Down three nil Arsenal came back to earn a three all draw with Bournemouth. The drops my guys to fifth place with 41 points.
The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace wrote: “If you could take the second decade of Arsène Wenger’s 20 years in charge of Arsenal and compress it into 96 extremely entertaining minutes of football then perhaps this was the game: right to the brink of catastrophe, salvation snatched in thrilling style and then everyone left wondering whether it was enough.
The second decade of Wenger has been, for the large part the avoidance of the big disasters while failing to hit the heights that might have seemed possible at one time or another. Thus it was on a cold night on the south coast when the away support, at 3-0 down, sang “this is embarrassing” to their players and by the end were joyfully celebrating Olivier Giroud’s 92nd-minute equaliser.
As he celebrated amid these scenes of delight, Giroud mimed the execution of the back-heeled goal he scored against Crystal Palace on Sunday. You could see why he was so happy but given that the score was only 3-3 against 10 men and Arsenal consider themselves to be still in the title race, you might wonder why they were not more concerned with chasing the winning goal.
It was a comeback inspired by Alexis Sànchez, who scored the first and had looked like Arsenal’s best source of resistance throughout the evening. It was compelling stuff and the performance certainly said something about the spirit of this Arsenal team but it also posed the question as to whether they are stuck on that wheel of hope, and then hope extinguished, that has been the story of their past 10 years in the league.
If Antonio Conte’s Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday night then the league leaders will have an 11-point advantage on fourth-placed Arsenal.
Conte’s team have so far set the standard in this title race and Arsenal have won just two of their past five games.
Wenger blamed the fatigue of two games in three days and complained that it would only have been acceptable if Bournemouth had been subject to the same schedule. He lost Laurent Koscielny to the cramps, Francis Coquelin to a hamstring injury and Héctor Bellerín, who was barely fit to play, was led a merry dance by the Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser, before Arsenal came roaring back.
Eddie Howe rightly acknowledged the spirit of the Arsenal players, but Bournemouth were dealt a harsh hand. At 3-2 up, with eight minutes to play, the referee Michael Oliver dismissed the home side’s captain Simon Francis for a foul on Aaron Ramsey that did not immediately strike one as a red-card offence.
The first half belonged to Bournemouth, who were magnificent for their two-goal lead at the break and added a third with almost an hour played when Fraser, fleet of foot and hunched of shoulder, barged over Bellerín and beat Petr Cech at his near post.
Fraser, the 22-year-old from Aberdeen who scored in the win over Liverpool, had a fine game, winning the penalty in the first half that Callum Wilson converted for Bournemouth’s second goal and making a general nuisance of himself. The front four of Bournemouth, also comprising Josh King and Junior Stanislas were all excellent. Howe conceded that his team lost something when King and Fraser were forced to come off.
et even without Jack Wilshere, ineligible by the terms of his loan deal, and Benik Afobe, who was awaiting clearance from DR Congo to miss the African Nations, Bournemouth still set a remorselessly high standard in the first half. Harry Arter and Dan Gosling gave Arsenal’s midfield no space to breathe.
Charlie Daniels scored the opening goal within 16 minutes. The 30-year-old left-back, a late blooming Premier League footballer, took a step inside Bellerín and dispatched the ball inside Cech’s near post after Stanislas’s searching pass from the right. Bournemouth had pressed Arsenal all over the pitch and it was not long before they were two goals ahead after Granit Xhaka unwisely pushed over Fraser in the left channel of the penalty area. Wilson sent Cech the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had replaced Coquelin and was a key part of Arsenal’s revival. Wenger started with Ramsey in the No 10 role, then moved Alex Iwobi there and eventually substituted him to bring on Lucas Pérez.
Even before Fraser scored Bournemouth’s third, Arter had a goal disallowed after Wilson was judged to have handled his shot. Sànchez scored Arsenal’s first at the back post after Giroud had headed on Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross. Arsenal’s second goal, a Pérez volley from Giroud’s flick, was described as “exceptional” by his manager.
Then came a miss by Gosling on 82 minutes just before the red card for Francis and suddenly Arsenal were chasing down a team with just 10 men and, at 3-2, belief ebbing quickly. Francis’s challenge trapped Ramsey’s legs rather than impacted on the Arsenal player but it was probably the sight of two feet off the ground that convinced Oliver to dismiss the Bournemouth captain.
In the aftermath, Bournemouth fell back and invited the direct approach from Arsenal. Giroud had already assisted both goals before he flicked a header out of Artur Boruc’s reach to salvage a point for Arsenal. They might have thought they could have gone on to win it but Bournemouth had the best late chance, which Cech saved well from Arter to preserve a hard-won point for Arsenal, or two dropped, depending on how you look at it.