It’s like the saying in tennis goes; “you’ve never actually broken serve unless you win the next game” and for Arsenal, proclaiming they were back in the title race was never fully going to be realised unless they were to follow up the defeat to Liverpool by winning at Burnley. As it was, the home side took the game to Arsenal from the first minute and in the end, thoroughly deserved their 1-1 draw, if not more despite Arsène Wenger downplaying their achievement. “The second half was us dominating without really being decisive,” he said. “They only played with counter-attacks but they did it very well.”
Taking advantage on the counter and transitions is a viable tactic in the modern game and the manager should not underestimate its danger. Indeed Arsenal had some of their best chances from such attacks while it would be unfair on Burnley to attribute all their play from the counter attack. Depending on whose statistics you used, the Clarets had more possession (BBC have 51% to Burnley while OPTA have 54% to Arsenal) and while that may not be as accurate, they had Arsenal on the back foot at varying periods of the game. Especially in the first half and early second period, they pressured the midfield fantastically and never denied them any time to make their decisions.
The opener came in comical fashion as twice the Burnley defence had the ball muddled at their feet, allowing Cesc Fabregas to tip-toe through and stroke the ball past Jensen in goal. After that, Arsenal had a couple of chances to put the game beyond doubt, Andrey Arshavin hitting the post and Fabregas nearly capping a brilliant individual effort with a volley that hit the side netting. Both sides’ expansive styles made it a game with plenty of gaps to be exploited. While Burnley are organised with a flat midfield and back four, the ability to get “between the lines” as Benayoun did in a meeting earlier this season was frequent but as Fabregas’s fitness started to wane and he eventually taken off, so did the Gunners goal threat.
Burnley found spaces of their own and with men constantly taking up positions down the channels, caused problems for Arsenal. One-on-ones must be avoided but if the Gunners’ 4-3-3 is all about stretching play when attacking, then that is to be difficult to deny as when the ball is lost, it means squeezing down space quickly. The wide players quickly realised that and when left-back Jordan comfortably shifted away from Fabregas at the edge of the box and fed Bikey, the Arsenal defence were desperate resulting in a rash challenge by Vermaelen. Graham Alexander smashed in the subsequent penalty making it a career total of 70 goals from 75 spot kicks.
The second half continued in a high octane fashion but with Arsenal seemingly becoming more apprehensive as time wore on and any touch of the ball was rapidly followed up by a Burnley man in quick pursuit. Wenger stated after the game that the team lacked sharpness and indeed the ability to get beyond Burnley was concerning. Arshavin lacked the support around him when he dropped short while Song and Nasri kept probing but in doing so, the latter conceded the right flank thereby making it easier to defend. Eduardo and Gallas had great opportunities to win the game but that would have been unfair to Burnley who had a ‘goal’ wrongly disallowed for offside.
Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: Fabregas 7, Alexander 28 (pen).
Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Caldwell, Carlisle, Jordan, Eagles (Blake), Elliott, Alexander, Bikey (Gudjonsson), McDonald, Steven Fletcher (Nugent).
Subs not used: Penny, Kalvenes, Thompson, Guerrero.
Arsenal: Almunia (5), Sagna (6), Vermaelen (5), Gallas (5), Silvestre (5), Walcott (5) (Eduardo 5), Fabregas (7) (Ramsey 6), Song (7), Diaby (6), Nasri (6), Arshavin (7).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Vela, Wilshere, Eboue, Thomas.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|2||Shots on Target||7|
|5||Shots off Target||9|