Bleak afternoon in Burnley


Bleak. Bleak as it gets. Comfortably our most disappointing performance under Arteta, and for the first time, one in which I did find myself questioning our starting lineup. Aubameyang’s return was an obvious boost but as has so often been the case, the difficulty was in finding not just a place for him, but the best place. To me, it doesn’t make sense to shoehorn our star player – we should be shaping the team around him and maximising his potential. Emery tinkered with him, and we’ve seen he’s still able to score from these less than favourable positions – the problem is, it’s always felt like he’s scored in spite of them. I can full appreciate that formations aren’t set in stone and there’s a degree of fluidity but every time I see Aubameyang plugging away out on the wing, it’s just maddening.

Speaking of maddening, Matteo Guendouzi had another poor afternoon and was as wasteful in possession as I can remember. Midfield continues to be the thorn in our side and Arteta doesn’t seem to have the remedy. Nicolas Pépé didn’t even feature in order to accommodate the front three of Lacazette, flanked by Aubameyang and Martinelli and it just didn’t work. His pace in transition was dearly missed.

Contrary to how the rest of the game unfolded, on another day our two centre-forwards would have had a goal each inside the first 15 minutes and we wouldn’t be sat here feeling disappointed. They were not only golden opportunities, but incredibly poorly taken from each of them.

It’s not often that Aubameyang actually finds someone with a cross – and that’s not a slight against him, we just rarely seem to to score from aerial crosses – so to see Lacazette not even hit the target was incredibly disappointing. That’s now 1 goal in 21 away games, the last being against Huddersfield. For an outlay of the best part of £53m to only manage an away goal against a team once again languishing in the Championship is a difficult one to swallow.

How do you drag a player out of mediocrity? We know what Lacazette has in his locker but goals are always where the buck stops for a striker. I’ve been patient with him in this drought because there’s plenty of other qualities he brings but at what point does his presence serve as a detriment to the rest of the team? Aubameyang and Martinelli are both arguably better suited to lead centrally as it stands. I’ve commended his work rate, hold up play and overall utility but there comes a point when you need something from him and it’s not like he’s being completely starved of opportunities. That being said, as the game progressed, we once again saw how much this team struggles to create meaningful chances but that’s another matter.

Aubameyang didn’t exactly cover himself in glory either. Regardless of his absence, which can sometimes excuse rustiness, a player of his quality should be putting that chance away every time. It was a fantastic ball over the top from Luiz and I don’t quite know how he managed to miss-hit it so badly but for not one both two of these chances to not find us a lead was unforgivable. We knew Burnley were a second half team – they’ve scored 20 goals in the second half of games this season compared to 8 in the first – so it was essential to take these first half opportunities.

In the end, it was a miracle we even came away with a clean sheet. I knew it was coming but I still didn’t quite expect the level of onslaught we ended up facing in the second half and without some solid defensive performances and a healthy dose of blind luck, we wouldn’t have been so lucky.

Burnley were spurning chance after chance and it was only by blind luck that we weren’t behind. You felt like something had to change, with the less-than-lethal Lacazette and impotent Özil, and it was the latter who made way around the hour mark for Joe Willock. More to the point, Mesut Özil is another divisive figure who, despite plenty of qualities, simply doesn’t justify his obscene wages and has never lived up to the levels we knew and expected of him when he was offered said obscene contract we’re now shackled to. He sometimes shows up at home but his away form is simply untenable. You could argue it’s hypocritical of me to once again be lambasting Özil but given how tight-lipped Emery was on the matter, we could never fully rationalise his decision to so often leave the German out. He’s really got nowhere to hide at this point and no amount of praising Arteta in the press will change that.

Willock at least brought an immediate injection of pace going forward and the early signs were promising – it was a stark contrast to the lethargic transitions we’d grown accustomed to yesterday afternoon. I thought Willock had an excellent game the other day and stretching Burnley went some ways in relieving the bombardment at the other end. I now find myself in the position where I’d rather see us trialing other players in that position as this season meanders towards “write-off” territory.

Much like Burnley, it’s not that we were without chances – it’s just neither side took them. Burnley spurned the lion’s share of the chances and on another day, Jay Rodriquez’ effort flies in off the underside of the bar. Meanwhile, Arsenal spurned yet another opportunity to close ground on our rivals (I use that term very loosely these days – it seems alien to consider the likes of a Wolves and Sheffield United in those terms but that is our level).

We also now wait on yet another left back complication, and it’s a real shame that Saka’s fallen victim this time. Burnley really are Stoke 2.0 and Dyche even had the audacity to say this afterwards:

“It is lovely to watch when people are falling over, [it’s] my favourite part”

It’s especially aggravating because it goes some ways in propagating the incessant abuse we’re subjected to by opposition fans. Yes, Guendouzi is a massive wind-up merchant. But booing an 18 year old and then having a manager come out with responses like that is something else. This sums it up nicely:

Anyway, there’s no use stooping to their level and despite his injury, Saka still had another exciting part to play. With any luck, it’s just a knock because without him, our list of players who can “make things happen” is just grim.

That’s now 13 draws and counting. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to win a Premier League game. If it’s any consolation, I’m still excited to see us play but looking at the league table is still a depressing sight. We host Newcastle next (who are level wit us on points) so we’re surely in for a treat there, who doesn’t love a six-pointer?! In all honesty though, the Europa League once again looks to be our only salvation and it can’t come soon enough.

Until Saturday.

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