We go into Vitality Stadium on Saturday to face AFC Bournemouth, perhaps the only club to start a Prem season above us, if only alphabetically. They’re off to a bit of a rough start, courtesy of a tricksy set of fixtures, and we really should lay them to waste in short order. The Cherries are ripe for the picking, and I do solemnly swear that I will offer no more half-clever plays on words from this point forward.
Like our midweek opponents in the League Cup, Bournemouth are struggling with injuries. They’ll be without the services of no less than five players, and manager Andoni Iraola faces all sorts of selection dliemmas with a squad that was already short on options. We might bemoan niggles to Martinelli, Trossard, or Rice, but we at least have the luxury of options. Iraola looks to his thin bench, shorn of key players, and must surely throw his hands up.
It’s not for a lack of trying. Bournemouth were very aggressive this summer, signing Tyler Adams, Junior Traorè, Alex Scott (no, not that one), Romain Faivre, and Justin Kluivert for a combined sum approaching £100m. Three of those signings—Adams, Traorè, and Scott—count among the club’s top-five most-expensive signings in club history. That performance hasn’t matched ambition to date may only be a short-term issue, and it’s up to us to ensure that the gap persists for at least another week.
At a risk of throwing a drowning man an anchor, we have to make the most of this trip to the balmy southern coast. For as much as the Cherries have faltered, we’ve yet to impress, and this is one fixture that offers us a chance to get into the groove. One player I’ll have keen eyes on will be Kai Havertz, who, like most of the squad, is stuck in a rut. Without equating one player with another, it’s worth noting that Thierry Henry had to wait eigtht matches before scoring his first goal for this club. Bergkamp had to wait seven. Patience, it seems, is a virtue. Havertz has played a grand total of 368 minutes in four starts and two substitutions.
The kid spent three years in the wasteland that was and is Chelsea. He endured no less than six managers in those three years, including two spells under Fat Frank. Is it any wonder that his development has been somewhat arrested? He arrived at Chelsea as a wunderkind, compared favorably to Özil, Ballack, Müller, and Kroos (nota bene: Ballack, Kroos, and Müller are all older German players who are all widely considered to have been quite good).
Against Bournemouth, then, Havertz has a chance to score his first goal. In doing so, he would score that first goal for this club more quickly than the Henry or Bergkamp, at least as far as starts are concerned. I keep banging on about Havertz in part because I’m an eternal optimist and in part because he actually does offer more than he’s shown. Stop watching the ball. Watch him. He’s adept at finding spaces. He breaks lines. He makes runs. It’s perhaps no accident that he’s struggled, given the uneven flux he’s encountered since his arrival. In his role as a kind of #8 on the left, he’s had to adapt to playing with Rice on his right and Martinelli, Trossard, and Jesus on his left, plus Nketiah and Jesus again through the middle.
Anyone would struggle with those variables. Against Bournemouth, I do sincerely hope that our alleskönner—a player who can do everything—does finally find his groove. We don’t necessarily need a player contending for the Golden Boot. We could do with another player who can chip in 15-20 goal contributions, though. Havertz still has time to be that guy. Get behind him, yeah?
Back to Bournemouth. Under Iraola, they’re a very aggresive side, pressing high up the pitch. They now rank 5th for regainining possession in the final third. He has players tracking out of position, which can create stress for sides that play out from the back, but this also creates gaps that can be exploited. We should see opportunities to get past their press and behind their high line. While we’ll go without Timber or Partey, there are also doubts about Rice, Saka, Trossard, and Martinelli. If there’s even a shadow of a doubt about their fitness, they should be rested here. We really should be able to come away with all three points without them.
When it comes to Bournemouth, I’m a well-wisher…in that I don’t wish them any specific harm. They’re the kind of club that deserves to stay up. They aren’t overly cynical with the time-wasting, they don’t play Pulisian tactics (in fact, they dumped Stoke from the League Cup on Wednesday), and they try to get up the pitch. They punch above their level, and that’s to be admired. Having said that, we simply have to go for knockout or at least the TKO.
My prediction: Bournemouth 1-3 Arsenal. Share yours in the comments section below…