The fourth game week of the Premier League campaign brings together two teams who are really struggling for form. Arsenal host AFC Bournemouth at the Emirates stadium on Saturday afternoon with both Arsene Wenger and Eddie Howe under pressure to stop their sides’ poor start.
Some Arsenal fans are generally derided for being too impatient with their manager. Last few seasons have invariably started with these fans frothing at their mouths and trending hashtags such as #wengerout on social media platforms. But this time, their impatience seems completely justified. Barring a 10-minute period in the opening game against Leicester City, Arsenal have been abject on the field. The last two weeks of August were especially terrible for Gunners’ fans on the field, as well as off it. After losing their Stoke test of the season, Wenger’s men were humiliated and routed at Anfield. As if that was not enough, their transfer window ended in a failure as they were neither able to attract Thomas Lemar to Emirates, nor could they offload their wantaway star Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal and Arsene need a victory on Saturday to at least start a turnaround.
If Arsenal are underperforming against the expectations their fans have of them, their opponents are not exactly meeting their fans’ expectations either. One goal and three losses in three games means that Eddie Howe’s men are placed 18th before the start of the game week. Their newly signed but ageing striker Jermain Defoe is yet to find the back of the net, as is their top-scorer from last season – Josh King. Howe’s side needs to start scoring otherwise they risk turning into this season’s Middlesbrough – playing a pretty decent game but blunt in attack.
- Arsenal’s three home meetings with Bournemouth in all competitions have all ended in victory, with the most recent being a 3-1 win in November last season.
- Arsenal have not lost three of their opening four games to a league campaign since 1982-83 (W0 D1 L3 – finished 10th). In fact, the Gunners have not suffered three successive Premier League defeats since January 2012.
- Bournemouth have only avoided defeat once in all competitions against the Gunners – this came at the Vitality Stadium last season, when the Cherries let a three-goal lead slip to draw 3-3 in January in the Premier League.
- The Cherries have started the league season with three defeats – they have lost their opening four games to a league campaign on only two previous occasions: 1994-95 and 1983-84 (both in the third tier).
- Jermain Defoe has scored against Arsenal for three different clubs in the Premier League (West Ham, Tottenham & Sunderland) – the only player to have scored versus the Gunners in the competition for more clubs is Darren Bent (5).
When Alexandre Lacazette scored his first Premier League goal for Arsenal with his first touch in the Leicester game, the expectations from the club-record signing shot through the roof. But after a tough outing against the Potters, Wenger unexpectedly benched him at Anfield. Many pundits believe that had Lacazette played against Liverpool, that game’s outcome could have at least been less humiliating, if not completely different. The Frenchman comes with a proven goal-scoring record in Ligue 1. His current xG of 0.27 does not do justice to his prowess. Lacazette must be happy to face a weak defence in Bournemouth, as suggested by their Expected Goals Against (xGA) metric of 4.96.
If Bournemouth’s defence is weak, Arsenal’s defence is almost non-existent. Gunners’ xGA of 5.76 actually flatters their defence. What better opponents to play for Josh King to recapture the form of last season, which saw him score 16 goals in 36 appearances. Eddie Howe desperately needs goals from his team and while Defoe is a renowned Premier League goal-scorer, Josh King presents the biggest threat from Cherries’ side.
For Arsenal, physical injuries are not a worry. Most of their squad is fit. However, jetlag and attitude issues exist in the squad. Alexis Sanchez was called “fatter than normal” by one of the Chile coaches during the international break and he will be back after a long flight from South America. Moreover, the triple disappointments of two losses with Chile and a failed move to Manchester City will weigh on his mind. He is doubtful to start on Saturday. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gone, Bellerin can return to the right-back position, while Kolasinac should start on the left. A struggling Rob Holding could mean a return for Per Mertesacker as well.
Bournemouth are without Junior Stanislas and Callum Wilson. Nathan Ake and Simon Francis are also doubtful. Should Ake be able to start, Eddie Howe is likely to continue with the 3-5-2 formation that he played against Manchester City in game week 3.
When two teams in such poor form play each other, the result depends on which team is under more pressure to bounce back. On Saturday, that pressure will be much more on Arsenal and their manager than on Bournemouth. Not much has gone to plan for Arsene Wenger in 2017 and if those #wengerout calls are to be muffled, the Gunners have to start winning matches. Their record against bottom-half teams is excellent so they have history on their side as well. I reckon that the additional pressure, as well as the quality of Bournemouth’s defence should propel Arsenal to their second victory of this Premier League season.
Arsenal 3 – 2 AFC Bournemouth