Football Features

Arteta’s young guns bruise Bournemouth: Winners and losers as Arsenal seal FA Cup progression

By Ben Green

Published: 22:20, 27 January 2020 | Updated: 12:52, 25 February 2020

Arsenal have progressed to the FA Cup fifth-round after easing past Bournemouth 2-1 despite a late scare from the Cherries.

The visitors ran riot in the first half with Mikel Arteta’s young side dominating proceedings and entering the interval two goals to the good courtesy of academy duo Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah.

Bournemouth came out with more urgency after the restart but were unable to pose a consistent threat to really trouble the Arsenal goal, with Sam Surridge’s 94th-minute finish proving only to be a consolation.

It was a pulsating affair at the Vitality Stadium with Arsenal booking their ticket to face Portsmouth in the next round, but who were the winners and losers tonight?

Winner: Joe Willock

With all the uncertainty surrounding Dani Ceballos’ future at Arsenal, tonight looked the perfect opportunity for Arteta to give the Spaniard a starting berth in place of Mesut Ozil, who was put on ice for this fixture. Instead the Arsenal boss shunned his compatriot in favour of academy prodigy Joe Willock, and the decision proved inspired.

The 20-year-old took up Ozil’s habitual No. 10 role and he looked very comfortable playing between the lines. He consistently found ample room to slalom forward and link up with his attacking teammates. At times there were stark similarities to a young Ozil in his heyday, with Willock effortlessly gliding past the Bournemouth midfield and finding the right ball at the right time.

His first was a brilliant swivel past Dan Gosling before teeing up Gabriel Martinelli, who found Saka for the opener; while his second contribution saw him spread the ball out wide to the goalscorer, who turned provider to set up Nketiah. Two excellent pieces of playmaker mastery.

If this was a chance for Willock to prove his standing in the pecking order ahead of Ceballos, then he certainly done his chances of more significant playing time no harm at all. A complete performance from a player who proved brilliant at identifying penetrative passes, but also adaptable as Arteta switched him out wide in the closing stages.   

Loser: Dominic Solanke

Unable to build on his first Bournemouth goal in the previous round against Luton, Dominic Solanke fired another blank this evening, extending his record to just the single strike in 25 appearances across all competitions for the Cherries this season.

With Callum Wilson struggling to find his prolific scoring touch this campaign, Eddie Howe would have been hoping that his other striker options could step up to the plate and remedy the club’s shortcomings in front of goal, but Solanke has been unable to provide the requisite goods in the final third.

As such, Bournemouth have exited this competition without really putting up a significant fight, while they also find themselves languishing nervously in relegation mire in the Premier League. It will be a gruelling second half of the season, particularly if Solanke continues to put in performances of the calibre he produced tonight.

The England international failed to register a single shot and never really managed to stamp his authority on proceedings.  

Winner: Bukayo Saka

The teenage whizz-kid started the match as an auxiliary left-back but broke the deadlock in the opening exchanges with a gobsmacking goal, latching onto Martinelli’s deft lay-off before walloping the ball past a hapless Mark Travers. Moments later he was at it again, only this time breaking defensive lines on the byline before delivering a crisp, delicate cross to Nketiah.

Despite being just 18, the Londoner possesses a maturity and grace that has seen him rise to prominence this term. This performance was another case in point. The fact that Unai Emery and now Arteta have been able to trust Saka, who is nominally a winger, in an unnatural position says a lot about his unwavering mentality. The set-up with Granit Xhaka dropping deep to cover Saka when he charged forward proved the optimal method to accentuate the youngster’s game.

With Arsenal hindered by injury problems at left-back and talks surrounding Layvin Kurzawa somewhat relaxing in recent days, Saka provided Arteta an assurance this evening that he is more than capable of stepping up and, not only providing cover when Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac return, but perhaps offering the defensive duo direct competition.    

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Loser: Eddie Howe

Howe cannot be faulted for his team selection. He went with a strong starting XI, and given the circumstances in which Bournemouth currently find themselves in, it was commendable to field so many first-team players, but other than a few fleeting moments in the second half, the Cherries largely rolled over this evening.

In the first 45 minutes the visitors were completely dominant, but then, Bournemouth allowed them to be. Arsenal had freedom to zip passes across the pitch without any real pressure being exerting on them. At times it felt as though Arsenal were executing a rondo training routine with a statue positioned in the middle, such was the static nature of the hosts in the opening exchanges.

The 42-year-old can take credit for instilling a more enthusiast mentality after the half-time break, but it was never really enough to cause the Arsenal backline a consistent problem, and the north London outfit ultimately cantered to a convincing midweek win despite the late scare.

Winner: Gabriel Martinelli

There were a number of young Arsenal players who flourished this evening, but Martinelli deserves huge credit for once again leaving his imprint on proceedings during his time on the turf. The Brazilian teenager took just five minutes to pick up from where he left off against Chelsea, collecting the ball deep in opposition territory before delicately teeing up Saka for the opening goal.

It means Martinelli has now been directly involved in 12 Arsenal goals during his last 12 starts for the club and his £6m price tag is looking more and more like a transfer masterstroke from the club’s shrewd scouting network.

This evening once again illustrated Martinelli’s Selecao silk; he possesses all the attributes of an archetypal Brazilian attacker and could transform Arsenal’s frontline if developed accordingly. Under Arteta’s tutelage, that may very well be the case.