Eddie Howe, the rumoured heir to Arsene Wenger’s throne, showed his qualifications for the one-day vacant manager of Arsenal position with Bournemouth’s 3-0 loss at Millwall. The League One side knocked the Cherries out of the FA Cup in stunning fashion, a result sure to assure the Arsenal brass that their next manager will continue the results of the current staff.
Reflecting the realities of being a club fighting for survival in the Premier League, Howe made 11 changes from his line-up of the previous game and the lack of playing together showed. Steve Morison nodded home a goal in the first half that set the tone for the entire game, especially with Millwall’s dominance in the second half. In fact, the taller Morison caused issues for the Cherries throughout, something that might have been caught in the scouting report. Down 1-0 at halftime, Howe made a change and the Cherries should have equalized when Lys Mousset missed a header in front of an open net. Minutes later Millwall scored and the match was over except for Millwall scoring a rub-salt-in-the-wound goal.
Even Millwall manager Neil Harris was not afraid to admit how badly his club beat the Premier League side. “Three-nil didn’t flatter us, we could have scored more,” said Harris according to The Guardian. When the opposing manager can admit he should have throttled you more, you’ve had a bad day.
To his credit, Howe took the blame for having not prepared his side… no just kidding, he blamed his players. After the match he noted his side didn’t show the teamwork that has defined their success this season and lamented how hard it was to play in the FA Cup when his side had to also play in the Premier League. He bemoaned their lack of cohesion, sadly not saying this ironically.
The shock defeat comes the same week as Howe had an tryout in front of the Arsenal brass in person. On Tuesday the Gunners came to Bournemouth and in the first half it was the Cherries who looked like the team contending for a title. The players looked sharper and unsettled the Arsenal starting XI, jumping out to a 2-0 halftime lead. When Ryan Fraser put a shot through Petr Cech’s legs in the 58th minute, everyone assumed Arsenal would wilt, as it normally does when faced with a setback. Instead, Howe’s side did its best Arsenal impression. Rather than close out maybe Bournemouth’s greatest Premier League victory, the Cherries charitably allowed Arsenal to come back in dramatic fashion. Howe’s contribution was to sacrifice 3/4ths of the pitch by subbing on defenders instead of strengthening his midfield, which would allow his side to exercise more control of the ball against a buzzing Arsenal. Throw in a player getting a red card on a bad challenge, and you have a classic Arsenal collapse.
In just one week, Howe’s Bournemouth showed all of the stylings of a modern Arsenal side. They lost a big lead and the next game were upset by a smaller club. They failed to have a “plan b” when adjustments were needed in their game plan. Players showed a lack of discipline, including an unnecessary red card.
One day, when Eddie Howe is leading the Gunners to the coveted fourth place Champions League place, fans can look back to the beginning of 2017 and remember this as the moment they knew Howe was the right man for the job.