Arsenal host Bournemouth on Monday evening in the first league meeting between the two clubs and, while everything this season is new and exciting to the South Coast club, Arsène Wenger’s men must be suffering from a depressing sense of déjà vu. Their whole campaign has been a tale of dismal defeat following encouraging victory and a need to pull out a result to rebuild morale after a shattering let-down: Zagreb, Munich, West Bromwich and now Southampton. Even after their triumph over Manchester City a week ago – their fourth successive win – the fact that they lost at St Mary’s was hardly surprising, even if the scale of the defeat, 4-0, was.
Wenger has had plenty of practice in putting on a brave face, so it was no surprise to hear him insist that his team can bounce back yet again, but Saturday evening was not so much a slip-up as a humiliation. No amount of morale boosting will make Per Mertesacker faster or stiffen the backbones of defenders who meekly stood aside as Jose Fonte powered between them to head home Southampton’s third goal. More worryingly for some sections of the Arsenal support, Wenger gave no further hint that reinforcements will be arriving in January, barring the return of some of the seven players out through injury – not including Jack Wilshere, whose return date has been put back yet again, to February at the earliest – and promotion from the bench or academy.
“We are a bit short because of the injuries we have,” he said. “Before Bournemouth I cannot change a lot. But sometimes as well the solution is inside and you have to accept that, because we are a club which has always given a chance to players we have educated. And we have top players inside.
“I believe in this team because they have been winning. We are used to being questioned and it’s normal when you lose. Overall, we are strong enough to deal with that, respond and show on Monday we can get over that kind of result. We are in a job where we have to respond to disappointments. Bournemouth have been very good since the start of the season, but I trust my players to respond in a very strong way.”
But Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe certainly won’t be cowering. He said: “I think it helps us because we have experienced games [against the bigger clubs] before and the first couple we had [v Man City, Spurs, both lost 5-1], we were understandably in awe a little bit. I think we attacked the last two [v Chelsea, Man United, both won] like our normal selves. The fact we have been competitive and won a couple can only reinforce that belief.”
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman’s only worry ahead of Monday’s visit to West Ham is a lack of recovery time, which, he believes, adversely affects English teams on bigger stages.