by Jonathan Nagioff (@jonathannagioff)
AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe believes that a victory is “realistic” over Champions League-chasing Arsenal at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.
The Cherries are desperate for points having endured a tough season, in which they find themselves just a solitary point and place above the relegation zone after Saturday’s results.
The South Coast outfit are unbeaten in their last four games despite a difficult Christmas period in which they were beaten by Manchester United, Liverpool and runaway leaders Manchester City.
But they should take confidence from their recent outings, in which they have netted within the last five minutes in three of their last four games.
Bournemouth were on the verge of a shock 3rd round exit of the FA Cup last week to League One leaders Wigan, but Steve Cook’s dramatic injury time equaliser salvaged a replay.
And Howe is expected to make several changes, with the likes of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, Charlie Daniels likely to come back in.
Striker Callum Wilson is anticipated to lead the forward line in place of youngster Lys Mousset, with the former starting from the bench against the Latics.
Arsenal are also in indifferent form, having been dumped out of the FA Cup last week against Championship side Nottingham Forest, coupled with a hard-fought draw in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Wednesday.
The Gunners have struggled away from the Emirates this season, only securing three Premier League victories, as they aim to find a way back into Europe’s elite competition.
Jack Wilshere is expected to make his first return to the Vitality since his loan spell last season and the midfielder has recovered from an ankle problem which forced him off just before the hour mark at Stamford Bridge.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of the match, Eddie Howe said on the midfielder:
“This will be a big game for him (Wilshere), after what he did for us last year and I’m sure Jack will get a good reception from our supporters.
“He was popular in our dressing room.
“The players liked him and he fitted into the team well. And it will be good to see him again.
“I noticed straightaway in training, when he joined, the standard went higher.”
However, manager Arsene Wenger, who will serve the last game of his touchline ban, will be without an abundance of key players for the fixture, with Mesut Ozil and defender Laurent Koscielny on the sidelines, whilst wantaway forward Alexis Sanchez could be left out as he appears to edge closer to the exit door.
And Howe is confident that the Cherries can register a much-needed victory.
“A win is realistic.
“We are playing at this level on merit and whoever you play, you have to think you can win it.
“But we need to be at our absolute best to do it.”
Eddie Howe’s side will have to play far better than they did in the reverse fixture earlier on in the season as Arsenal eased to a 3-0 victory in September.
But Howe will be hoping to replicate the first 70 minutes of the game at the Vitality last season, which saw Bournemouth take a 3-0 lead, only to be pegged back to 3-3 in the final 20 minutes, as the Gunners staged a dramatic comeback.
AFC Bournemouth vs Arsenal is a 1.30pm kick off on Sunday.