AFC Bournemouth (0) 1 Arsenal (2) 2
FA Cup Fourth Round
The Vitality Stadium (Dean Court), Boscombe, Bournemouth BH7 7AF
Monday, 27th January 2020. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Bukayo Saka; Mattéo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah; Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno; Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil, Lucas Torreira, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (5 mins), Eddie Nketiah (25 mins)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka
Referee: Martin Atkinson
And so, back to The Vitality Stadium for the second time in five weeks; let’s hope that tonight is a better match than Boxing Day’s clash, and we walk away with a passage to the fifth round, the reward being a meeting with Portsmouth at Fratton Park. But first things first; we have the matter of beating AFC Bournemouth at their ground this evening. Our intent to win this game came after just five minutes, when FA Cup debutant Bukayo Saka opened the scoring with a blistering shot (after a deft assist via Gabriel Martinelli) from just outside the six-yard box into the roof of the Bournemouth net. With a goal advantage, we started to be a little casual in our desire to control the match; there were times in the first quarter of an hour that we appeared to be the only team on the pitch tonight. Joe Willock was desperately unlucky not to score when Mark Travers made a good save with his feet to halt a certain goal, and our confidence was such that when Gabriel Martinelli carelessly blasted the ball high over the Bournemouth bar and into the crowd, nobody seemed to be too perturbed. Eddie Nketiah scored a simple tap-in after an assist by Bukayo Saka after twenty-five minutes; again, a ridiculous heart-stopping VAR period occurred when it looked as if the goal would be chalked off for an earlier offside infringement by Gabriel Martinelli. Thankfully, sense prevailed and the goal stood. And so it should as well. Arsenal were pretty much running the show in all areas on the pitch, and by now it started to look like a training match for us. The home side were poor and showed little or no desire to make their mark in the first half at all; in fact when they did finally have a shot on our goal in the thirty-sixth minute, it was comfortably parried by Emiliano Martínez. Despite one or two half-hearted attempts by the home side just before the break, the sense of relief around the stadium became evident when the half-time whistle blew.
The second half opened with the same game management order as before, only with a little more scrappier behaviour from both sets of players. The Cherries decided to actually turn up now, making some spirited attempts on our goal, but our defenders were not particularly too troubled by any threats. On the hour, Shkodran Mustafi (who had a decent game tonight) was carried off with an ankle injury, and was replaced by Rob Holding, who got into the swing of things soon enough. Although the game was becoming more competitive, we certainly held our own, and as the minutes went ticking by, our possssion game become more important than ever before. Hector Bellerin went down with an injury that left him winded, and with ten minutes left, a Ryan Gosling shot on the Arsenal goal looked more dangerous than it actually was. Following some injuries to both sides, eight minutes injury time was added on to the ninety minutes, but not before Joe Willock was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles to shore up things in the added-on time period. Mattéo Guendouzi was unlucky not to score with a shot that went over the bar, but somehow, out of nowhere, Sam Surridge got one back for the home team with a half-chance that got lucky, when our defenders were asleep. Due to the usual ridiculous VAR hold-ups and hang-ups, the final whistle was blown after ten minutes injury time, and mightily relieved we were too.
This match will surely be remembered (if at all, that is) as the 100-minute match; only because VAR shenanigans kept pushing extra minutes onto the final tally. However, despite a sluggish match, we really weren’t threatened that much, even in the second half, when the home side started to take the game to us more. The highlights for us was the link-up play between the players, excellent game management, and the sheer will and determination of our young players that ultimately saw us through to the fifth round. Dare we dream? Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Next match: Burnley at Turf Moor on Sunday, 2nd February at 2.00pm. Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.