Alexis Sanchez absence leaves a cloud as hapless Arsenal fall to defeat
BOURNEMOUTH -- Three quick thoughts on Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
1. New low for Arsenal in desperate defeat
The day started with Arsene Wenger all-but confirming Alexis Sanchez was off, and things got worse from there. Whether the Chilean will be wearing red or blue for the remainder of the season is still to be decided, but that doesn't especially matter for Arsenal now, in the wake of another dispiriting defeat.
Sunday's 2-1 loss at Bournemouth, after Arsenal took the lead in the second half, was achingly familiar. A few moments of quality aside, this was a desperate showing from the Gunners, perhaps made even worse because Eddie Howe's side -- at the start of the day only just outside the relegation zone -- didn't even have to be particularly good to beat them.
Hector Bellerin put Arsenal ahead at the start of the second half, but they never really looked like forcing their advantage home, and strikes from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe sealed the three points for Bournemouth. Sanchez, wherever he is, must have watched on with a sense of vindication.
Without Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, the latter still missing with a knee problem, the Arsenal team was profoundly uninspiring, which showed in their performance and general quality of the game. Aside from a shot from Ainsley Maitland-Niles that pinged against the bar, the first 45 minutes ticked along in a series of half-realised chances and poor final balls, both sides apparently reticent about taking a risk as basic as shooting.
As neat summaries of Arsenal's general efforts went, two players inside a few minutes simply running the ball out of play when only semi-pressured, fitted quite nicely. Bournemouth weren't much better, and while Arsenal's backline of Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers occasionally looked nervous -- their default state, the cruel might say -- the home side didn't cause them excessive problems.
It could only get better after the break, and six minutes into the second half it did, as Arsenal took the lead. Alex Iwobi played a delightful through ball to Bellerin, whose shot was half-saved by Asmir Begovic but gently bounced over the line. "How s--- must you be, we're winning away," sang the Arsenal fans, a tune usually reserved for the truly desperate.
But that changed shortly afterward, when Bournemouth equalised from nowhere. Ryan Fraser fizzed a low, early cross from deep on the right which Wilson just reached ahead of Petr Cech and stabbed home.
And four minutes later, the hosts were ahead. Wilson nicely held up a ball into the box, he laid it off to Ibe and his shot ricocheted through Cech's legs and into the net.
Last season in this game Arsenal equalised in the 97th minute, but it might sum up their current position that, even with 20 minutes to do so, they didn't look like repeating the feat this time.
2. Cech decline clear to see
When Wenger finally gave in to the inevitable and bought Cech in 2015, it was meant to solve a problem. He was 33, but in goalkeeping terms that isn't especially old: the plan was that he would correct a long-standing weakness for the next four or five years.
But he hasn't been the cure to their ills between the sticks. In his first couple of seasons he was fine, better than they had before without being the colossus he once was. When he arrived from Chelsea, John Terry said he would be worth 15 points to Arsenal, but we've now reached the stage where he's actively costing them.
The two goals he conceded here were a case in point, products of a keeper who dithered where before he asserted himself. There's been a suspicion that Cech has never been quite the same since an error-strewn performance against Turkey at Euro 2008, but even after that he was still better than most No.1s in the Premier League.
Not now, though. Perhaps he has been dragged down to Arsenal's level of across-the-board mediocrity, but it's a deeply worrying trend, if the Gunners didn't already have enough to be worrying about.
What will hurt even more is a glance over to Turin, where Wojciech Szczesny is settling in very nicely as Gianluigi Buffon's heir at Juventus. He was one of the better keepers in Serie A last season at Roma too, and now looks like inheriting the gloves of perhaps the finest goalkeeper to ever live will be no big problem.
All of this may tell you that the goalkeepers in question might not be the problem. This latter phase of Wenger's Arsenal is capable of diminishing even the finest talents.
3. Bournemouth find scoring touch
Historically speaking, goals have not been Bournemouth's problem. Last season they finished ninth with 55, outscoring Manchester United. The year before, avoiding relegation by five points, they got 45, more than Stoke in ninth and only four fewer than United. When they won the Championship in 2015 they finished with 98.
And yet, before Sunday, this season they had 22 from 23 games. Which wouldn't be too much of a problem if their defence was a little tighter, but they had 35 in the goals-against column.
"I don't think we've ever, in my time here, suffered a lack of goals," Howe told the Sunday Times this weekend. "The furthest thought from my mind was we might struggle to score. Hopefully we've turned the corner on that."
He might well be right. This was the fifth successive match in all competitions in which Bournemouth have scored two or more goals, and nine of their total league strikes have come in the last four games. Wilson's strike was his third in his last four, doubling his total for the season. If this trend continues, then Bournemouth should escape trouble with relative ease.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.