Quick-fire double gets Arsenal back on track with victory at Bournemouth
Arsenal finally woke from their Barclays Premier League slumber as two quick-fire goals proved enough to beat Bournemouth and get them back into the title picture.
The Gunners had not won in four outings, failing to score in their last three, but a 2-0 victory in their first competitive game at the home of the Cherries keeps them in the hunt for a first championship since 2004.
This was a Sunday afternoon slow-burner until the midway point of the first-half, when Arsenal ended their near-five and a half hour run without a goal in style.
Mesut Ozil tucked away the opener for his first goal since he bagged in December's reverse fixture against Bournemouth and, just 88 seconds later, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struck to end a 17-month wait for a Premier League goal.
When Arsenal had beaten the Cherries on December 28 they had moved to the summit of the Premier League but a poor run since then sees them third behind Leicester and fierce local rivals Tottenham.
Eddie Howe's Bournemouth were actually the in-form side heading into this one, unbeaten in four having won three of those games to move clear of the bottom three.
By contrast, Arsenal had slipped from leaders on New Year's Day to fourth ahead of kick-off at the Vitality Stadium but this win moved them to within five points of table-topping Leicester - who visit the Emirates Stadium next Sunday.
Mathieu Flamini was booked for an early two-footed challenge on Dan Gosling before Alexis Sanchez fired over from a tight angle with neither side able to establish a foothold in the game in the opening stages.
Arsenal finally started to dominate and it paid off as Oliver Giroud cushioned Aaron Ramsey's long ball into the path of Ozil, who fired home past Artur Boruc.
And, after such a long wait for a goal, the Gunners were soon two ahead as Oxlade-Chamberlain was fed by Ramsey before finishing with a low drive off the post.
Bournemouth almost got straight back into the contest but Petr Cech was on hand to brilliantly tip Harry Arter's curling effort over his crossbar.
Matt Ritchie wasted a good chance as he spooned over when picked out of the edge of the Arsenal box, with Howe's men still reeling from the quick-fire sucker punch.
Cech was again on hand at the stroke of half-time as former Tottenham youngster Adam Smith was picked out in the area, beating Nacho Monreal to the ball only to see the Gunners stopper close him down.
It was Smith who hit the side-netting with Bournemouth's first chance of the second-half before Sanchez's shot was pushed behind by Boruc for an Arsenal corner, from which Giroud headed straight at the Poland international.
The game petered out later in the half but both goalkeepers were called into late action, Boruc smothering Ramsey's effort before Cech capped a good display as he saved well from Steve Cook and Harry Arter.
All eyes will now be on the midday showdown between the Gunners and Leicester next Sunday, with Arsenal knowing they need another victory to truly be back in the hunt.
Tweet of the Match:
"If I was an @afcbournemouth player I'd be sitting on #monreal shoulder. #AFCBvAFC." - Former English heptathlete and 400m sprinter, Arsenal fan Kelly Sotherton @KellySotherton
Artur Boruc: 6
Adam Smith: 7
Simon Francis: 6
Steve Cook: 6
Charlie Daniels: 6
Andrew Surman: 7
Matt Ritchie: 6
Harry Arter: 7
Dan Gosling: 6
Marc Pugh: 6
Benik Afobe: 6
Joshua King (for Gosling, 65): 5
Junior Stanislas (for Ritchie, 66): 5
Lewis Grabban (for Afobe, 76): 5
Petr Cech: 8
Hector Bellerin: 7
Laurent Koscielny: 6
Nacho Monreal: 6
Mathieu Flamini: 6
Aaron Ramsey: 7
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
Mesut Ozil: 7
Alexis Sanchez: 6
Olivier Giroud: 7
Francis Coquelin (for Oxlade-Chamberlain, 67): 5
Kieran Gibbs (for Sanchez, 81): 5
Theo Walcott (for Giroud, 90): 5
Petr Cech: A lot has been made about Arsenal's profilgacy in front of goal recently but Cech has been largely superb at the other end. The Gunners goalkeeper has made match-winning contributions on several occasions this season and made a number of smart saves to keep Arsene Wenger's men on top throughout this encounter.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: The England international has admitted he has not been at his best recently but he was recalled here and, after Mesut Ozil's opener, his smart finish moments later sealed a vital three points in Arsenal's title challenge. It also saw him end a 17-month Premier League goal drought.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Wenger will be delighted to have got back to winnings ways but will be aware the performance levels across the board will have to be better when they welcome Leicester to north London next weekend. For Eddie Howe, this was a missed chance to extend a good recent run against an out-of-sorts side.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
There is still something missing from the Arsenal attack that was certainly present earlier in the season. Alexis Sanchez is still not fit while Olivier Giroud has now gone five games without a goal. They will need to get back to their former level of consistency to haul Arsenal back into the title race.
Bournemouth v Stoke (Barclays Premier League, February 13)
Arsenal v Leicester (Barclays Premier League, February 14)
Man of the match Ramsey told Sky Sports 1: " We needed (the win) badly. We realised what Leicester did yesterday and we needed to close that gap so it was important to get back to winning ways. We put in a shift and the game was won in the first half.
"There was no room for error and the boys responded really well. We have a big game against (Leicester) next week so I'm sure that'll be one that everyone will be interested in seeing, so let's hope we can keep this winning run that we're on."
On his challenge on Gosling, Flamini explained what happened, saying: "I was focused on the ball. We went together to compete and I think I took the ball and (it was) a good decision from the referee."
On the same incident, Howe said: "I thought it was a red (for Flamini). I had a very good view, it looked like it was two-footed and potentially off the floor.
"I've only seen it live but my initial view was a definite red card. Going off first viewing, it wasn't a difficult decision. I felt that the two-footed tackle had been outlawed and it was a red card."
Howe added: "I think the quality that (Arsenal) have got in the front positions (was the difference).
"Early in the game we found it difficult to get pressure on the ball and to really influence their possession and ultimately on the back of that possession they scored two goals."