When Bournemouth host Arsenal on Sunday, they will welcome a side desperately seeking a win to reinvigorate their fading title challenge.
Arsenal have failed to win in each of their last four league games. It's their worst run for some time—the Gunners have not gone five Barclays Premier League matches without winning since the dark days of August 2011.
Arsene Wenger's team haven't even scored in their last three outings. Having drawn a blank against Stoke City, Chelsea and Southampton, Arsenal will hope to finally rediscover their shooting boots at Dean Court.
It won't be easy against a Bournemouth side in terrific form. Over the past couple of months, Eddie Howe's men have climbed out of trouble to sit a full seven points clear of the relegation zone. Having already defeated Manchester United at their home ground, they'll be looking to add another major scalp in this impressive debut campaign in the Premier League.
Date: Sunday, February 7
Time: 1.30 p.m. GMT/8.30 a.m. ET
Location: Dean Court, Bournemouth
Television coverage: Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD (UK only), NBCSN/NBC Universo (U.S. only)
Streaming: Sky Go (UK only), NBC Sports Live Extra (U.S. only)
For ticket information on all Premier League games, visit the league's official site or go to the ticket page on the home club's official website.
L (1-3) vs. West Ham United
W (3-0) vs. Norwich City
D (1-1) vs. Sunderland
W (1-2) vs. Portsmouth
W (1-2) vs. Crystal Palace
D (3-3) vs. Liverpool
D (0-0) vs. Stoke
L (0-1) vs. Chelsea
W (2-1) vs. Burnley
D (0-0) vs. Southampton
Unbeaten in four, Bournemouth appear to be a team with momentum. Their last home game was a resounding 3-0 win over relegation rivals Norwich City, and Howe will hope his side can replicate that performance level for the visit of Arsenal.
Arsenal's form on the road is not great. The Gunners have only won one of their last six away fixtures in the Premier League, drawing three and losing the other two.
However, these two teams have only met twice in the past, and on both occasions it was Arsenal who emerged victorious. Bournemouth are yet to record a competitive goal against the Gunners.
Wenger is so concerned with his team's form that he's stopped all talk of the title. First and foremost, Arsenal need to get back to winning ways. Only then can they consider the broader context of the championship race. He told his team's website:
We are in a position where we have to come back first—to win games—which we haven’t been doing recently. We have to look at the facts as they are. We haven’t won in four games.
We want to get back to winning and then look at the results of the others. Look at yourself and get back to what you want to do, and to do that you have to win your next game.
You look at the table and you can say as many as five or six [can win it]. It makes it interesting—even if we would love it to be a bit less interesting but it is the case and we have to deal with that.
Every season is special and we have gone through a bad patch but to fight for the Premier League, you have to be capable of dealing with that.
There doesn't seem to be much chance of Bournemouth taking Arsenal lightly. Howe has insisted the Gunners' poor run is as much to do with a tricky fixture list as anything else. He told Neil Perrett of the Bournemouth Echo:
I don’t know whether that constitutes a dip in form and they have had some difficult fixtures. They are under pressure to win the league and their objectives are totally different to ours. I just think we’ve got to do what we do and try to do it to the very best of our ability.
If we can get both aspects of our game to the highest level, we will have a chance. But we are going to need to be at the very highest level against one of the best teams in the country.
Howe will know even an out-of-form Arsenal are a wounded animal. Sooner or later, they will exact revenge on an unsuspecting opponent.
Howe will be delighted to welcome back Joshua King for this match. The former Manchester United man was involved in the FA Cup last time out and is ready for Premier League action. There is, however, a doubt over Junior Stanislas. He will face a late fitness test before a decision is made on his inclusion.
This will be a particularly poignant day for new striker Benik Afobe, who will face the club with whom he underwent his footballing education.
Possible Bournemouth XI (4-5-1): Artur Boruc; Adam Smith, Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Charlie Daniels; Matt Ritchie, Dan Gosling, Andrew Surman, Harry Arter, Mark Pugh; Benik Afobe.
The Gunners will be without Tomas Rosicky, who picked up a thigh injury after coming on as a substitute against Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round. Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere have both stepped up their comebacks, but neither is yet ready for first-team football.
For this match, Wenger may bring Per Mertesacker back into the fold after the giant German sat out the Southampton game. His other change is likely to be the reintroduction of Francis Coquelin, who started against Burnley but was not deemed ready to face Southampton on Tuesday.
Possible Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey; Joel Campbell, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez; Olivier Giroud.
Players to Watch
Bournemouth: Benik Afobe
Afobe is a product of the Arsenal academy but never made a senior competitive appearance for the Gunners. However, he has fought his way up from the Championship to make an impressive return to the Premier League, scoring three goals in his last three appearances. Howe is understandably delighted with Afobe's start to life on the south coast, telling Sky Sports:
It's a great lift for him and a great lift for us because you need the main striker in your side to give you goals and he's done that.
I thought he linked the play very well, in the second half too. He always works hard and there's more to come. He's only young so the future looks bright for him.
There will be no room for any sentiment from Afobe come Sunday. He'll be eager to continue his rich vein of form against the club that reared him.
Arsenal: Alexis Sanchez
With Arsenal desperately looking for goals, Alexis Sanchez becomes all the more important. He made his return to the Premier League as a starter against Southampton and was one of the Gunners' more lively players.
Alexis is a player capable of producing something out of nothing. Arsenal need him to employ that mercurial trait now more than ever.
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