Blog Archives

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 Cesc was withdrawn shortly after scoring the opening goal with a hamstring injury, Arsene unable to shed any light on the damage but it seems unlikely that he would risk his most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.

’til Tomorrow.

Burnley Preview, Rambo & Theo On A Wing & A Prayer

Burnley arrive at The Emirates today, wedged by the media into the role of sacrificial lambs, ready to be slaughtered at the altar of pure football. Arsene has no doubt warning the players that the visitors will fight, the relegation place predicted for them at the start of the season being good motivation for them not to succumb willingly. Even so, Arsenal should have too much ability for three points not to be taken.

To do so, the back four will have a little bit of a makeshift look. Sol Campbell and William Gallas will be absent, a starting line-up place for Mikael Silvestre the likeliest option to partner Thomas Vermaelen. The inclusion of Kyle Bartley in the squad looks to be purely so that there is a specialised centre back on the bench although having two left-sided central defenders is less than ideal. Alex Song’s absence due to a two-match suspension, allied to Aaron Ramsey’s injury, means a starting place is likely for Denilson, much to the chagrin of his numerous detractors.

Ramsey has spoken for the first time since that assault:

I remember what happened clearly and after the tackle went in I saw that my leg was broken and hanging at an angle. I have seen images of the aftermath of the collision again but I don’t want to dwell too much on the challenge as I can’t change what has happened.

That is the biggest hurdle Ramsey faces. The prognosis seems to be that he will physically recover but mentally, it might be a tougher journey. Injured players often speak of the depression of not being able to train and play, of the psychological trauma a broken leg provides them, knowing it could happen again in a physical contact sport.

The tackle is being too lightly dismissed by the media and some managers; were it to be one of the players suffering this misfortune, I doubt they would have been so forgiving, such is human hypocrisy.

The Arsenal team though has to overcome the incident as well. They took a step forward last week by winning as opposed to drawing and are being praised by Martin Keown for the strength of character they have shown:

The last time, with Eduardo, the same unfortunate incident cost them the league. They have learned and they remained professional this time. You could see the maturity, especially in Fabregas. I also think that Sol Campbell being on the pitch really helped them

The inference in some papers is that the absence of William Gallas was even more beneficial, a cruel and unwarranted invention on their part, especially given the professionalism the Frenchman has shown since losing the captaincy, no indication that emotions would overcome his endeavours as they did on that afternoon at St Andrews.

For today, Wenger has an embarrassment of attacking riches compared to recent times. Arshavin came through an appearance for Russia in the week and is back in the squad, as in Abou Diaby. It is unlikely that both will start and if they do, doubtful that they are ready for the full 90 minutes. Diaby is the more likely of the duo to be on the pitch at kick-off I suspect with Bendtner likely to be supported by Nasri and Walcott.

Theo has been roundly criticised and abused, Chris Waddle one of the worst offenders, a man whose international career in the early days was marked by boo’s and the player falling over on the Wembley turf, unable to control his body when turning to beat an opponent. To say Walcott has no footballing brain was puerile; how quickly the Geordie has forgotten his own troubled appearances for England.

Marc Overmars offered an insight into where Walcott may be better served:

As a right footer I was always much more comfortable playing on the left wing. In fact, when Arsene Wenger started me on the right for Arsenal, I would say to myself that I’d be able to give myself a 6 out of 10 performance. But when he put me on the left, I knew I would get at least an 8.

The reason for that is that when I was on the right, I felt there wasn’t enough space between the ball and the touchline for me to make things happen – there was little room for manoeuvre. Playing on the left allowed me to get the ball out from my feet quicker and easier and also be more effective going forward. When you pick the ball up on the left wing with your right foot, you can knock the ball forward with your first touch.

But on the right you have to control the ball and you’ve therefore already lost time. Also from the left I could cut inside, which made me more dangerous and meant I could get shots away.

It is too late in the season for the change to be made, the chance of disrupting the pattern of the team outweighs any potential short-term advantage. Moving to the left would also enhance Walcott’s understanding of playing centrally, the days of the traditional number nine are gone, forwards expected to drift out to either flank to leave space for others to exploit.

