Burnley Battered Into Submission
Arsenal 3 – 1 Burnley
1 – 0 Fabregas (34)
1 – 1 Nugent (50)
2 – 1 Walcott (61)
3 – 1 Arshavin (90)
A day of squandered chances when the scoreline could have matched the Arsenal Ladies 10 goal drubbing of their Tottenham counterparts. On any other day, Nicklas Bendtner would have scored a double hat-trick. Arsenal remain third albeit closer to the summit than at the start of the day.
The victory has come at a potentially high price. Cesc was withdrawn shortly after scoring the opening goal with a hamstring injury, Arsene unable to shed any light on the damage but it seems unlikely that he would risk his most influential player for the midweek clash against Porto with the Premier League title at stake. Following the Spaniard’s departure, Samir Nasri played with a verve and gusto which would have been purred over in the media had it been produced by the captain.
The two had combined for the opening goal which arrived thirty minutes after it should have, such was Arsenal’s dominance from the kick-off. The Burnley defence massed their ranks and Nasri decided that following the path of Garner, Attenborough & Co was not an option, lifted ball sumptuously over the top, Fabregas applying the simplest and calmest of finishes between Jensen’s legs.
Whilst Arsene will be happy with the win, it was laboured in a dominant way. Profligacy in front of goal was evident, the main culprit being Bendtner although others were more than happy to be wasteful. None of his misses rank alongside those of Ronny Rosenthal at Villa Park or even Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup some seasons ago.
Equally, some of the Dane’s efforts were enough to resurrect the ghosts of Tomas Rosicky against either CSKA or Spartak Moscow (I cannot remember which) in the Champions League. To his credit, Bendtner never let his head drop nor did he shirk trying again, time after time. Reassuringly, his performance was recognised in the reception following his substitution.
It was not hard to see why Burnley are flirting with relegation, seemingly destined to flirt briefly with the Premier League before descending to the Championship once more. They were a side full of honest endeavour but lacking a spark. Maybe injured personnel make a difference to them but failing to take points at home with an appalling away record leads to one, inevitable conclusion come May.
They were, in short, ideal opposition for players requiring a confidence boosting performance. Gael Clichy has been criticised, questions asked as to whether or not he can recover the form which marked him out as one of the best left backs in the world. He gave an answer yesterday, containing the sporadic threat during the match, stifling it for the rest. Less convincing but in some ways more reassuring, was the performance of Theo Walcott.
Lambasted in the week for his England performance, criticism which was correct but then took a step too far, Walcott was at his wayward best in the first half, vastly improved in the second when the final ball was delivered on a more consistent basis. This type of performance has marked his injury-riven season. Post match, Theo observed that the last month or so had been effectively a pre-season; from now on, we get the real deal. Let us hope so because the genius of youth is being tarnished by words written.
And Walcott provided a surprise, an all too rare flash of temper. The fuse was lit by a challenge which won the ball, placed no danger to Walcott and was therefore a curious spark. Yet an altogether welcome one. Frequently we are told that Arsenal are too nice, a trait personified by Walcott. Everyone inside the game and out, has nothing but praise for the lad, something he and his family should be proud of. It obviously masked a fire and one which raged in the second half. More please, young man.
The reward for the second half arrived when he cut inside and placed a shot into the far corner, beyond Jensen, ten minutes after Burnley had undeservedly equalised. Eboue hoisted the ball towards safety but it was returned with interest from the centre circle, over an advancing defence. Nugent loitered on the edge of the area, exploiting the gap between Vermaelen and Silvestre; the Frenchman had lost his man, the finish left Almunia with no chance of preventing the restoration of parity.
Storm clouds grew over the Burnley defence before and after Walcott had restored Arsenal’s advantage, the question of when not if the lead was expanded to the required four goals to elevate Arsenal above Chelsea. Chances once more came and went until Arshavin settled matters with a shot struck home during injury time.
As predicted last week, the media has turned even more with Paul Hayward deriding Arsenal’s title challenge in this morning’s Observer thus:
Shame is not likely to descend on Highbury and Islington should Arsenal win this title race, though some think it should, given that Wenger’s men have lost home and away to Chelsea and Manchester United in a campaign in which they have prospered by beating up the poor.
In their Corinthian heyday, the toffs in the Arsenal directors’ box would have thought it vulgar to parade the league trophy in a season when Chelsea spanked the north Londoners 3-0 here and United motored back north with a 3-1 in.
Utterly pompous, utterly ridiculous, it smacks of hope; the hope that Arsenal do not win the title, ramming the harsh and cruel words back into the portals of vanity which proclaimed Arsenal not good enough to win the title, deriding Wenger’s squad as schoolboys against the men of Chelsea and United. The men, who have been less consistent in the matches that matter but know how to beat Arsenal. The men of Stamford Bridge who never lose against lesser mortals except for the double Manchester City recently completed. The men of Old Trafford who failed to beat Aston Villa.
Each team has it’s Achilles Heel. Arsenal’s has been the top two; theirs others. The most consistent team in a season is the one which accumulates most points; it matters not how that total is arrived at, simply that it is. Right now, Arsenal has a good chance as either of those two. It is up to them to deliver.