Alexis Sánchez was nowhere to be seen but this was the same old Arsenal in many other respects. A game that was totally in their control with just over 20 minutes remaining, as they led through Héctor Bellerín’s second‑half goal, inexplicably slipped from their grasp after Bournemouth scored twice in the blink of an eye to pile more misery on Arsène Wenger.
The narrative feels all too familiar, so much so that it no longer comes as a surprise when Arsenal players troop off the field with heads bowed after failing to see out a match. Once again, Wenger’s team were their own worst enemy, capitulating defensively to gift Bournemouth a route back into a game that they had never looked like getting anything out of for so long.
Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe accepted the invitation to punish ruthlessly the “surprising mistakes” that Wenger lamented, although the Frenchman was honest enough to admit that Arsenal’s problems start, rather than end, at the back. Wenger described Arsenal as lacklustre as an attacking force and bemoaned the lack of creativity on a day when his team registered only three shots on target and Alexandre Lacazette’s goal drought was extended to nine matches. At times Lacazette, the club-record signing, looked lost.
In truth, there are weaknesses all over the pitch and it was hard to think of any Arsenal player who emerged with any credit apart from Jack Wilshere. Making his seventh consecutive league start after recovering from the ankle injury that forced him off against Chelsea in midweek, Wilshere faded late on but ran the game for long periods, using the ball intelligently and generally doing his best to make Arsenal tick with his energy in the centre of the pitch.
The supporting cast around him, however, were a huge disappointment. Alex Iwobi produced a lovely pass to set up Bellerín’s goal but offered little else and it is hard to escape the feeling that he would not get near one of those formidable Wenger teams of the past. Danny Welbeck never imposed himself and there is nothing convincing about the three-man central defence of Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers. As for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, it seems almost unfair to expect a 20-year-old defensive midfielder to fill in at left wing-back, and it was no real surprise that one of the Bournemouth goals originated from a raid down that flank.
There was, in other words, plenty for Wenger to chew over as he headed back to London reflecting on a result that means Arsenal have gone four games without a win at the start of a calendar year for the first time since 1995 and on the prospect of losing arguably his best player. The Arsenal manager took the decision to leave Sánchez out the squad because he senses that the Chilean’s departure is imminent, with the 29-year-old expected to sign for one of the two Manchester clubs within 48 hours. Whatever anyone thinks of Sánchez at Arsenal – and he has clearly been a destructive influence at times – his ability to score and create goals leaves a huge void.