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First team

Media view: Expert insight on Arsenal

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to book a place in the fifth round of the FA Cup when they host Arsenal at Vitality Stadium on Monday (8pm kick-off).

The Cherries set up a date with the Gunners after Phil Billing’s double and goals from Callum Wilson and Dominic Solanke earned them a 4-0 win over Luton Town earlier this month.

Arsenal also saw off Championship opposition with Reiss Nelson netting the only goal in their 1-0 victory over Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium.

The Cherries last reached the fifth round in 2015/16 when they exited at the hands of Everton having beaten Portsmouth and Birmingham.

Arsenal, who appointed Mikel Arteta as head coach ahead of their 1-1 draw at Vitality Stadium on Boxing Day, have won the FA Cup on 13 occasions, a competition record.

Ahead of the tie, afcb.co.uk caught up with Amy Lawrence, who covers the fortunes of the Gunners for The Athletic.

afcb.co.uk: What have you made of Mikel Arteta’s start to life as head coach of the Gunners?

AL: I’ve been astounded in the sense that it felt like Arsenal’s problems were so entrenched towards the tail end of Unai Emery’s time that you felt like a mix of Jurgen Klopp, the ghost of Brian Clough and a miracle worker would have had a task on their hands. 

To have effected a transformation in terms of the team structure, attitude and motivation so quickly – even if results have been a little slower to improve – shows Arteta is on the right path.

It has been encouraging and has very much lifted the entire atmosphere across the club.

It feels like an invigorated dressing room and that has re-enthused the fan-base because people have something to believe in and something they understand, which was missing for too long.  

afcb.co.uk: How has Arsenal’s style of play changed since he took the reins?

AL: Arteta has made Arsenal more compact and much better organised.

They still have some of those vulnerabilities because, naturally, if you’ve been used to conceding a lot of chances and making errors, that’s not going to go away overnight.

There are still limitations in the squad and Arteta has also been hampered by injuries, which makes it an even more challenging task to take over a difficult situation and engineer a quick fix.

He has still got to find a better way of allowing Arsenal to express themselves going forward. They haven’t created gallons of chances in recent matches.

Like most sensible coaches coming into a problem, the first thing you try to do is stop conceding silly goals and he has tried to address that with a smarter team shape.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (pictured above) missing, there is a creativity and a goal threat issue. That’s probably the next thing Arteta needs to try to address.

Alex Lacazette has not been scoring and Nicolas Pepe has needed adaptation time in English football but are playing well. It feels like a little tweak or touch of luck can turn that around any time. 

afcb.co.uk: Do you think Arsenal fans would swap FA Cup glory for securing a place in the Champions League?

AL: Under the circumstances, I’d say the logical choice is the Champions League because of the knock-on effect both financially and in terms of status.

Every year out seems to be taking a heavier toll on where Arsenal feel they can be in terms of competing, even in terms of recruitment because these things are linked.

The way Arsenal talk at all levels within the club they are obsessed with getting back in the Champions League and it helps they have recent experience of winning the FA Cup three times which perhaps reduces the desperation to win silverware. 

Obviously, winning is glorious and it’s a tough choice but I think, if pushed, Arsenal would prioritise the Champions League.

But that will be very difficult to achieve this season because there is so much ground to make up to finish in the top four. 

afcb.co.ukAre any first-choice players either injured or suspended against the Cherries?

AL: David Luiz (pictured above) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are both serving suspensions. Kieran Tierney and Saed Kolasinac have both been unavailable recently due to injury, while Calum Chambers is out long term so, defensively, they have quite a lot of options missing.  

afcb.co.uk: What sort of team do you anticipate Arteta will go with for this game?

AL: The evidence suggests he’ll go strong for two reasons. 

Firstly, as he demonstrated when Arsenal played Leeds in the third round, the team he selected was way stronger than most people had anticipated.

He wants to try to win the FA Cup and he also wants his work with the team to be progressing week to week because he is playing catch-up.

Every match he gets with the squad getting used to the way he wants to play is another step in the right direction for him.

The other issue is that he hasn’t got much room for manoeuvre because there are a couple of suspensions and a range of injuries.

He can’t make too many changes without having to play some very inexperienced players.

It is expected to be a fairly similar line up to recent Premier League matches with maybe one or two shuffles.

But they won’t be radical changes and will be players who quite rightly regard themselves as in contention to be playing anyway.

afcb.co.ukWhat’s your score prediction?

AL: Hiding to nothing time... 

Arsenal might nick it 1-0. Confidence and determination levels are really beginning to fire and Bournemouth, understandably, have a serious priority in trying to stay up so I would imagine having a cup run wouldn’t be at the top of their list.

Given Arsenal's position in mid-table the cups provide a real impetus to push the season along. 

You can follow Amy on Twitter – @amylawrence71

Match officials: Martin Atkinson (referee), Lee Betts (assistant), Adam Nunn (assistant), Simon Hooper (fourth official), Mike Dean (VAR), Marc Perry (assistant VAR).

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