How do you reflect on a game in which Arsenal demonstrated their absolute worst and very best qualities, all within a 90-minute period?
It’s almost impossible to draw any conclusions about this side based on what were effectively two different performances within the same game.
At times, Arsenal were timid, disorganised and vulnerable, but they were also courageous, solid, and unstoppable within the same match and against the same opposition.
How and why does that happen?
What is clear is that, after going 3-0 down, it was a collective sense of shame that forced the team into stepping up their performance. As Bournemouth sat back, they played directly into Arsenal’s hands, allowing them the time and space to absolutely hammer the hosts into submission. But it should never have come to that.
That they found themselves three goals down in the first place is extremely concerning, despite some questionable decisions for two of the goals.
Quite why this team has become so vulnerable to a high-tempo press is a mystery. Defeats to Everton and Manchester City, and last night’s draw, have shown everyone that Arsenal fold under pressure and they don’t seem to be learning. Every time the squeeze is put on they retreat and panic, and it happened again against the Cherries.
They were dominated by the hosts during the first half, using the simple and oft-tested tactic of denying the Arsenal midfield space and time on the ball. It is a trick that works so often it is a wonder that every side who lines up against us doesn’t try the same thing.
Arsenal fell for it yet again, surrendering the ball in dangerous positions and failing to make any inroads in attack as Bournemouth swarmed all over them.
Clearly, words were had at half-time because they were marginally better after the break, albeit demonstrating the same vulnerability to allow the simplest of moves to lead to a third goal.
Whatever you feel about the push on Hector Bellerin, and there is no mistaking that it was a deliberate push, it was all too easy for the hosts to get in behind and in on goal.
At that point, I thought us dead and buried and I feared a fourth or fifth goal before the end. As it was, Arsenal were so embarrassed that they actually improved, albeit aided by a Bournemouth side that decided its work was done for the day.
Suddenly we were in complete control, demonstrating the sort of tenacity, tempo and desire that had simply been missing for the opening hour. The team was ruthless in front of goal and creating chances left, right, and centre.
As soon as Alexis Sanchez’s header went in, you could feel the collective panic take hold around the ground.
It wasn’t a huge surprise, therefore, that we added a second, and a third in injury time. The only surprise was how far Bournemouth fell in terms of their performance. Perhaps the exertions of the high-tempo press had taken their toll, perhaps there was a degree of complacency – whatever the reason, I have no problem crediting Arsenal for digging deep and salvaging a point.
But quite why we had to be shamed into stepping up our level is beyond most of us. If we’d have shown the same courage and desire from the first whistle we may well have been talking about a resounding win this morning, instead of scratching our heads.
As it is, I don’t think the point changes the outlook for our season. Our Premier League challenge was hanging by a thread heading into the game and it continues to do so. If Chelsea win tonight, however, it will all be over, and not just for us. I would wager the chasing pack will simply be too far back, even at this stage of the season.
The greatest shame of all is that we are reduced to needing favours to salvage our league challenge, and it’s only just January.