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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Unai Emery's meritocratic revolution at Arsenal gathers pace with win at bogey team Bournemouth

Spectacular own goal from Jefferson Lerma cancelled out by Josh King before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strikes to extend Arsenal's unbeaten run to 17 matches

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring Arsenal's second goal against Bournemouth. Reuters
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring Arsenal's second goal against Bournemouth. Reuters

If it was the most seismic win of Unai Emery’s reign, the significance stretched beyond the result. A fourth away victory equalled Arsenal’s tally for the whole of last season. They won at a ground where they had dropped five points on Arsene Wenger’s last two visits. Trips to Bournemouth have offered a snapshot of a team that regressed and is now rejuvenated.

From the unpromising beginnings of consecutive defeats in August, Arsenal have forged a lengthy unbeaten run. “We haven’t lost in 17 matches,” Emery said. “But the last three we drew and we knew that was not enough for our objective. It was a big moment for us.”

This was a further illustration of their powers of recovery and resourcefulness. As has become a habit, second-half specialists pulled clear after the break, courtesy of men making the most of their opportunities.

Sead Kolasinac deputised for the injured Nacho Monreal and provided the crosses that led to both goals. With Alexandre Lacazette missing, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang led the line and slid in the decider to draw level with Sergio Aguero at the top of the scoring charts.

“We seemed to switch off,” lamented Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, but Aubameyang showed his sharpness with a close-range finish to take his tally to eight goals from just 11 shots on target.

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And yet if one catalyst for victory was Emery, who switched to a back three for the first time to adopt a shape that gave Kolasinac and Lucas Torreira, who struck the post, more leeway to advance, another was Bournemouth’s record buy.

It is an understatement to say Jefferson Lerma had a game to forget. In his defence, the £25 million (Dh118m) man has had quite an impact in his brief Bournemouth career. The Colombian was prominent again; sadly for him, Arsenal were the beneficiaries of much of what he did. Lerma added to the Gunners’ compendium of spectacular strikes this season with a thunderous volley from Kolasinac’s centre that flew past his own goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. He coughed up possession to gift Aubameyang, who shot wide, a chance. He hauled back Shkodran Mustafi to collect a booking that will result in a suspension. The resulting free kick led indirectly to Arsenal’s winner. When Lerma glimpsed redemption, letting fly from 30 yards, the upright denied him.

Jefferson Lerma lays dejected on the ground after his spectacular own goal gave Arsenal the lead. Reuters
Jefferson Lerma lays dejected on the ground after his spectacular own goal gave Arsenal the lead. Reuters

It was a sign of how close Bournemouth came to averting a third straight loss. Bernd Leno had to save from Ryan Fraser, David Brooks, the substitute Junior Stanislas and his own teammate Sokratis Papastathopoulos but the way Arsenal survived offered evidence of renewed resolve. “It could have been so different,” added Howe. “We had some good chances.”

Arsenal were not always completely convincing, but they found a way to win. They spent much of the opening half-hour camped in their own half as they adjusted to Emery’s reconfigured formation and Bournemouth showed more cohesion and confidence. Brooks was unfortunate to have a goal chalked off when he was deemed offside and, after Lerma broke the deadlock in remarkable fashion, the Welshman reaffirmed his credentials to be branded one of the signings of the season. He allied elusive running with a perceptive pass to find Josh King, who steered a shot into the top corner of the goal.

It is a peculiarity of Emery’s reign that his side have never led at half time in a Premier League game. They entered stoppage time ahead and in the Bournemouth box and went in at the interval level after a swift break. “We did have our moments on the counter-attack,” added Howe. So did Arsenal.

“We thought about how we can be better in the match, with a very demanding match physically with their intensity,” Emery said. His answer was to omit Mesut Ozil, the latest to discover the Spaniard does not select on the basis of reputation. And while Henrikh Mkhitaryan had one of his more ineffectual games, the outcome was nonetheless an endorsement of his meritocratic revolution.