As it is, this is the line-up I expect to start:

Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Silvestre, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Diaby; Nasri, Bendter, Walcott

Three points is a must, putting pressure on Manchester United for their visit to Molineux. Psychologically, it is important as well, Chelsea and United know they have the tougher run-ins and to see Arsenal start to relentlessly win every match will be mentally testing for our closest rivals.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

A Point Gained Or Two Lost? Time Will Tell

Burnley 1 – 1 Arsenal

0 – 1 Fabregas (7)
1 – 1 Alexander (28 pen)

The weight of expectation followed by the second half performance at Anfield was high. This is a match that title contenders do not lose, the perceived wisdom went, despite the fact that Manchester United lost in August at Turf Moor.

As it turned out, Arsenal played more in line with the first half at Anfield, pressurised constantly by the hosts, determined to repeat their Carling Cup victory last season. Events transpired that make this a point gained this morning rather than two lost.

The match itself was open with chances at either end. The tone for the evening’s defending was set early on with a lack of communication between Vermaelen and Almunia as the Belgian dropped a header back to where he expected the goalkeeper to be; no-one had told Almunia this as he was more advanced towards the ball and arched his back to tip the ball onto the bar. It was the sort of goalkeeping for which Cech has been lambasted in recent weeks. Almunia has not escaped such chastisement either.

Within minutes, the incident seemed irrelevant. Bikey dithered; Cesc with the nimbleness of a cat burglar in books of yesteryear, smuggled the ball away, leaving it nestling in the net an instant later. One-nil to the Arsenal and shortly after it should have been two. The Spaniard lifted ball over the defence, chested the ball into space and lashed the ball into the sidenetting. It seemed his toes were twinkling like the stars in a crisp winter’s night and Burnley were reeling from the weight of the Arsenal attack.

As the quarter hour mark passed, the woodwork intervened in Burnley’s favour, Arshavin striking a fierce drive against Jensen’s post. Arsenal were in control, containing Burnley but being pressed themselves. The breakthrough for the hosts came from the penalty spot. Vermaelen was deceived by the sloppiness of Bikey’s control as he ventured forward, the Belgian diving in with a rash challenge, the outcome of which cannot be argued with. Alexander has missed five penalties throughout his 2o-year career. There was no danger of last night seeing the sixth.

As the half drew to a close, Fabregas was replaced, apparently a hamstring injury suffered, keeping him out of the coming match against Hull City as a minimum. Ramsey replaced him and chances were spurned, Arshavin denied by Jensen, Vermaelen likewise as the giant keeper pushed a header over the bar.

In the second half, Arsenal became more reticent in their attacking. Walcott suffered a lack of composure having latched onto Song’s pass, blazing high and wide when a cooler head or more in-tune international would have surely buried the opportunity?

Eagles rattled the woodwork from an acute angle having skipped past Silvestre before Fletcher had a goal disallowed, dubiously, at the end. It denied Burnley a win but an undeserved one.

There is a lot of talk this morning of how they were denied but evidentially, they only managed two shots on target all night, Arsenal seven. Presumably whoever thought that stat up at the Daily Telegraph does not count Almunia pushing Vermaelen’s effort onto the bar. Burnley do deserve a lot of credit however for the level of the performance, pressing without descending into the physicality that sides lower down the Premier League often resort to.

The Arsenal performance was disappointing given the finish at Anfield. It seems that Jekyll and Hyde will be used to describe our performances. Some solace though can be taken from the fact that a month ago, we would probably have been bemoaning a defeat such was the manner in which November transpired.

The gap to Chelsea remains as it was prior to last weekend’s fixtures. Win the game in hand and it is down to five points. Win twice as Chelsea draw and the gap closes further. That is not the problem; consistently winning afterwards is an issue that needs to be addressed.

In the end though, whether this is a lost opportunity will be decided when the League title finds a home at the end of the season. Otherwise, we move forward and look to bury the ghost of 2008/09 with a victory over Hull on Saturday.

’til Tomorrow.

Burnley Preview: Don’t Get Turfed Out At The Moor

Having clawed their way back into the title race, this evening’s trip to Turf Moor is a tricky fixture but not one that contenders should lose. The halcyon days of the Lancashire club may have long passed but they are setting about retaining their Premier League status following the path trodden by Stoke City last season; impressive at home adding in a point here and there on their travels. The paucity of the performance at The Britannia Stadium in 2008/09 should serve as a useful deterrent to any complacency which might set in ahead of this fixture.

