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Sports

Olivier Giroud caps Arsenal’s fightback to earn point in Bournemouth thriller

theguardian.com

Forget all the talk about Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick – the real sting in the tail was delivered by the Frenchman 48 hours later as he scored an injury-time header that was nothing like as spectacular as his goal against Crystal Palace but every bit as important as Arsenal staged a remarkable comeback.

With little more than 20 minutes remaining Arsenal were staring at the prospect of a chastening defeat after Bournemouth had run the visitors’ defence ragged. Eddie Howe’s team were 3-0 up, the travelling Arsenal supporters had turned on their own team and it was hard to see a way back for Arsène Wenger’s players.

Laurent Koscielny had departed with cramp, Héctor Bellerín was enduring what must go down as one of the most difficult nights of his career and there was no hint of a recovery. Yet in the 70th minute Alexis Sánchez headed in at the far post and, as Howe would ruefully later reflect, that was the key moment in this helter-skelter match.

Arsenal gained some belief and the balance of the game shifted – not just because of Sánchez’s goal. Ryan Fraser, who scored Bournemouth’s third goal and won the penalty that led to Callum Wilson converting from the spot earlier in the match, had been forced off through injury, meaning that the home team no longer had that lightning quick outlet on the left to stretch Arsenal.

It became a question of whether Bournemouth could hold their nerve and keep Arsenal at bay for long enough, yet within five minutes Wenger’s side had a second when Lucas Pérez volleyed beautifully into the far corner of the net. Incredibly Bournemouth came close to scoring a fourth but Dan Gosling curled wide and the significance of that miss soon became clear.

With eight minutes left, Simon Francis went into a full-blooded challenge with Aaron Ramsey that Michael Oliver, the referee, deemed worthy of a straight red. It seemed a little harsh and left Bournemouth, who were retreating deeper and deeper, desperately hanging on.

The game had ticked into the 92nd minute when Granit Xhaka delivered a cross that Giroud, towering above Steve Cook, headed beyond Artur Boruc. Arsenal had somehow rescued the most unlikely point, breaking Bournemouth hearts in the process. The home changing room, Howe admitted, was a desperately quiet place after the match.

Arsenal, in fairness, deserve credit for turning the game around, especially in light of the fact that this was their second fixture in the space of two days. It was not as if Wenger made wholesale changes – he retained eight of the side that started against Palace – and it says something about their character and resilience that they never gave up. Yet defensively Arsenal were all over the place at the times and it was alarming to see how easily Bournemouth exposed their weaknesses at the back.

Arsenal’s start was about as bad as it gets and Wenger was soon wearing that familiar pained expression on his face. His side conceded twice in the opening 20 minutes, Francis Coquelin limped off before the half-hour mark and, in another sign that everything was unravelling for Arsenal, Sánchez and Ramsey were raging at one another.

Bournemouth, on the other hand, were enjoying themselves and reaping the rewards of Howe’s bold tactics. Despite being without Benik Afobe, who was unable to play because Democratic Republic of Congo had not provided international clearance in the wake of the striker’s decision to withdraw from their Africa Cup of Nations squad, Howe still went with two up front. Wilson and Joshua King filled those positions and troubled Arsenal time and again with their pace in behind.

Yet it was Charlie Daniels, the Bournemouth left-back, who opened the scoring with a superbly taken goal. Running into the space that opened up behind Bellerín, Daniels controlled Junior Stanislas’s crossfield pass, stepped inside the Arsenal right-back and beat Petr Cech at his near post. Four minutes later Wilson scored from the spot after Xhaka pushed Fraser over in the area as the Scot scampered clear. Wenger felt that it was a soft penalty but Xhaka was playing with fire when he placed his left hand on Fraser’s back.

It seemed inevitable there would be an Arsenal response after the restart and so it proved for a period, yet it was Bournemouth who struck again. Daniels slid a pass into the inside left channel and Bellerin, who is no slouch, had a headstart on Fraser. Yet Fraser not only caught up with the Arsenal defender but was too strong for him. Darting into the area after Bellerin had felt the force of his shoulder charge, Fraser slipped the ball through Cech’s legs and Bournemouth were in dreamland.

Arsenal, however, were not done. Sánchez nodded in at the far post after Giroud flicked on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross and in the blink of an eye it was 3-2 following a fine piece of play involving Sánchez, Xhaka and Giroud that ended with Pérez spearing a lovely left-footed volley beyond Boruc. Then was all about Giroud, who has started 2017 with a bang.

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