Arsene Wenger believes former Arsenal trainee Benik Afobe strengthens the case for AFC Bournemouth avoiding relegation in their debut Premier League season.
Arsenal travel to the south coast on Sunday to take on Eddie Howe’s side, who already boast victories over the likes Manchester United and Chelsea this term – results have helped them to 15th position, seven points clear of the drop zone.
Their cause has been bolstered by the acquisition of Afobe from Wolves during the January transfer window, with the 22-year-old striker repaying Howe’s faith with three goals in his four top-flight appearances for Bournemouth.
England Under-21 striker Afobe led something of a nomadic existence during his time on Arsenal’s books, moving on loan to six different clubs before Wolves completed a permanent transfer for him last January.
Speaking ahead of the game on Friday, Arsenal boss Wenger explained: “He was very young, he had big competition in front of him with Robin van Persie and players like that, so I gave him authorisation to go somewhere and play, which he did.
“You educate people to influence their lives and give them success. When they do not manage to play for us, if they do it somewhere else we are of course very happy for them.
“Benik has done extremely well, even beyond the expectations of many people and that’s great, that’s down to him and congratulations to him.
“I think the best way to stop [him] being dangerous is for us to have the ball and dominate the game and being aware that Benik is quick, strong and has good movement in the box.
“We are used to facing these kind of strikers in the Premier League because in every single club there are top-quality strikers.
“That’s the same with Bournemouth. I’ve always said that they will avoid relegation since the start of the season when I saw them play. They have enough substance in their game to stay up.”
In contrast to Afobe, Arsenal have been shot-shy recently – failing to score in the last three of four winless Premier League matches to slip five points behind leaders Leicester City.
The uncertainty at the top of the table is matched at the wrong end, and Bournemouth boss Howe believes the traditional 40-point target to ensure safety may prove deceptive this season.
“Every weekend is pivotal,” Howe said. “Sunday represents a really good game for our football club, we’re competitive and try to win.
“We’re conscious of people setting 40 points but we haven’t set any targets. We’re working towards goals, but it’s very dangerous to set 40 points as it could be more this year.”
Howe will make a late call on winger Junior Stanislas (knee), while Arsenal are without Thomas Rosicky.
The veteran midfielder might have played his last game for the club, with a thigh injury set to keep him sidelined for three months and his contract expiring in June.
Danny Welbeck returned to action for Arsenal’s Under-21 side on Friday but will not be risked at the Vitality Stadium, where Bournemouth hope to avenge a 2-0 December defeat at Emirates Stadium.
Key Opta stats:
– Arsenal have won just one of their past six Premier League away games (W1 D3 L2).
– Arsene Wenger’s team have not gone five league matches without a win since August 2011.
– Bournemouth have dropped more points from winning positions than any other team in the top flight (14).
– Eddie Howe’s men have scored a season-high tally (eight) and proportion (28 per cent) of their goals in the opening 15 minutes of games.
– If Arsenal fail to score, they will equal their longest run in Premier League history without a goal – four matches, established in February 2009.