Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta felt his young side showed “courage” to overcame struggling Bournemouth at Vitality Stadium and set up an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Portsmouth.
Mikel Arteta’s side were good value for their victory, the platform for progress into the next round built on first-half goals from Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah.
Bournemouth substitute Sam Surridge pulled a goal back deep into eight minutes of stoppage to give the scoreline a look of respectability and give Arsenal some late anxious moments, but in reality the Gunners were by far the superior team.
“I’m very pleased. I knew it was going to be a tough game and we played a really young squad,” said Arteta. “I wanted to see the reaction and I was very pleased because I saw a lot of things I really liked.
“In the first half we were really, really good. They executed everything we planned in a really good way and showed he courage to make big decisions.
“We played with that accountability, making decisions and I really liked it. They were terrific with their work-rate, showed courage to make those big decisions and not to play safe.
“That is the difference.”
Eighteen-year-old Saka lashed a finish past Bournemouth keeper Mark Travers after only five minutes following good work from the outstanding Joe Willock and Gabriel Martinelli, the goalscorer then turning provider to set up Nketiah for a simple finish in the 26th minute.
Arteta gave particular praise to Nketiah, whose season-long loan move to Leeds was cut short at the start of this month over concerns the 20-year-old was not getting enough first-team action.
“Eddie Nketiah was terrific,” said Arteta. “He was on the wing then three seconds later he was in the middle and scoring a goal. This shows me he will score goals and the way he worked without the ball was excellent.”
The only blot on Arsenal’s night was a second-half ankle injury that saw defender Shkodran Mustafi taken off on a stretcher.
Arteta’s plan takes shape
It is easy to see the similarities between Arteta and Pep Guardiola, his managerial mentor at Manchester City – and not just in the Euro-chic wardrobe.
Arteta indulges in the same micro-management, seemingly wanting to orchestrate every move from his technical area, offering a constant stream of advice and animated gestures to his new charges.
He also clearly wants the intense, pressing style that he helped to shape as City won two Premier League titles, completing the domestic treble including the FA Cup and Carabao Cup last season, in his time at Etihad Stadium.
There is also evidence of the patient but ultimately clinical passing football at which City excel. There were 22 passes in the build up to Bukayo Saka’s opener involving all 10 outfield players.
It will not be built in a matter of months; this is a very early work in progress.
But while this is also a managerial career in its infancy, there is at least a hint of an identity about this Arsenal team that his predecessor Unai Emery failed to establish.
Arteta has a maturing group of young players that hints at a bright future, talents such as Martinelli, Saka, Willock and Matteo Guendouzi.
The manager clearly has his sights set on running deep into the FA Cup and this was a well-merited victory.
This is not a vintage Arsenal team or squad but there is a sense of some direction in the opening phases of Arteta’s reign.
Howe struggles to find a spark
Bournemouth’s late flurry, which brought Surridge’s injury-time goal and some half-chances, cannot disguise the truth that this was a largely lacklustre performance from a team struggling for inspiration and confidence.
Manager Eddie Howe made six changes from the team that recorded a much-needed Premier League win over Brighton in their last match – but there was still enough experience in his side to perform with much greater quality than this mediocre display.
Arsenal, despite the late scare, never seriously threatened to let their lead slip in a controlled performance built around the excellence of Willock and Guendouzi plus the threat of Nketiah and Saka.
The Cherries were barely seen as an attacking force until the final minutes of the first half, with the performance of £19m striker Dominic Solanke symbolising their struggles.
Nothing went right for 22-year-old, who looks light years away from the promising youngster who won an England cap against Brazil at Wembley in November 2017.
The FA Cup is very much second on manager Eddie Howe’s list of priorities but he will know that, for the most part, this showed Bournemouth to be missing any spark, only springing to life when it was too late and when Arsenal had taken their foot off the gas.
It was too little too late.
With their FA Cup interest at an end, Howe must turn his attention to moving Bournemouth out of the relegation places. They face a huge game at home to Aston Villa this weekend.
Howe will need to rediscover the inspiration that made his side look so impressive early this season and the Cherries must now dig deep as they face a real fight to avoid relegation.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Howe. “We gave it a good go in the end. It was just a poor start – a tough first half-hour and we struggled to deal with their movement. We weren’t ourselves. But for the last 60 minutes we scrapped and almost got something in the end.
“There were tactical problems for us. We changed system a couple of times. But we weren’t ourselves out of possession. We were second in the battles. Against quality teams that is what you have to master.
“We talked quite openly at half-time. We weren’t happy with what we delivered first half. We passed the ball better and competed better. There were moments there for us but that opening half-hour was the difficult part of the match.
“We learn lessons from tonight. Against the big teams you can take things from the game, even if you lose.”
Man of the match – Joe Willock (Arsenal)
Bournemouth’s barren run – the stats
- Arsenal have lost just one of their 12 games against Bournemouth in all competitions (W9 D2), winning four of the past five (D1) since a 2-1 defeat in the Premier League in January 2018.
- Bournemouth have won just one of their past 19 games against top-flight opposition in the FA Cup (D4 L14), a 2-0 victory against Manchester United in January 1984 as a third-tier side.
- Arsenal have won nine of their past 10 away games in the FA Cup (L1), with the only exception being a 4-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest in the third round of the 2017-18 competition.
- Bournemouth have lost 11 of their past 15 games across all competitions (W3 D1).
- Arsenal have gone eight games without defeat away from home in all competitions (W2 D6 L0), their longest unbeaten run on the road since September-December 2018 (a run of nine).
- Bukayo Saka has both scored and assisted in three separate games for Arsenal this season (v Eintracht Frankfurt, Standard Liege and today against Bournemouth); no other player has done so more than once for the Gunners in 2019-20.
- Saka has been directly involved in 10 goals in all competitions for Arsenal this season (three goals and seven assists) – only Gabriel Martinelli (13) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (17) have been involved in more for the Gunners in 2019-20.
- There were 22 passes in the build up to Saka’s opener for Arsenal involving all 10 outfield players.
- Eddie Nketiah has scored four goals from just nine shots on target for Arsenal in all competitions.
Bournemouth host fellow Premier League strugglers Aston Villa on Saturday 1 February (15:00 GMT). Arsenal are next in action when they travel to Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday 2 February (14:00 GMT).