For most of Arsene Wenger’s time in charge (and actually a fair bit of Gorgeous George’s before him), the eleventh month has been a bete noire for Gooners.
Despite a focus on recent late season collapses, year after year, November has seen injuries to key players and disappointing defeats undermine many an Arsenal title challenge.
So far this year, despite disappointing draws at home vs Spurs an PSG, things haven’t been quite so dramatic. Sure, Hector Bellerin being crocked by a pointless 94th minute tackle by Danny Rose and rumours of Giroud tweaking a hamstring at the weekend isn’t exactly ideal, but neither appear to be long term absences.
Our most prominent absentee, Santi Cazorla had his Achilles ping in October, and the only significant injury during this month has been to the seemingly cursed Mathieu Debuchy, whose surprise first team return was curtailed swiftly after a promising start.
We aren’t quite through the woods yet, however, with a league cup tie against Southampton on Wednesday threatening to provide the sting in the tail. Hopefully we will see widespread rotation, and more game time for the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding and, fingers crossed, a fit again Lucas Perez.
Quite apart from banishing our annual winter curse, the win against Bournemouth was vital for keeping Arsenal clinging on to the coat tails of the top three.
At present, Liverpool and Chelsea are in purple patches of form, with the former scoring more than their potentially porous defence can leak, and with the latter benefiting from the fact that no-one competent has played in England with a back three and wing backs for decades. Both managers are making far better use of the strengths of their squads than their predecessors, and are flying at the moment.
Behind them, Man City have lost some of the early season Pep lustre, but have so much raw talent at their disposal, particularly with Aguero fit, that they can win any match even if not performing to their potential.
Crucially, despite stuttering form and missing the likes of Bellerin, Cazorla, Mertesacker and Welbeck among others, Arsenal remain only three points off top spot. While nowhere near the home straight, sitting in the leading pack as it starts to stretch away is a good place to be at this point of the season.
As Mourinho struggles with the pressure as his team get left behind, it’s now a case of keeping pace with the leaders to shake off Spurs. At present, Arsenal are one point better off than this time last year, and with City, Liverpool and Chelsea already four, ten and seventeen points improved over the same comparison, it would be extraordinary if none of those three suffered a stutter before the season’s end.
Another positive sign is that the squad is showing some resilience even when not playing well, although some old flaws remain.
Against Eddie Howe’s impressive outfit, Arsenal came out of the blocks quickly, in a manner that would have pleased the manager, looking likely to score even before being gifted the opener. Disappointingly, they didn’t maintain that initial intensity, and were further rocked back by some decent Bournemouth possession and a bad day at the office for ref Mike Jones.
The penalty awarded to the visitors was debatable at best, and most passing comment agree that it was a clear error from the man in the middle (quite apart from the obvious foul on Ozil in the build up), and it was neither his first or last.
We have all seen the script before, where an inept official getting big decisions wrong in the opposition’s favour can derail an Arsenal side occasionally prone to self-pity.
On this occasion half-time was a welcome break, and despite a continued lack of fluency and some typical wastefulness, Arsenal played with sufficient urgency and professionalism to win against a side who will probably get used to narrow defeats against the big boys before the season ends.
Our seemingly bionic Chilean was at the heart of everything the team did well again, and after half-time our central midfield did a great job with limited support. Happily our centre-halves also put in a showing more akin to the draw at Old Trafford than the one against PSG.
We’ll certainly need more of the same and improved outings elsewhere when hosted by a West Ham side finally waking from early season torpor at the weekend. Hopefully the visit of The Arsenal won’t be enough to create an atmosphere as rocking at the new place as it used to be at Upton Park.
Typically the screwing around of timings by the Sky Camera’s mean it’s yet another game this season I will miss, and will instead be crapping myself with only text-updates to fall back on.
So from my perspective, a couple of early goals would do very nicely indeed. Especially if Andy Carroll is still absent with injury.