Not having played a match there in the top flight for thirty five years, it is hardly surprising to find Arsenal has not emerged victorious in a league match at Burnley since the double winning season. The hosts have already claimed the scalp of Manchester United in the early season fixtures, the history books forget that it may not have been the fair result based on the performances that night but it was the final scoreline and that is all that counts in retrospect.

With all due respect to the hosts, it is condescending to say it is a fixture Arsenal has made a habit of losing over the years, even with squad’s that were supposedly far better than this one. The win at Anfield has reignited belief with a lot of talk coming from the players in recent days, acknowledging that the performance in the second half merited the result. Tonight a slack first half performance may not be forgiven so readily by their opponents.

The list of walking wounded visiting the London Colney medical rooms grew following the victory at Anfield with left back proving to be a rather cursed position, reminiscent of the way it was in 2005/06 season. Armand Traore has tweaked a hamstring and misses this evening whilst Denilson has a back injury although Arsene was unable to say if it was a recurrence of the Brazilian’s recent fracture. They will have to make their own amusement since renowned comedian, Emmanuel Eboue, has been passed fit for this evening.

With Denilson out, Diaby will slot back into the midfield following his return on Sunday, presumably Silvestre dropping into left back although Arsene could switch Sagna to there with Eboue on the right. It is up front that Wenger has choices to make. The second half performance on Sunday does not warrant any changes but Eduardo is now fit and Wenger has to decide if he is more effective as a centre forward than Arshavin? Likewise, Walcott was ineffective on Sunday so does Nasri retain his place with the Russian shifting to the left to accommodate a central change. I suspect that the latter trio is how Wenger will line-up this evening:

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Diaby, Fabregas, Song; Nasri, Eduardo, Arshavin

A win is vital. Pressure was applied at the top of the table with United winning last night. The home game against Everton should have been routine for Chelsea; the fixture against Portsmouth will be. Three points is necessary to keep the gap closed at six points, especially as the coming league fixtures allow Arsenal to take advantage of any further slips with the Christmas fixture against Villa an opportunity to increase the gap to fourth.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

One Step Closer

Arsenal 3 – 0 Burnley

1 – 0 Vela (25)
2 – 0 Eduardo (51)
3 – 0 WHO??????????? (84)

A performance that got the goals it deserved. Ahead of the clash in Rome this week, Arsene changed things around with Eduardo leading the line and the team through to the Sixth Round and home tie with Hull City, which if won brings a clash with Chelsea onto the horizon. Unsurprisingly, Manchester United drew the ‘easier’ side in the last four, the media salivating this morning over who will not be able to stop them on the barely able to stifle a yawn trip to another double / treble / quadruple / quintuple.

Three cracking goals and an entertaining game which defied the elements. It is a sad indictment of the top flight in English football that two Championship sides have restored my faith in football in this country. Neither Cardiff or Burnley came to ‘park their buses on the edge of their penalty area‘; both sides were prepared to set out their stall to try and play football as it should be played, taking Arsenal on at their own game as it were. It is not hard to see why their Premier League counterparts react defensively when the results are taken into account but both clubs are a credit to the game. Particular mention should also be given to Burnley in their tackling. In a week when their higher paid equivalents have shown scant regard for the well-being of their opponents, the Turf Moor club’s defenders proved that to tackle firmly but fairly is not an art-form as extinct as the Dodo; Carlisle and Caldwell in particular gave fine examples of how tackles in the area can be made without fouls being conceded.

Arsenal started well, probing on the flanks, Gibbs on the left with Arshavin and the Sagna / Eboue reviving The Good Old Days on the right. Gibbs, once more proved a capable deputy and showed more signs of being an excellent long-term prospect. He shares many things in common with his predecessors in that position; good positional sense, excellent recovery speed, productive support to the attack. He also has a right foot that is used only for standing on as his magical little dribble in the second half penetrated the Burnley area, grinding to an untimely end as he cut back inside to shoot with his left rather than let rip with his other foot.

Just past the halfway mark, Arshavin capitalised on some loose play by the visitors to scurry over the halfway line and find Vela. A quick flick on the ball between a defenders legs, another touch to take him clear of some more close attention, finished with a deft chip over the ‘keeper; forty-five yards and three touches of the ball to the back on the net, an object lesson in how to make the ball do the work to free up a player’s mind.

