Football Features

Bournemouth 1-1 Arsenal: Arteta endures ‘darkest of nights’ as Gunners wait for new dawn to break

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:09, 26 December 2019

In an end-to-end afternoon of football, Arsenal and Bournemouth played out a 1-1 draw at the Vitality Stadium.

The game was a mixed bag for Arsenal who played well, showed some familiar frailties and failed to get the result they wanted. Here we have a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Mikel Arteta’s managerial debut:

The Good: attacking ideas

Arsenal have been such a stagnant side for the last couple months. At the start of the season they looked a potent attacking outfit that couldn’t defend, but of late even their ability to score goals vanished. That is what has precipitated their slide down the table and it’s the one thing the Gunners brass will have wanted Arteta to address.

And good news, he has! Arsenal looked much brighter in attack than they have in forever. Yes, the execution was definitely lacking as they spluttered and fluffed their lines on more than one occasion (on another day Alexandre Lacazette could have had a hat-trick) but the way the side all knew what they were doing and played with thrust and verve was so encouraging.

Mesut Ozil was allowed to drift between the lines and cause havoc feeding the fantastic movement of the forwards ahead of him, meanwhile Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reiss Nelson out wide were constantly driving the ball forward at the Bournemouth back-line. Nelson in particular was an absolute livewire and showed immense promise.

In midfield Granit Xhaka was threading passes between the lines with the kind of prototypical Xhaka accuracy and it was beautiful to see. Moreover, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was able to come inside and play in an underlapping kind of role echoing how Kyle Walker has been used at Manchester City (and perhaps the best position for Maitland-Niles’ unique skill-set). The pieces of a gorgeous jigsaw puzzle are there, they just need to be put together in the right way.

The Bad: defensive weakness

Of course, Arsenal’s biggest problem has long been their defence. And whilst Arteta seems to have addressed the midfield’s defensive structure by very clearly pairing Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, giving the Uruguayan a holding role to ensure Arsenal don’t get gutted up the middle as they so often have been, that couldn’t address the overall defensive weakness.

Part of this weakness, in fact most of it, comes from having a lot of defenders that aren’t very good at defending. Or at least aren’t consistent with it. Bukayo Saka is a winger, Maitland-Niles is a midfielder and Sokratis and David Luiz are both error-prone defenders whose weaknesses are the same and whose strengths can’t cover for them. So Bournemouth cut them open on more than one occasion and it took a fantastic display from Bernd Leno to keep the Cherries out and ensure Arsenal escaped the south coast with a point.

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The Ugly: the short-term future

Mikel Arteta clearly has some bright ideas and his ability to communicate them instantly, at least in terms of attack, cannot be denied. And it’s easy to see how he could be a success over the long-term. But in the short-term? Things are going to take a while to get into the groove.

The sloppy finishing against a side as weak as Bournemouth today showed that even the attack needs more time to get going. Arsenal aren’t going to magically become a great side overnight, Arteta will need patience from fans and owners alike as he tries to overhaul the defence and override a decade of negligence that has allowed a loser mentality to permeate the very fabric of Arsenal Football Club.

There will be bigger, tougher games coming and those sides will punish the Gunners as they try to work out the kinks. They say the night is darkest before the dawn, and a dawn is coming so get ready for things to get pretty dark.