Arsenal shrugged off their dismal Boxing Day showing with a composed 2-0 win over Bournemouth on Monday night at the Emirates. Gabriel and Mesut Ozil combined for both goals as the Gunners went atop the Premier League table, at least for a night. Leicester can reclaim their perch tomorrow evening with a win over Manchester City.
There are few easy matches this season in the Premier League, and at the outset Arsenal looked to be suffering a hangover from the 4-0 shellacking dealt by Southampton. Bournemouth started out strongly with Josh King and Dan Gosling causing problems for Arsenal's makeshift back four, with Laurent Koscielny dropped to the bench in favor of Gabriel. King forced Petr Cech to make a diving stop in the fourth minute and caused a couple more heart-in-mouth moments after Per Mertesacker was caught in possession.
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But Arsenal soon settled into their slick-passing style, and started to push Bournemouth back. Using Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin down the right side to prise the door open, Olivier Giroud began to distract in the center of the scrum, allowing Theo Walcott to force Artur Boruc into a couple saves.
That allowed, the opening goal came from an unlikely source: Gabriel. Mesut Ozil racked up yet another assist off a flat corner kick that Gabriel beat Harry Arter to head home in the 27th minute with authority. It was a cheap goal for the Cherries to concede and a rarity to boot: Gabriel had never before scored for the Gunners.
From there, Arsenal proceeded to miss the net the net in increasingly comedic ways. Walcott had a shot saved by the sprawling Boruc near post to set up another Ozil corner in the 34th that Gabriel again met, only to head it off the far post. The ball ricocheted right back out, hitting Mertesacker in the face two yards out but went on the wrong side of the frame to prevent Arsenal from doubling their lead.
Walcott, Gabriel and Giroud would then all spurn chances as Arsenal continued to pump crosses and corners into the box, and despite Boruc cutting an increasingly hapless figure rushing to and fro between the pipes, Arsenal could not make their attempts count.
The second half continued the pattern, with the energetic Gabriel called upon twice to make key stops. King found himself on side and with space three minutes after the restart, but Gabriel made a magnificent recovery run to slide and tackle the ball out of play. Cech was called upon to deny Gosling as Arsenal seemed to start slowly, but just past the hour, Arsenal broke back through.
Again, the creator was Ozil; this time the scorer was also Ozil. Collecting the ball out wide from Gabriel, Ozil played a neat one-two with Giroud and then darted around the back. Giroud insouciantly back-heeled the ball over the Cherries' static line to Ozil, who fired low through Boruc's legs to double the lead.
"Ozil convinces everyone he is a talented player that works very hard," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said after teh match. "He is a complete player. He was the focal point of our team today. He gives us security and confidence ... We were focused from the start. It took us a while to get going but we were in control of the game and did very well."
The floodgates seemed to have opened but Arsenal continued to spurn chances. Walcott missed two clear-cut chances, first firing just wide of the post, then failing to chip the ball into a gaping net after Boruc spilled a shot right into his path. Giroud then scuffed a shot with ten to play after more fine work from Ozil, but all given, he could at least muster a smile.
Cech set a record in the match, racking up his 170th clean sheet to set a Premier League record. David James had previously owned the mark, with 169.
"He can be very proud of that as it is a remarkable achievement," said Wenger. "He is a gifted goalkeeper."
Arsenal now face the Tyne-Wear sides, hosting the relegation-threatened Newcastle Saturday in the league and then second-to-last Sunderland the following weekend in the FA Cup. Bournemouth must travel to Leicester next before a meeting with lower-tier opposition in the FA Cup at Birmingham.