The pressure will be on Arsenal as they look to hit back from their Boxing Day misery with victory at home to a Bournemouth side that has not lost in six Premier League outings.
There was nothing in the game at Southampton until they were undone by a terrific long range strike, but Arsenal’s display from then on was far from good enough and belied their status as a team which would have gone top of the Premier League had they managed to win. It was some way away from the kind of football they had been producing on their way to being touted as title favourites coming into that match, but they lacked desire and above all competitiveness as this unpredictable top-flight season yielded another unforseeable result.
Such was their inferiority, the Gunners were fortunate in the extreme not to lose by an even heavier margin as Southampton seemed capable of getting in behind them at will despite them boasting the best defensive record in the league at the start of the day. Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace was exposed all too often, while a failure to match the physical strength of Victor Wanyama in the midfield was also key to the outcome. That was chastening, but expect Arsenal to deliver some kind of response here.
For Bournemouth, this represents another David versus Goliath encounter and again they will relish it. Having already overcome the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United during their current run, they will head to the Emirates Stadium with little fear and will genuinely believe that they are more than capable of coming away with something. Despite their good form the Cherries still need points as they lie only three above the drop zone, a gap which could be reduced by the time they kick off.
They can certainly expect Arsenal to come flying out of the blocks and start putting them under pressure from the first whistle, which would be a significant test to a back four which has taken on a settled look over recent weeks. In the absence of Tommy Elphick, stand-in captain Simon Francis – naturally a right-back – has thrived at the centre of the Bournemouth defence and helped keep out away day specialists Crystal Palace on Boxing Day in a game where both teams were hindered by injuries to important attacking players.
The hosts have no new injury worries, but Arsene Wenger may decide to make changes from their thrashing on the South coast.
Bournemouth are still without Josh King and are waiting on the fitness of Harry Arter, who was forced off at half-time against Palace. Striker Lee Tomlin faces a race against time to be fit.
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