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May 3, 2024 10:42 am

Middle-school mates stand opposed as Arsenal tackles Bournemouth

Mikel Arteta

The latest chapter of Arsenal’s Premier League title pursuit will have a distinctly Basque flavor on Saturday when manager Mikel Arteta faces old friend and Bournemouth boss Andoni Iraola.

After guiding the Gunners to a 3-2 win at Tottenham in a meeting of familiar North London rivals last weekend, this time Artea’s opponent is guided by a man who was once his teammate as a middle school-aged youth player.

Of more concern for Arsenal (25-5-5, 80 points), Iraola has shaped Bournemouth (13-13-9, 48 points) into a difficult opponent that has overcome a nine-match winless run to begin the season. They’ve climbed into 10th after consecutive wins over Wolves and Brighton.

It’s a much different feeling from when the Gunners won the sides’ previous meeting 4-0 on the South Coast. Arteta knows the opponent demands respect.

“They had a really difficult start in terms of fixtures as well and that was a huge factor, but you could see that the team was always close to getting a result and creating a lot of problems for the opponent,” Arteta said. “Credit to him, he has stuck with his beliefs, he’s a really good coach, a great person and I’ve known him since we were very little and I wish him all the best.”

Those wishes will be halted for Saturday as Arsenal try to maintain their narrow lead over a Manchester City side that begins the weekend a point back with a match in hand.

There’s also the psychological challenge of avoiding a letdown after an exceptional performance against their fiercest rival last weekend when Bukayo Saka scored his team-leading 15th goal and Kai Havertz added his 12th en route to a 3-0 halftime lead.

Bournemouth also have plenty to play for after setting a club record for Premier League points earned. The Cherries sit only three points behind an eighth-place Chelsea squad whom they visit next weekend.

“It’s something we were trying to get in the past few weeks but now we still want more points,” Iraola said of surpassing the club record. “We have three very difficult games, starting with tomorrow, but we are going to keep trying to be competitive in every game.”

Individually, Dominic Solanke also has an outside chance at the league scoring title. His 18 goals are currently good for fifth, but only three back of the leader, Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.

–Field Level Media

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