Thursday, December 7, 2023

Bournemouth 0-4 Arsenal: Havertz has his moment

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Arsenal’s solid and unbeaten start to the season continued with a 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium yesterday.

Despite pre-match concerns over injuries, Declan Rice, William Saliba and Bukayo Saka all started, and it was the latter who put us ahead in the 17th minute. Eddie Nketiah drove through the opposition midfield well, Saka found Martin Odegaard whose cross to the back post was headed off the wordwork by Gabriel Jesus. Saka was there to nod home the rebound to make it 1-0.

Not long before the break, we had a penalty when Nketiah was taken down in the box after a nice pass from Zinchenko – it looked as if Saka was going to take it, instead he handed the ball to his captain who sent Neto the wrong way as he rolled the ball inside the post for 2-0. The home side offered little, in part because of how organised and disciplined we were, but also they were just very poor. At times, you can sort of see what Andoni Iraola is trying to do, but unless it’s done to perfection, it suits a team like Arsenal.

Of course, a manager can do as much work as he likes on the training ground, but he can’t legislate for players making daft tackles. How Ryan Christie had the nerve to complain when he slid in on Odegaard I’ll never know. It was a stonewall penalty, and I was wondering whether the captain would step up again or let Saka have a go this time. He seemed to consult with Gabriel Jesus, and then handed the ball to Kai Havertz.

Everyone understands the German has struggled to make an impact from an attacking perspective, and he badly needed a goal, something to ease some of that burden. With that came some genuine pressure though. What if he missed? A potential 3-0 remains 2-0, and then it might be 2-1 if they grab a goal and then the game changes and what if something else happens at the back and they get another one and it’s all your fault etc etc. So, while a penalty against Bournemouth at 2-0 isn’t quite like the final one in a world cup final or anything, it was a big moment for him.

And he delivered, tucking the spot kick away very well. He did score one in the Community Shield too, and both penalties he’s put away have been done so with a conviction that is perhaps missing from other aspects of his play. You could see how much it meant to him, and to his teammates. I think discussion of players is par for the course in football, but the fact senior players trusted him with it says something too.

Declan Rice was chuffed for him, and speaking afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:

I am really happy for the win but even happier to be part of something, part of a team that shows the human qualities that they have shown today, without me telling them absolutely nothing to show that and that empathy towards a player that has some question marks to resolve externally, they won me even more today, they’ve done in a really natural way, I am delighted they have made that decision, I’m so thankful to our supporters the way they sang his name, have made him feel in the way he has felt today and if there’s a person in a dressing room that deserve that, it’s Kai Havertz. So happy for him.

Immediately after the goal, the away fans – who were in incredible voice all day yesterday – started singing a Kai Havertz song and didn’t stop for ages. Hopefully the goal, the response, the support, all of it helps – because for me it boils down to this: if Kai Havertz does well, then it increases Arsenal’s chances of doing well. There’s still plenty to do, but this felt very much like a step in the right direction – and beyond that, just a really lovely moment for him and this group of players.

That was certainly that in terms of the result. There was nothing from the home side, and Arteta made changes, with Reiss Nelson and Takehiro Tomiyasu coming on. Fabio Vieira then replaced Saka who took a kick when blocking a shot and looked in some discomfort. Perhaps it’s a change that could have been made earlier with the result more or less in the bag, but hopefully he’s ok.

Emile Smith Rowe came on and looked encouragingly dangerous, forcing Neto into two very good saves in the final stages, before Ben White put the icing on the cake with a fourth goal – heading home from an Odegaard free kick. All in all, a well deserved win, and another clean sheet on the road. We’ve yet to concede a goal away from home this season, something Arteta touched on afterwards:

It’s a huge one, to win games in this league, keeping clean sheets for us is going to be crucial and away from home is probably even bigger and the challenge is now can we take that into the Emirates as well and be consistent.

With Man City next up, that would be a very good time to start a similar kind of run at home. Their defeat to Wolves yesterday was obviously very welcome, fair play to The Korean Guy for putting the nail in their coffin, Guardiola’s disrespect came back to bite him there. United lost as well, which is always fun, but the big story from yesterday is more shambolic officiating and an explanation that doesn’t sound at all convincing to me.

I’ll probably talk about it a bit more on tomorrow’s blog, but since Howard Webb took charge, standards have dropped. Incredible really, imagine being worse than Mike Riley. Yet another meaningless apology will do nothing for Liverpool, and it led to a jammy winner for that lot, so it’s particularly annoying. Anyway, no doubt there’ll be plenty more to come on that.

For now, we can relax a bit after a good win, and tomorrow we look ahead to Champions League action on Tuesday.

Have a great Sunday folks.

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