Martin Ødegaard marshals Arsenal to slick victory over Bournemouth
Unrecognisable. A 12-month transformation, the table flipped on its head. Then: three games, no goals and bottom. Now: three games, goals flowing and top.
True, the fixture list has been much kinder than this time last year. But it is the nature, the style of this Arsenal side that has heads turning. A confidence, a pizazz absent for years.
The visitors’ new captain, Martin Ødegaard, set them on their way with a brace inside a dozen minutes, William Saliba adding second-half gloss. Bournemouth were simply dismantled, a south-coast battering that they did not have the defences to withstand.
“Trust the process,” Mikel Arteta had said. He kept saying it. First, they laughed, then they got angry. Not any more. No one is suggesting Arsenal will win the title. They will not win the title. There will be blips, embarrassing moments. But implosions appear unlikely. And the bond between players and supporters is strong, furthered perhaps by allowing camera access to football’s intimate areas last season. Yes, trust the process.
Arsenal’s league position at this stage, though, is irrelevant to Arteta. “It’s very difficult to come here and win 3-0,” he said. “I’m really pleased, but at the same time we have to look at ourselves; there are many areas where we can still get much better.”
This ground hosted Arteta’s first match as Arsenal manager back in December 2019. He has since slowly sucked the gold-plated poison out of the club, meaning just Bukayo Saka and Granit Xhaka remain as starters.
And this new cohesion meant that, for the first time since the Invincibles of 2003-04, Arsenal fielded the same XI for their opening three league games.
Their followers were buoyant even before kick-off. A coastal trip in the sunshine. What could go wrong? Well, they have been stung before. Yet they need not have worried; Bournemouth were, from the moment Rockin’ All Over the World blared out, compliant hosts.
Away euphoria came within minutes, Ødegaard was the scorer but it was all about Gabriel Jesus. Among three changes made by Bournemouth was an appearance by Marcos Senesi, a summer acquisition from Feyenoord. His first act, on his full debut, was to be powered off the ball by Jesus, who took a perfect touch and jinked past Jefferson Lerma.
A clever reverse pass put Gabriel Martinelli in down the left and, while Mark Travers made a smart save with his legs, Ødegaard had a tap-in. Jesus though, was the mobbed man. Senesi was replaced at the break; welcome to the Premier League
Six minutes later the lead doubled. Saka found an overlapping Ben White, and the pullback was controlled by Jesus near the penalty spot. Before Jesus could strike, Ødegaard and his bright yellow footwear arrived to finish emphatically.
VAR double-checked White had not mistimed his run, the goal stood and Arsenal settled into a rhythmic dominance. Ødegaard was the tempo setter, Martinelli and Jesus electrically charged.
When Bournemouth were allowed to show glimpses of adventure, it was snuffed out. Much has been made of Oleksandr Zinchenko’s role as an inverted full-back and how it has allowed Xhaka a new freedom. But he is also a fine defender. Marcus Tavernier’s attempt to break was stopped with such ease, it would have been no surprise if Zinchenko had shrugged his shoulders afterwards.
The third goal vacuumed any remaining air from Bournemouth. A short free-kick saw Martinelli dance down the right. His deep cross found Xhaka, who teed up Saliba. A glorious first-time, left-footed hit from the edge of the area flew past Travers. A would-be exquisite fourth by Jesus was ruled out by VAR for offside.
Perhaps it is a tad unfair to judge Bournemouth on games like this. They won promotion under Scott Parker with a possession-based, controlled style. Exactly what they were on the wrong end of from Arsenal.
Their first half was a non-event, but the hosts were a little brighter after a tactical tweak at the break. However by the time Kieffer Moore finally called Aaron Ramsdale into action – a towering header tipped wide – almost 80 minutes had passed. This was Ramsdale’s first return to Bournemouth since joining Arsenal via Sheffield United. With warm applause from all sides it must have felt like a testimonial at times.
Parker’s post-match disappointment was clear. “While we could never get a foothold in the game, and never cause or pose Arsenal any sort of problem, our general demeanour was pretty poor,” he said. “I was disappointed immensely with that.”
For all the concern Bournemouth fans would have felt, it was matched by the joy of Arsenal supporters. They spent 20 minutes of the opening period serenading Saliba with his name inserted into 1950s hit Tequila. It got a second airing after the final whistle, and, according to Arteta, permeated into the dressing room.
Away supporters merrily breezed through their back catalogue of chants, even bringing out some new ones; Xhaka probably never thought he would hear the day his name would ring out joyously. He has earned it.
Disappearing down the tunnel in solitude, Arteta even afforded himself a smile. He did not once turn around. He did not need to. He could hear the adulation loud and clear.