THRILLER: Bournemouth and Arsenal played out one of the best matches of the season so far
ARSENAL PRODUCED a stunning comeback to grab a thrilling draw at Bournemouth after the home side had taken a three goal lead. Charlie Daniels, a Callum Wilson penalty and Ryan Fraser's strike after the break saw the Cherries race into a three goal advantage.
The Gunners looked out of sorts, but dug deep to find the means to strike back with Olivier Giroud once again the architect. 48 hours after his scorpion kick against Crystal Palace, the France striker set up Alexis Sanchez to head home, then five minutes later he teed up substitute Lucas Perez to smash in his first Premier League goal from a tight angle.
With seven minutes remaining Bournemouth were reduced to ten men when Simon Francis was shown a straight red card for a foul on Aaron Ramsey. More drama and now with two minutes of time added on, Giroud rose to head home from Granit Xhaka's cross and earn a remarkable draw and a point when it seemed they had lost all three.
It was the first time that Arsenal had been behind by two or more goals in nine years, but this comeback suggests that there is substance added to their style when needed. Arsene Wenger later acknowledged Bournemouth's efforts and the fact that his team were given a physical and mental work over.
" It was a physical test and a mental test for us. A physical test because we had problems to start to cope with the pace of Bournemouth. Defensively we had some problems and I think you have to acknowledge the quality of Bournemouth - congratulations to them.
But as well, it’s too uneven to have only two days to play against a team with over three days rest. It took us a while to get back into the game. On top of that, we were a bit unlucky as well - to concede a penalty and after the third goal, for us, with 70 minutes played we were 3-0 down.
"So it was a mental test, but we succeeded because we have a great resilience in the team and great mental strength and that came out. In the end you are even frustrated not to win the game.
"We missed some opportunities in the end. A corner into the hands of the goalkeeper, instead of taking an in-swinger we should’ve taken an out-swinger, these are the details that you have to keep composure and play until the last minute. That’s down to keeping your head cool," said Wenger.
Only days before the Palace encounter, Wenger had bemoaned the lack of quality games in the Premier League season. Little did he know then that Arsenal's first away day in the New Year would out right that statistic and also prevent a third consecutive away loss for his side. Wenger looked on in frustration however when Francis Coquilen had to to come off due to what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on, but the Gunners were already 2-0 down at that stage.
Wenger had warned of the inequalities of the in-between games rest time the two sides had received. Bournemouth had an extra day to prepare for this fixture, and that proved to be the early difference as the home side tore into Arsenal. Hector Bellerin failed to spot Daniels and could only muster a feeble challenge as he controlled to strike past Petr Cech for the opener. The Cherries sensed more.
Fraser sped past Xhaka and the Switzerland defender was adjudged to have brought the speedster down in the box. Wilson struck down the middle to score past Cech from the spot to double the Cherries' lead. Arsenal were stunned and on field verbals between Alexis and Ramsey didn't help matters, and neither did Foster's third for Bournemouth after the break. Bellerin was struggling to stay with Foster, but there appeared to be a foul on the Spain defender which wasn't given. No matter for Foster though who struck low and past Cech.
Then the most remarkable - and actually based on what we had seen, the most unexpected of comebacks happened. With their first attempt on goal, Alexis dived to latch onto Giroud's head on after 70 minutes. Five minutes later and an instinctive Giroud flick through put in Perez. From a tight angle, the Spain striker managed to get the right balance between pace and power to beat Artur Boruc and a stunning left footed strike for his first goal of the Premier League.
Arsenal were a side transformed and now looked capable of taking all three points as they routinely cut open the Bournemouth ranks. Francis's red card didn't help his side and in time added on, Giroud rose to head past Boruc for his sixth goal in four Premier League games. His celebration emulated his scorpion goal and proved to be the sting in the tail for Bournemouth who capitulated from a three goal lead, to come away with just a point.
Wenger also spoke of the inequality of the rest time both sides had ahead of their fixture, but suggested the result didn't say anything about his team.
"The opponent scored three goals and that we conceded three goals, that’s what it says. I said that we suffered defensively tonight in some positions but they scored four against Liverpool here so they can score goals you know. It’s a team who is dangerous but I agree with you that defensively we had some weaknesses tonight that were unusual and in some positions at the back we suffered.
"I am ready to play tomorrow again as long as we play against an opponent who has played today as well. That is what I call fair. All the rest, we have to play when we are told to play but we want to play against a team with the same time of rest and preparation that we have," said Wenger, who also explained that his side although recovered well, should have gone on to win the game.
Next up for Arsenal is their FA Cup third round trip to Preston North End and what will no doubt prove to be another tough away fixture.