Jekyll and Hyde Arsenal in stunning comeback at Bournemouth
Gunners shoot themselves in the foot but then recover from three-goal deficit to claim a point and keep faint title hopes alive
Bournemouth 3 Arsenal 3
A new year, but for an hour at Dean Court it was the same old Arsenal. A shambolic defensive display in the first 60 minutes gifted the hosts three easy goals and the Gunners looked on course for a demoralising defeat that would have ended their title hopes once and for all.
But then a different Arsenal appeared, inspired by the tireless Alexis Sanchez, who began the fightback with a headed goal in the 70th minute. And it is that Arsenal that still has the faintest of chances in the title race after refusing to die against the Cherries.
The visiting fans raised a small cheer for the first goal but the celebrations grew louder five minutes later when Lucas Perez scored a spectacular second, the Spaniard hooking the ball into the Bournemouth net from a tight angle.
Now the Arsenal fans and players began to believe, and for the first time it was their hosts under pressure.
Captain Simon Francis lost his head on 82 minutes, getting his marching orders for a two-footed challenge on Aaron Ramsey, and the Bournemouth fans groaned when they saw the board indicating six minutes of stoppage time. Arsenal needed just two of those minutes to complete their stirring comeback, man-of-the-match Olivier Giroud deftly heading the ball past Artur Boruc for what was a precious point for his side.
It still leaves them eight points shy of leaders Chelsea, and the Blues could extend their advantage tonight when they visit Tottenham, but Giroud's goal will do wonders for their Gunners morale.
Rightly criticised for the way they slumped to successive away defeats last month at Everton and Manchester City, Arsenal showed against Bournemouth that they do have some spirit when faced with adversity, a point made by Giroud in his post-match interview.
Admitting he was "disappointed" that Arsenal didn't pick up three points, the Frenchman added: "We came back, showed great mental strength and I will take that."
Asked what lessons the Gunners could take from the match, Giroud explained: "We had a bad start tonight, so we need to focus on that in our next game by not making the same mistakes."
The mistakes came from the Arsenal defence with Hector Bellerin in particular enduring a torrid evening on the South Coast. The Spaniard was at fault for the first goal on 15 minutes, caught hopelessly out of position by Junior Stanislas's long, lofted pass to Charlie Daniels. He then cut inside Bellerin and coolly slotted the ball under the legs of the advancing Petr Cech.
Four minutes later the Cherries made it 2-0 after Granit Xhaka stupidly barged over Ryan Fraser in the penalty area. Callum Wilson's spot kick wasn't a thing of beauty but it trundled into the net with Cech diving the wrong way.
A third was added after the break, Bellerin again at fault as he allowed himself to be manhandled off the ball by Fraser, and it seemed that Bournemouth were cruising to one of the wins of their season.
That they were pegged back was partly down to their own loss of nerve, but also the resilience of their opponents.
"Defensively we had some weaknesses tonight that were unusual and in some positions at the back we suffered," reflected Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who was at pains to point out that his side were playing their second game in three games while Bournemouth had enjoyed an additional 24 hours' rest.
"I am ready to play tomorrow again as long as we play against an opponent who has played today as well," said the Frenchman. "That is what I call fair."