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Three players to look out for at Bournemouth this season

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth

AFC Bournemouth kick-off their campaign with a trip to West Bromwich Albion this weekend, looking to improve on their remarkable ninth-placed finish last term.

The Cherries are now a bona fide Premier League outfit, having exceeded all expectations in their two-year stay in England’s top-flight. Manager Eddie Howe wasted little time in the transfer market, signing high-profile names Jermain Defoe, Asmir Begovic, Nathan Ake as well as youngster Connor Mahoney from Blackburn Rovers.

Here are three Bournemouth players that we are tipping to enjoy a successful season under Howe’s watchful eye…

Jordon Ibe

Signed for a then club-record fee of £15 million from Liverpool last summer, Ibe failed to establish himself in the first team after a series of mixed performances. It was a frustrating campaign for the 21-year-old, who didn’t record a single goal or assist in his 22 appearances for the Vitality Stadium club.

Statistics don’t always tell the whole story however, and supporters saw more than enough glimpses of Ibe’s talent. If pre-season is any indication, then he is set for a much-improved time. Ibe looks fit, strong and more confident.

Arguably, he is the most skilful member of the squad and someone who, on his day, can tear a defence to shreds. Some players take time to get to grips with Howe’s unique training methods, and Ibe will have benefited enormously from an entire summer under his guidance.

Lewis Cook

Another player who joined Bournemouth last summer, Cook’s first season at the club never really got going. The 2016 Football League Young Player of the Year winner moved south from Leeds United 12 months ago and made his competitive debut in the Cherries’ curtain-raiser against Manchester United.

It was quite a baptism. However a troublesome ankle injury then ruled him out until April this year and he made just five more Premier League appearances.

With Jack Wilshere now back at Arsenal after a season-long loan, Cook will get more opportunities to impress in central midfield. And having captained England Under-20s to World Cup glory, confidence is high that he can become a major player for the Cherries. Howe will be careful with his young protege, but fans are excited about the impact he could have.

Steve Cook

No relation to Lewis, Steve Cook was Bournemouth’s player of the year last season, capturing the prestigious Daily Echo/Micky Cave Award, which is voted for by the club’s supporters. That he beat 16-goal man Joshua King to the prize underlines just how impressive he was.

An ever-present in the Premier League, Cook was a model of consistency and a rock in the centre of defence. Calm, composed and assured on the ball, the former Brighton and Hove Albion star has grown in stature during each season at the Cherries.

There had been talk that he was on the cusp of an England call-up last term and although he was overlooked, he will surely be in Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. It’s surprising he has not been linked with a move to a ‘bigger’ club, but that suits Bournemouth just fine. Cook is the Cherries’ Mr Reliable and one of the first names on the team-sheet.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the London Stadium

Rob Meech

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Hernandez
Photo: Reuters

West Ham United and AFC Bournemouth extended their respective unbeaten runs with a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium. Both clubs have climbed away from the relegation zone in recent weeks and this was a keenly-fought encounter between two evenly-matched sides.

Following a goalless first half, the Cherries broke the deadlock through Ryan Fraser after a breakaway, only for Javier Hernandez to equalise for the hosts 64 seconds later. A share of the spoils was a fair reflection and means West Ham and Bournemouth, 11th and 12th respectively, have identical records from the past six Premier League matches. Here are three talking points…

Future looks bright for both clubs

Just a month ago, the outlook was markedly different for both West Ham and Bournemouth. At Christmas, the Cherries were in the bottom three and the Hammers were not much better off. But the eventful 3-3 draw between these two teams on Boxing Day proved to be the start of an unbeaten run for each, which has given both real hope of avoiding relegation.

Such is the congested nature of the bottom half that it only takes a couple of victories to change the complexion on the table. Both clubs have won two and drawn three of their previous five fixtures, which has been enough to put clear daylight between themselves and the drop-zone.

