up some nice momentum going into the derby and, not only that, we’ve seen some good attacking football too. Lots of our victories this season have come with the caveat that result is more important than performance, which is not unreasonable, but the fact we’ve combined both in the last couple of games is encouraging, and hopefully a good sign as we head into this crucial final part of the season.
Right, we’ll have more reaction over on Arseblog News throughout the day, back tomorrow with more on the derby and a brand new Arsecast.