LONDON – Unai Emery urged Arsenal to take the chance to chase down Tottenham in the north London derby on Saturday after sweeping aside Bournemouth 5-1 on Wednesday to close to within four points of Spurs.
Mesut Ozil made the most of being handed a rare start by Emery, as the German and Henrikh Mkhitaryan masterminded an excellent performance from the Gunners to remain a point clear of Manchester United in fourth.
Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham at Stamford Bridge means the gap between third and sixth is now down to seven points in the battle for two Champions League places next season.
“Yes, it’s a big motivation,” said Emery of the chance to further close the gap on Spurs in third.
“We have a great opportunity on Saturday – they are at the moment better than us in the table.”
Emery now has a welcome selection headache for the visit to Wembley, as Ozil and Mkhitaryan starred on their first start together in the league since November.
Emery has been reluctant to use Arsenal’s highest earner in his debut season in charge as Ozil was making just his second league start of the year.
Yet, the former Real Madrid midfielder showed why Arsenal handed him a contract worth a reported £350 000 a week last January by rolling back the years in a freer role alongside Mkhitaryan.
Arsenal were helped along the way by some feeble Bournemouth defending as the Cherries succumbed to a 10th consecutive away defeat.
“It was a difficult night for us, epitomised by the start of the match and we never truly recovered,” said Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.
“We weren’t good in any aspect of the game, with or without the ball or mentally. We have to reflect on that honestly.”
Artur Boruc should have got a stronger hand to Ozil’s shot that bounced over the Polish goalkeeper to give the hosts a perfect start after just four minutes.
Bournemouth caused their own problems again in the build-up to Arsenal’s second as Adam Smith gifted possession to Mkhitaryan, but it was still brilliantly pounced upon as the Armenian exchanged passes with Ozil before slotting into an empty net.
A hint of complacency cost Arsenal moments later when Matteo Guendouzi was caught in possession on the edge of his own box by Dan Gosling, and he squared for Lys Mousset to roll into an empty net.
#ARSBOU – ✅
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) February 28, 2019
However, Arsenal clicked through the gears after the break and put the game to bed before the hour mark.
The Ozil-Mkhitaryan connection again opened up Bournemouth down Arsenal’s right, and Mkhitaryan picked out Laurent Koscielny, whose shot deflected in off Nathan Ake.
Emery also has a big decision over who to start up front on Saturday as both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are also in top form.
Mkhitaryan was the creator again for the fourth when his through-ball freed Aubameyang in behind the Bournemouth defence, and the Gabon striker stayed cool to round Boruc and slot home his 19th goal of the season.
A start for Aubameyang meant Lacazette had to settle for a place on the bench, but the French international still had time to add his 14th of the campaign with a brilliant free kick 12 minutes from time.