Big fish versus little fish in this post-Boxing Day fixture. After their humiliating loss to Southampton, Arsenal will look to restart their run of good form whilst Bournemouth aim to be giant-killers once again. Having done in struggling Manchester United two weeks ago, the Cherries are hungry for top-level competition. But Arsenal, lost in excruciating fashion against Southampton, are eager to prove their place at the top. Having done so at the Emirates against Manchester City last week, the Gunners will surely be entering this match with a chip on their shoulders. But Bournemouth look to be turning their season around, and in a league like this, anything’s bound to come off for the underdogs.
Both teams are injury ridden – a painful realization for any side. When looking at either squad, one would normally default to Bournemouth being the worse off. But amidst late season injuries as well as losing some key signings early in the season, Bournemouth’s form has picked up as the season has gone on. Eddie Howe has dealt well with his depleted squad.
Surely out for the clash are record signings Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel, two promising improvements to a side that hasn’t really had the chance to use them. In two weeks, the Cherries have lost both scorers against Manchester United – Josh King and Junior Stanislas. While attacking midfielder Lee Tomlin will look to return against the Gunners, loanee Christian Atsu and Tommy Elphick will remain out of the side until early January. Callum Wilson, of course, has been out for quite some time.
Arsenal are missing depth, as well as a few key starters. One of those starters, as can probably be guessed, is racing to get back on the pitch with reckless abandon: Alexis Sanchez. The prolific Chilean isn’t due back until early January, but don’t be surprised if Wenger buckles again and allows Sanchez back on the pitch as a late substitution. Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin are still at least a month away as well.
Among the others missing from the Arsenal bench are perpetually-injured Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta, the latter of whom might make a return. Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck won’t be seeing the pitch, or the bench for that matter, for at least another month.
As is the case with many Premier League mainstays, Arsenal and Bournemouth have never met in competition before. However, thus far this season, Arsenal have taken four points from six against promoted sides. Since the beginning of last season, the Gunners have taken 20 points from an available 24. The London side has also knocked in at least two goals in their last four matches in all competitions.
Bournemouth’s recent history is storied, and the Cherries’ fortune against top competition has begun to turn around. After losing to Liverpool, Manchester City, and in-form Tottenham with an accumulated 11-2 goal record, Bournemouth have put down Chelsea and Manchester United in the month of December alone.
Arsenal: Mesut Ozil
If there’s any praise left for this particular player, you’d struggle to find it. The German international has been a sensation this season, and against an up-and-coming Bournemouth side he’ll need to be top-notch once again. Without love-buddy Alexis Sanchez in the mix, Ozil’s relationship with Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott will need to continue improving. This match is no exception. Arsenal fans will surely consider this fixture a “quick and easy” match, but without the electricity that is Ozil’s creativity, the attack might lack the spark to take down a Bournemouth side that surely will sit deeper away from home.
Bournemouth: Andrew Surman
Unnoticed and unattractive in his play, Andrew Surman has been one of the most consistent players in the Bournemouth side. While Matt Ritchie continues to impress in the attack, the distribution of Andrew Surman in the holding midfield role will be key when the Cherries have possession of the ball. A steady head under pressure, the defensive player will have his hands full with the technical skill and ball retention of the Arsenal midfield. But a compact back line and a little aggression might see Surman emerge as a potential for man of the match once the full 90 have been played.
Though hope and passion are always apparent when Bournemouth take the pitch, class might be what they’re missing against the current league leaders. Though it seems the simple choice, the score line won’t reflect the match. To Arsenal with a predictable win in an unpredictable fashion. At least one Gunner goal will be a bit fortunate, while the other(s) will have been enough alone to see out the match.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Bournemouth