Five takeaways from Arsenal’s stroll against Bournemouth
While both Manchester clubs suffered defeat and Tottenham Hotspur bested Liverpool in a hotly contentious clash on the other side of north London, Arsenal quietly strolled to a routine 4-0 win over Bournemouth on a busy Saturday.
Cherries manager Andoni Iraola was scathing of his own side. “It’s the weakest game we’ve played this season,” he seethed. “This is the first day I don’t feel proud of what the players have done.”
Mikel Arteta had plenty of reason to be rather more cheerful than his childhood friend – thanks to events both in and outside the Vitality Stadium.
Here are the key takeaways from Arsenal’s stroll on the south coast.
Arteta spent his opening months in charge of Arsenal preaching “trust the process” but his assessment of the squad’s pre-match fitness should not inspire much faith.
Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth, Arteta claimed that Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard were “all in the same pool” of fitness concerns. The wily coach also flagged issues with William Saliba and Fabio Vieira, fretting as to how his team could “adapt to the situation because that’s a big number [of injuries]”.
Of the six players that Arteta mentioned, only Trossard and Martinelli did not feature. Saka started alongside Rice just three days before the club’s first Champions League away game of the season. Take Arteta’s team news before the contest against Lens with a pinch of salt.
Last season Arteta shrugged off any criticism regarding his unrelenting use of Saka with the insistence: “Look at the top players in the world, they play 70 matches and every three days and make the difference and win the game. You want to be at the top, you have to be able to do that.”
Arteta added: “There is not a fitness coach in the world who is going to tell me that they cannot do it.” However, plenty may argue that they shouldn’t do it.
Nevertheless, Saka is not getting a break any time soon. On his 87th consecutive Premier League appearance, Arsenal’s talisman was in the right place at the right time to nod in the opener.
At the start of the campaign, Saka revealed: “I’m always trying to work on my heading,” and celebrated only his second Premier League header by incredulously tapping his bonce by the corner flag. It wouldn’t be surprising if his skull, like the rest of his indestructible body, was made of titanium.
Embarrassment seemed to tinge the sense of relief that must have washed over Kai Havertz as he awkwardly celebrated his first Arsenal goal on Saturday.
A pack of lurid yellow shirts swarmed around the £65m summer signing after he converted a penalty that Saka let him take. Captain Martin Odegaard even pushed Havertz towards the travelling support that had spent much of the German’s opening weeks in north London willing him to deliver.
For Arteta, it was the clear highlight of a comfortable win. “It shows the people we have in the dressing room that they have the ability to leave the ‘me’ away,” Arsenal’s manager gushed. “What they did today for Kai, it was a really moving moment – someone that is going through a period externally, not internally. He’s getting questioned in certain areas. For the team to step up and show that empathy and trust – they won my heart even more today that group of players.”
Arteta is the first to recognise the “energy”, “belief”, “threat” and “fear” that Jesus brings every time he steps onto the pitch for Arsenal. In the absence of both Martinelli and Trossard, Jesus has been shunted onto the left wing in each of the last two Premier League matches.
Yet, that hasn’t dulled his striking influence on the team. The Brazilian facilitated Arsenal’s buildup against Bournemouth’s attempts to press, greasing the wheels of the forward progression that has been sticky at times this season.
Jesus also managed to repeatedly crash into Bournemouth’s box himself, firing off the attempt which led to Saka’s opener. It doesn’t matter where Jesus plays, just that he gets on the pitch in some context for Arsenal.
Arsenal may have ended the weekend with their unbeaten record intact and only one point behind Manchester City, but there is some cause for concern ahead of the visit from the champions next weekend.
The Gunners were gifted half of their four-goal haul by two reckless penalty concessions from Bournemouth – although, Ryan Christie still somehow had the gall to protest his wild lunge on Odegaard.
When Arsenal’s five Premier League penalties are taken out of the equation this season, they rank a lowly tenth for non-penalty expected goals (xG) per 90. Relegation-threatened Everton are currently creating better goalscoring chances than the Gunners.
While David Raya wasn’t overly worked, Bournemouth (177) still took more touches in the attacking third than Arsenal (159) on Saturday as the Gunners’ search for the fluidity of last season drags on.