By Rob Kelly at the Vitality Stadium
Arsenal rescued a point on the south coast after coming from three goals down to secure a 3-3 draw against Bournemouth.
In a first half to forget, the Gunners fell behind when Charlie Daniels controlled a sweeping pass in the area and beat Petr Cech with a calm finish.
- Read Cech's post-match reaction
- See what Giroud made of our comeback
- Find out what the boss thought of our performance
Things soon got even worse for the visitors when Granit Xhaka tangled with Ryan Fraser to the left of the area, and Callum Wilson slotted home the resulting penalty.
Arsenal upped the ante after the interval but with the momentum seemingly shifting in the game, Fraser looked to have killed it off when he raced into the box and slotted the ball home.
But the visitors refused to give up, and Alexis provided some hope when he reacted first to a deflected cross and headed in at the far post.
There was another twist when, with 15 minutes later, substitute Lucas reached an Olivier Giroud flick to the left of the area and volleyed it sweetly into the bottom corner.
Simon Francis was soon sent off for a tackle on Aaron Ramsey, before Giroud - the hero on Boxing Day with an 87th-minute goal - was at it again, when he rose in the area in stoppage time to glance in the equaliser.
It was a grandstand finish, and Cech had to be alert to beat away a Dan Gosling strike, but there were to be no further goals from a thrilling game on the south coast.
SETTING THE SCENE
Arsene Wenger admitted that his side came into this game under pressure as they sought to keep pace with Chelsea at the top of the table.
The manager had described this as the “most uneven Christmas period” he had experienced, and this match - just 50 hours after the final whistle had blown against Crystal Palace - offered a whole new challenge for tired legs.
To that end, Wenger made three changes to his team in a bid to freshen things up - the most notable seeing Shkodran Mustafi back to partner Laurent Koscielny at the heart of the defence.
Elsewhere, Francis Coquelin came in from Mohamed Elneny - on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Egypt - and Aaron Ramsey replaced Lucas.
Bournemouth were without Jack Wilshere due to the terms of his loan agreement with Arsenal, while former Gunner Benik Afobe was not in the squad despite scoring against Swansea at the weekend.
The game got off to a lively start, with both sides eager to get on the front foot and pass the ball around on a chilly night on the south coast.
Petr Cech was called into action during the early knockings to hold a powerful strike by Junior Stanislas, while the Cherries fans demanded a penalty moments later when the goalkeeper collided with Callum Wilson in the area.
But replays proved Michael Oliver’s decision to wave play on to be correct, with Cech clearly pushing the ball off the Bournemouth striker’s feet before the contact between the two players took place.
But any relief the Gunners felt was soon wiped out as the Stanislas swept a crossfield ball to Daniels in the area, and the left-back took the ball past Hector Bellerin and slotted in the opening goal.
Things went from bad to worse when, two minutes later, Bournemouth countered at pace, before Fraser was bundled over by Xhaka on the left-hand side of the box.
Arsenal were furious at the decision to award a penalty, but they paid the ultimate price as Wilson coolly slotted the ball straight down the middle to leave them in big trouble.
Francis Coquelin hobbled off not long afterwards to add to Wenger’s headache, although his side began to show signs of life with Ramsey seeing a shot arrow just past the post after a slight deflection.
But the Cherries continued to pose problems and Mustafi had to make an outstanding challenge in the area to prevent Wilson from extending their lead, while Harry Arter sliced a shot wide moments later.
Arsenal started to push forward as they sought a way back into the match before half time, with Iwobi having the best opportunity but he sliced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cutback wide from the edge of the area.
Wenger’s side made a much brighter start to the second half, with Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain both making early inroads down the flanks, while Giroud glanced a header wide when well placed.
But for all the visitors’ pressing, when the ball hit the back of the net next it was Bournemouth who were celebrating - that is until the ‘goal’ was disallowed for handball after Arter’s shot hit Wilson on its way in.
But the Gunners’ relief was shortlived once again, as Bournemouth made it three moments later as Fraser seemed to push over Bellerin, before cutting into the area and slotting the ball between Cech’s legs.
It was a hammerblow just as Arsenal seemed to be mounting a recovery, and Cech soon had to dive to his right to beat out a Stanislas free kick as the hosts continued to pile on the pressure.
Oxlade-Chamberlain soon made a fine last-gasp challenge as the dangerous Fraser threatened to add a fourth, but with 21 minutes remaining there was a glimmer of hope as we pulled one back.
It came as Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped in a cross from the right, which Giroud flicked on and Alexis reacted first to send a diving header beyond Artur Boruc.
It seemed like it may just be a consolation, but with 75 minutes on the clock it was game on as Lucas ran on to Giroud’s flick in the area and sent a stunning left-footed volley into the far corner.
It was a beautiful strike, but there was no time to admire it as the Gunners started to throw everything forward in the hope of getting something from a game that had looked beyond them.
Dan Gosling had a golden opportunity to kill the Arsenal comeback off when he span in the area to find space, but he curled his shot wide of the far post.
There was even further drama when Francis was sent off for a reckless challenge on Ramsey on the touchline, and the question was whether the Gunners could take advantage.
The answer was emphatically delivered when, with three minutes remaining, Giroud climbed highest to reach Xhaka’s cross and glance it beyond Boruc and in at the far post.
Referee: Michael Oliver
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