By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
A Mesut Ozil masterclass inspired Arsenal to a hard-fought victory against Bournemouth that puts them top of the Premier League.
The German international was in sensational form throughout this encounter, claiming an assist for Gabriel’s first goal for the club before adding the second himself.
It was a complete performance from a player who is enjoying the season of his life, and it came when his side needed him most.
There was further reason for cheer too, as Petr Cech broke the Premier League clean-sheet record with the 170th of a glittering career in England. It capped off a fine evening’s work for the Gunners.
Arsenal made a sluggish start to the game, struggling to fashion any chances of note until Ozil’s pinpoint corner found Gabriel in the area and the Brazilian powered his header into the top corner.
Gabriel went close again when he hit the post, before Theo Walcott forced Artur Boruc into a good save before the interval.
Ozil then put the seal on a magnificent display in the 63rd minute when he played a one-two with Olivier Giroud before poking the ball beyond Boruc.
Walcott, Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all went close as the Gunners saw out the win to move to the summit of the Premier League on a night full of festive cheer in north London.
SETTING THE SCENE
Following their Boxing Day defeat at Southampton, the pressure was on Arsenal to prove that the result was just a blip rather than the onset of any deeper malaise.
Only a win would do against a Bournemouth side that had found their top-flight feet in thrilling fashion, defeating both Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks during a four-match unbeaten run.
Arsene Wenger chose to freshen up his side with four changes, the most noteable seeing Calum Chambers installed as a defensive midfielder in place of the rested Mathieu Flamini.
Elsewhere, Gabriel came in for Laurent Koscielny, Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in place of Joel Campbell for just the second-ever competitive meeting between the two clubs.
The Gunners won the first, during the 1987/88 season, pretty comfortably but would settle for a win by any means necessary in their final match of what has been an excellent 2015.
The game got off to a tentative start, with neither side willing to commit too many forward in attack as they battled for control of the midfield.
Bournemouth were in confident mood though, spraying the ball about and pinning the Gunners back during the opening exchanges, with Josh King testing Petr Cech with an early curling effort.
But with Chambers settling in well at the base of the midfield, the hosts gradually grew into the game as they saw more of the ball.
Chances remained hard to come by, although Mesut Ozil fashioned an opening for Theo Walcott with a pinpoint pass over the top of the visitors’ defence - but the forward could not connect with it.
But it would not matter as, minutes later, Arsenal grabbed the lead as Gabriel muscled his way through the area to meet Ozil’s corner and arrow a firm header into the top corner.
The relief around the Emirates was palpable. In truth, the home side had been far from their best until this point, but having got the goal advantage and with confidence surging back into their veins, they suddenly looked a far more dangerous proposition.
They came so close to adding to their lead 10 minutes from the interval as, once again from a corner, Gabriel hit the post with a glancing header and the ball rebounded into Mertesacker’s face from close range and somehow bounced wide.
Moments later, Ozil released Walcott in the area with a well-weighted pass but the England international’s fierce shot was pushed away by Artur Boruc. The tide had certainly turned and Arsenal were now well and truly on top.
They may not have been able to add to the scoreline before the break, but with the swagger returning to their game, there was plenty to encourage them heading into the interval.
The visitors had an immediate chance to equalise at the start of the second half when substitute Junior Stanislas raced through on goal despite appearing to be offside.
With no flag appearing, the Bournemouth forward seemed as surprised as anyone and hesitated slightly as he went to roll the ball across the six-yard box, allowing Gabriel to slide in and block.
It was a let-off for the Gunners, and they made the most of it when, just after the hour mark, Ozil broke into the box, played a one-two with Olivier Giroud and coolly slotted the ball under Boruc.
It was just reward for a fantastic individual performance from the German, who had taken control of a game that had threatened to get away from his side during the first half.
Arsenal were now in cruise control, full of pace and power and Walcott came within inches of adding a third when Bellerin played him through and he slotted just wide of the far post.
Giroud would later scuff a shot just wide of the far post after stretching to connect with Ozil’s cut back, before Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the post after a sweeping counter in the closing stages.
The final whistle ensured this would be the 170th clean sheet of Cech’s phenomenal career - breaking the long-standing record held by David James.
It put the seal on a fine evening for Arsenal as they ended 2015 in style, with a win that offers genuine hope for the year ahead.
Referee: Roger East
Copyright 2018 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.