Arsenal back in title race

BOURNEMOUTH. — Arsenal re-established themselves as serious contenders for their first English Premier League soccer title since 2004 with a comfortable 2-0 victory at lowly Bournemouth yesterday.

A first win in four games took them level on points with second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, their bitter local rivals who have a superior goal difference.

After more than five hours without a league goal, Arsenal scored two in little more than a minute midway through the first half by Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Arsene Wenger’s team are still five points behind leaders Leicester City but play at home to them next Sunday.

It was their first league win since January 2, since when they had played two goalless draws and lost 1-0 to Chelsea.

“It was a must-win game for us today,” Wenger told BBC Sport.

“Leicester have made a big impression in the last week after their results. They suddenly become the favourite in the Premier League and it makes our game (next week) a big game.”

Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was heavily involved in both goals.

In the 23rd minute he crossed for Olivier Giroud to head down and give Ozil the opportunity to score.

Bournemouth had not recovered before Ramsey sent Oxlade-Chamberlain through to score his first league goal since September 2014 – and first away from home – with an angled drive.

Former Arsenal youth team striker Benik Afobe could make no impression against his old club and was substituted before two late saves from Petr Cech preserved the visitors’ clean sheet.

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe felt Arsenal should have had midfielder Mathieu Flamini sent off early in the game for a tackle on Dan Gosling that brought only a yellow card.

“I thought it was a red card,” he told Sky Sports.

“I haven’t seen it again but it looked two-footed and potentially off the floor. It wasn’t a difficult decision.”

Bournemouth, playing their first season in the Premier league, remain 15th, five points above the relegation places.

Arsenal arrived at Dean Court with their title challenge under threat after a poor run in January capped by a failure to score in their previous three league matches.

But two goals in a minute midway through the first half were enough to move them back level on points with second-place Tottenham Hotspur, five points behind leaders Leicester City, who visit the Emirates Stadium next Sunday.

The progress of near neighbours Tottenham has only added to Arsenal’s frustration as they have struggled to rediscover the form that took them to the head of the table.

But manager Wenger could be satisfied with the way his side showed signs of the form that took them to the league summit at the turn of the year, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first league goal of the season a welcome bonus.

Bournemouth’s recent results showed that Wenger’s side could not afford to take anything for granted, with Eddie Howe’s team unbeaten in their previous three league games, including an impressive mid-week victory at Crystal Palace.

The presence of Afobe in the home line-up also gave the Gunners cause for concern, with the 22-year-old anxious to impress against his former club after revealing his frustration at having never been given a first-team chance at the Emirates Stadium.

Afobe left 13 months ago and has already made his mark in the top flight with three goals in four games since completing a £10 million move from Wolverhampton Wanderers last month.

A positive start by Howe’s men meant that Arsenal were given little time to settle and the hosts were convinced that Flamini – selected ahead of Francis Coquelin, who started on the bench – should have seen red rather than yellow for a studs-up challenge on Gosling.

Referee Kevin Friend thought otherwise and having withstood early pressure, Wenger’s side exposed Bournemouth’s defensive vulnerability twice in quick succession to take control of the game.

Ramsey was the provider for the first goal, clipping a ball towards the far post for Giroud, whose headed knock-down enabled Ozil to finish smartly from 10 yards out in the 23rd minute. — Reuters.

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