This game, much like the corresponding fixture at the Vitality Stadium, suggests neither West Ham nor Bournemouth should be in serious trouble at the end of the campaign – if they can maintain their form. Equally though, David Moyes and Eddie Howe will be aware that complacency is not an option.

Impressive Fraser continues his resurgence

Bournemouth’s upturn in results since Christmas has coincided with a revitalised Fraser. The Scottish winger, affectionally known as ‘Wee Man’ by Cherries supporters, now has three goals and one assist in his past four appearances. His finishing has noticeably improved this season and he took his goal against West Ham with aplomb, firing the ball past Adrian after a defence-splitting pass from the returning Junior Stanislas.

Furthermore, Fraser’s improved stamina has enabled him to be effective for longer. Previously, the 23-year-old began to flag towards the latter stages and he was often replaced. But a better diet has paid dividends this campaign and he is rapidly becoming a key figure for Howe. Fraser has pace to burn and a directness that gives the team something different. Now though, he is having a real impact in games and his five Premier League goals are second only to Callum Wilson in the scoring charts.

Can West Ham afford to let Hernandez leave?

Speculation has surfaced in the past few days that Moyes may be willing to sell Hernandez, who only joined the club last summer. His arrival under Slaven Bilic was hailed as a real coup, but he has fallen down the pecking order since Moyes took the reins, with the former Manchester United supremo preferring Marko Arnautovic up top.

Hernandez though, has a creditable career goalscoring record and underlined his predatory instinct at the London Stadium. Only a minute after the Hammers had gone behind, the Mexican popped up in the right place to poke the ball past Asmir Begovic. It was Hernandez’s fifth Premier League goal of the season, all of which have been scored from inside the penalty area.

With Andy Carroll expected to be sidelined for a month through injury, West Ham’s striking resources would be depleted further if Hernandez is allowed to leave. While he may not offer much outside the box, as he illustrated against Bournemouth that he is the ideal man to call on when a goal is needed.

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Arsenal

Bournemouth 2-1 Arsenal: Three talking points from the Vitality Stadium

Rob Meech

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Bournemouth
Photo: Reuters

Bournemouth came from behind to claim a much-needed victory over Arsenal, whose hopes of qualifying for the Champions League have suffered another blow.

After an insipid opening period at the Vitality Stadium, the action sparked into life when Hector Bellerin broke the deadlock on 52 minutes.

But Arsenal’s lead was short-lived, as goals from Callum Wilson and Jordon Ibe – his first for the club – secured the Cherries’ fourth home win of the season, which lifted them to 13th in the table.

Arsenal, meanwhile, slipped further adrift in the battle to finish in the top four after their third consecutive league game without a win. Here are three talking points…

Alexis Sanchez moves closer to the Emirates exit door

All the pre-match talk centred on a player who wasn’t involved in the contest. Not only was Alexis Sanchez not named in the starting XI, he wasn’t even on the bench having not travelled to the south coast.

Manager Arsene Wenger was ambiguous when pressed on this in the aftermath of the defeat, but the insinuation was clear; the want-away Chilean will not be an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window.

Both Manchester City and Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Sanchez, whose contract at the Emirates expires in the summer. Despite his uncertain future, this match was crying out for his never-say-die attitude.

Arsenal controlled the first half and deserved to be in front when Bellerin fired home. However, the Gunners were unable to add a second and Bournemouth capitalised with two late efforts. Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in four games in 2018 as their troubles mount.

Bournemouth buck the trend against the ‘Big Six’

Before this fixture, Bournemouth had lost all of their matches against the ‘Big Six’ this season, scoring only one goal in seven outings.

While those are not necessarily the games that will define their campaign, it was a worrying statistic that Eddie Howe needed to address. Facing an Arsenal team without Sanchez or Mesut Ozil looked like being the Cherries’ best opportunity to buck that trend, and so it proved.

With only nine points separating all the teams in the bottom half, an unexpected win can do so much to alter the picture. The Cherries didn’t fold after going a goal behind and they merited the three points for an enterprising second-half display.

Having beaten Arsenal for the first time in their history, Bournemouth are now four points clear of the drop-zone. They are by no means safe because of this result, but the psychological impact could be immense.

Jack Wilshere getting back to his best

Returning to the club at which he spent last season on loan, this was not the afternoon Jack Wilshere would have hoped for. Though it didn’t go well from a team perspective, the 26-year-old was close to his best at the Vitality Stadium.

He touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch and also completed more passes. After a frustrating start to the campaign where he struggled for minutes in the Premier League, Wilshere is now establishing himself in the starting XI.

He was Arsenal’s best player against Bournemouth and in a team that lacks leaders, he was one of the few who looked like he wanted the ball. Wilshere ran the show in midfield and was always keen to move forward with purpose.

England manager Gareth Southgate surely can’t ignore Wilshere’s form and, fitness permitting, he must be a shoo-in for the next squad. In a World Cup year, Wilshere is peaking at just the right time.

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Bournemouth

Bournemouth 2-1 Everton: Three talking points from the Vitality

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Ryan Fraser scored twice as Bournemouth claimed their first Premier League victory since November to move out of the relegation zone. The Scotland winger, who opened the scoring in the first half before Idrissa Gueye equalised for Everton, netted an 88th-minute winner as the Cherries ended a run of eight matches without a win.

It eased the pressure on boss Eddie Howe, whose side have climbed to 14th thanks to their fifth triumph of the campaign, and condemned the Toffees to their first defeat under new manager Sam Allardyce. Here are three talking points from an engaging clash at the Vitality Stadium.

Good things come in small packages

Although he may be small in stature, Fraser is having a big impact for Bournemouth this season. After a spell out of the team, the diminutive Scotsman has regained his place and become an integral player for Howe. Fraser’s third and fourth goals of the campaign could not have been more timely, as the Cherries celebrated only their third home triumph.

His first of the afternoon was a tidy finish after being found in space by Joshua King. His second, with the clock running down, was aided by a deflection to divert the ball past goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, but that did not detract from the mazy run that took him into the box and in a position to shoot.

Fraser often struggled to complete 90 minutes last season, but his stamina has noticeably improved thanks to extra strength and conditioning work. Direct running with the ball has always been a feature of the 23-year-old’s play and now he is adding goals and a threatening dead-ball delivery to his repertoire.

Everton suffer first setback under Allardyce

The Toffees headed into this fixture high on confidence, having conceded only two goals in the six games under Allardyce’s stewardship. But this was a lacklustre performance and the Everton manager could have no complaints as they left the Vitality Stadium empty-handed.

Bournemouth controlled the game in the first half and deserved to go ahead, although the goal did stem from a misplaced pass by James McCarthy. The introduction of Wayne Rooney at the start of the second period had a positive impact and the Toffees duly equalised. But Cherries’ keeper Asmir Begovic was not called into further action and Everton’s defence could not withstand the pressure as Fraser bagged a late winner.

Allardyce has built his reputation on defensive stability and this was a rare lapse. A more pressing concern though, is a lack of firepower in attack, with Everton relying too heavily on youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin. A striker capable of scoring regularly is surely top of his wish-list for the upcoming transfer window.

Howe’s trust in his players is rewarded

While not at the stage where he was fearing for his job, there is no denying Howe was feeling the heat after a club record-equalling sequence of eight Premier League games without a victory. With a mounting injury crisis and his side sitting in the bottom three, questions were being asked about Howe’s credentials.

As ever, he stuck to his principles. And by naming the same team that drew with West Ham United four days earlier, he backed his players to respond. Howe was rewarded with a fluent performance that showed the players remained fully committed to their manager and his methods.

This was the first time Bournemouth had beaten a team in the top half this season and undoubtedly their most important three points. What will especially delight Howe is that, for the second game in succession, they netted a late goal when it was required. This character is sure to be crucial, with more twists and turns to come.

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