Burnley 0-1 Arsenal
Arsenal left it very very late on Sunday evening to secure a vital three points away to Burnley with the last kick of the game.
The Gunners came into this game in a rich vein of form having overwhelmed both Chelsea and Basel with a high intensity game of strength, power and speed. However consistency has been Arsenal’s main issue in the years since the famous Invincbles season and that same issue reared its head again as the Gunners produced a performance far below those of the previous week.Burnley did pose a different proposition as they sat deep with ten, sometimes eleven men behind the ball, however Arsenal lacked that high intensity pressing game that had wreaked such havoc against Chelsea.
The Gunners did enjoy the lion’s share of possession but the build-up play from the away side was slow and ponderous, which really played into Burnley’s hands as they were rarely stretched. On a number of occasions Arsenal looked to catch them out on the counter attack, but every time the wrong decision was made by the player on the ball and either possession ended up being lost cheaply or the attack would lose its momentum, allowing Burnley the opportunity to get back in numbers and regroup. When their slow and patient build up play did allow them to get into promising positions in the final third, the final ball was often poor, as the likes of Alex Iwobi and Mesut Ozil did not perform at their best while Arsenal were also guilty of trying to pass the ball into the net, attempting intricate one-twos inside an overcrowded penalty area.
Arsene Wenger’s side were also guilty of playing too narrowly as time and time again the attacking players would drift inside, rather than staying out wide to stretch the play. It was therefore far too easy for Burnley to defend against as they were rarely pulled out of position. Even when Arsenal did get the ball out wide however, there were few options inside the box for the player on the ball to aim at. A feature of the Gunners recent games has been their desire to flood the opposition penalty area with numbers, but against Burnley there was often only one Arsenal player in the box and with the front three lacking the height of Olivier Giroud, the Gunners couldn’t really pose an attacking aerial threat.
As the game wore on therefore it was extremely frustrating to see Arsenal just aimlessly clipping balls into the box which the likes of Sanchez had absolutely no chance of getting on the end of. With Giroud and Lucas Perez both out injured, Wenger also had a lack of attacking options on the bench. The manager in fact had three defensive players and not one striker to call upon as Chuba Akpom did not feature on the bench. With then game still deadlocked and approaching the final twenty minutes, Wenger’s only option therefore was to bring on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Iwobi and try to add a bit more energy in midfield by introducing Elneny in place of Xhaka. However the flow of the game didn’t change much, Arsenal were still struggling to break through the Burnley defence and the match looked like it was going to end in a frustrating 0-0 draw.
These feelings were further enhanced when two glorious chances went begging as first Sanchez saw his wonderful volleyed effort unfortunately clip the outside of the box, with the goalkeeper, Tom Heaton rooted to the spot. Then the ball fell to Walcott on the edge of the area and his excellent curling effort looked as if it was destined for the far corner of the net but just veered wide at the final moment.
But these were fleeting moments as Arsenal continued to play at a painfully slow tempo throughout the game. There was also a distinct lack of movement in the final third as the attacking players stood still rather than making forward runs, dragging their opponents out of position and creating space for their teammates. Even with two minutes left on the clock Arsenal had the ball in the Burnley half, but the move was at walking pace before eventually fizzling out. When the fourth official indicated only two minutes of added time there was a feeling that even the officials had had enough of this game as in truth it had been a mundane affair. Only one team were trying to win it as Burnley only offered long punts forward towards Sam Vokes. This was therefore a different test for Mustafi at the back as it was the first time since his move that he had to deal with high balls and aerial battles against a physically imposing striker. However the German international rose to the challenge and refused to be outmuscled or intimidated, indicating once again that he has what it takes to succeed at this level. Even after having received an elbow to the face which drew blood, Mustafi got back on with it and refused to surrender.
In many ways Mustafi’s refusal to give in was mirrored by his team, as with seconds left on the clock Arsenal finally broke the deadlock. A corner kick was taken short and Walcott somehow got his head on the ball first to flick Sanchez’s cross towards the back post where Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny had been left completely unmarked. Such was their surprise that the two almost fell over each other trying to steer the ball home. Both threw a foot at the ball with Koscielny managing to get his boot on the ball, directing it towards his body as he fell forwards and seeing it deflect off his arms and beyond the goalkeeper to give Arsenal all three points.
This could prove to be a massive result in the context of the whole season. To win ugly is a trait all the top teams have and that never say die attitude and scoring winning goals right at the death, is a trait which marked out Manchester United’s title winning sides. However Arsenal need to recognise that against sides who sit deep they need to show the same level of intensity as they did against Chelsea and Basel. Movement and speed are the keys to unlocking the opposition defence in such games and the Gunners must focus on this if they are to be successful. Winning against the top sides and then dropping points against the smaller teams will not see them challenging for the Premier League title come May.