Much is being made of the technique for Eduardo’s goal, a stunning left foot volley following Alex Song’s deliberately weighted chip. The timing of the Croat’s movement to stay onside matched the elegance of the pass he volleyed home. Unusually, van Persie did not equal the standards when in a similar position on the other side of the area or the result would have been more emphatic.

The icing on the cake came with six minutes to go when an Alex Song backheel following some good passing between Gallas and Walcott, set Emmanuel Eboue free in the area, the Ivorian producing the coolest of finishes with a low drive into the bottom corner. If it was seen with disbelieving eyes then, that last sentence is still typed with disbelieving fingers caused not by the players involved, well, yes it was. I am going to start what will no doubt be a popular campaign, “Bring Back The Wayward Finishing Eboue, The World Is Too Scary When He Scores”. I’ll post a link to the Petition later in the week…

Many positives to be taken from the performance, not least from the determination of those ‘second stringers‘ to prove a point to the manager and their colleagues that even though everyone is returning to fitness, the squad know underperformance can be rewarded with a spot of time in the comfy chairs whilst others run around on the pitch in their place.

’til Tomorrow.

Wenger Left Wishing For Moor As Youngsters Turfed Out Of The Cup

Carling Cup Quarter Final
Burnley 2 – 0 Arsenal

1 – 0 McDonald (6)
2 – 0 McDonald (57)

The young players schooldays for this season have ended with a harsh lesson being taught at Turf Moor last night; second toughest at the infants was not good enough. Yet the players who push the fringes of the first team were perhaps more culpable than the supporting cast. Bendtner should have scored at least once and quite conceivably could have had his first hat-trick in an Arsenal first team shirt. Vela, Merida and Randall also spurned good opportunities. To deposit all of the blame on their shoulders would be to deny applauding an outstanding evenings work by Jensen in the Burnley goal.

Both of the hosts goals owed something to the Arsenal defence. Fabianski failed to hold onto a cross from the right due to the pressure he was put under by Paterson, McDonald slotting home. Twelve minutes into the second half, the breathing space Burnley required came through the same player as he eased past Randall and scored with a well taken shot. Both finishes could have been made harder by the Arsenal defence, a lesson worth learning before they begin to knock on the first team door.

It was an evening that the players can look back on without shame. They passed the ball reasonably well, their overall technique,until it came to the final shot on goal, was excellent. In short they lived up to most of the expectations that were placed on their young shoulders.

What of the side? One should never assess the players on one performance but Fabianski had some edgy moments, spilling one other shot in the first half. He would be capable of deputising for Almunia as he has done so this season but displacing him from the No. 1 shirt may be a little while longer. Of the young defenders, Gibbs is probably the only one who could be said to be close to ready for the first team. Rodgers, Lansbury and Hoyte all appear to need varying amounts of time before being considered for first team duties, even as cover. In fairness to Lansbury, right back is not his ‘natural’ position so perhaps he is closer to a midfield spot but there is considerable competition for those places.

Midfield is where Wenger seems to have an embarrassment of riches, if ever one should feel that way. Merida looked the part in the circumstances. Early in the second half, the young Spaniard dribbled past three defenders and curled an effort wide of the post but his passing and creative thought processes suggest he is closer to knocking on the door than might be believed. Randall was disappointing. He needs to work on his concentration and the defensive side of his game because he seems to have a good eye going forward. Wilshere and Ramsey confirmed that their elevation was entirely merited and I suspect they are the ones from the youngsters last night who will make regular appearances for the first team. Which is not a surprising thought considering they already do so.

Wenger‘s disappointment was tangible:

They had the fraction of focus and superiority in front goal that we lacked tonight and that made a difference. But overall we lost a game we shouldn’t have lost.

It sums up his belief in the players that he is not his usual phlegmatic self. He took the defeat in good grace but his annoyance was clear to see. He has lost none of his comic timing though:

I was surprised by how much of the ball Burnley had.

Given that one stat I saw this morning said that Burnley only had 40% possession of the ball, that was a bit harsh.

Whilst this cup run is over, there is a lot of merit to Wenger fielding most of them in the FA Cup, if not all of them. Any experience that is gained is beneficial in the long run although I suspect that much of Arsene’s thinking will be driven by the position the club finds itself in after the Christmas Premier League matches and the draw for the first knockout phase of the Champions League.

’til Tomorrow.

%d bloggers like this: