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02 January 2017
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Benik Afobe puts club before country in his bid to ripen with Cherries

Benik Afobe has rejected the chance to play at the African Nations Cup so he can fight for his long-term future at Bournemouth.

The former Arsenal striker has withdrawn from the DR Congo squad in a bid to consolidate his position with the Cherries.

Former England Under-21s forward Afobe switched allegiance to the Central African country in March, but will now face a longer wait for his senior international debut.

Afobe claimed his second goal of the season as Bournemouth eased past Swansea 3-0 on New Year's Eve, and he can now face Arsenal at Dean Court on Tuesday.

"For the last couple of months I have been talking to my family and thinking about what is best for my development," said Afobe.

"I have a lot of respect for everyone at DR Congo: the staff there, the players and fans.

"It's a massive tournament for everyone, but thinking about my development and being at this stage in my career where I'm trying to establish myself in my first full Premier League season, I just want to keep improving.

"I have a great opportunity here now and I think by going away and missing six or seven weeks it could hamper my season personally and for the team."

Afobe joined Bournemouth in a then club-record B#10million deal in January 2016, hitting four goals in 15 Premier League appearances last term.

Afobe was unable to make his DR Congo debut in November after the Football Association sent his registration to the wrong country, neighbouring Congo.

This time Afobe himself has opted for another false start on his DR Congo career, but insists that his international manager is comfortable with his decision.

The 23-year-old's availability to face Arsenal on Tuesday will offset the absence of loan star Jack Wilshere, who is ineligible against his parent club.

"I spoke to the manager Florent Ibenge over the phone and that's something I wanted to do myself to show respect," Afobe told Bournemouth's official club website.

"We spoke and he said that he understood.

"He said he was a player himself and that he understands the situation I am in, he hopes that I can keep improving and getting more minutes with Bournemouth.

"Everything's been left in a good way and I'll be watching every game the team play in the tournament and hoping they do as well as possible."

While Afobe is available, Max Gradel could now miss as many as six weeks of Bournemouth's season after linking up with Ivory Coast for the African Nations Cup.

For Arsenal, Mesut Ozil is expected to miss the trip to the south coast after illness ruled him out of Sunday's 2-0 defeat of Crystal Palace.

There could be starts for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shkodran Mustafi after each featured on the bench against the Eagles having recovered from injury.

Manager Arsene Wenger will likely make further changes to his team as they prepare for their second match in three days, meaning Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin will be among those in contention.