Were Arsenal able to avoid under-hitting simple passes, I suspect it would have been quite a comfortable scoreline. I also suspect we would have avoided a penalty scare. Since we can’t make simple passes, it was a nervous wait for the final whistle and another win that left wanting.
I don’t think it’s much of a conspiracy theory to chalk up some of the under-hit passes to some gamesmanship from Burnley and their neolithic groundsman. It would also be incredibly naive of Arsenal to assume that every ground is going to be as lusciously smooth and well-watered as London Colney and the Emirates. We’ll never know how much it played a part in curtailing some promising passages of play but in the end, Arsenal had to settle for a win decided by a single, glorious set piece.
For that, I say “thank you” to Martin Odegaard and whoever pushed that deal over the line because I really dislike Burnley and it is the civic duty of every team in the league to turn up each week and edge them closer to oblivion. The youngest squad in the league dispatched the oldest and no amount of the typically abrasive Turf Moor antics could unsettle them. In the case of Odegaard, the goal was really the icing on the cake for his performance. After squandering a chance or two against Norwich by not pulling the trigger, it was a nice way to put some doubts to bed about a so-called lack of end product. He was obviously helped by the fact that Ashley Barnes has bricks for brains and decided not to jump (and there’s a delicious irony about these so-called “hard men” neglecting their duties when it mattered most) but it didn’t take anything away from the strike. With Partey plugging the holes behind him like some sort of plumbing-trained cephalopod, Odegaard led the team in the next phase of the pitch from start to finish and worked tirelessly to unsettle, disrupt and create. It was clear that these two were also missed against Brentford in Arsenal’s other “winnable” game but they provide a spine to build around.
At the base of that spine now also sits a defence that actually resembles something functional. I’m not surprised in the slightest that Ramsdale kept his place, and besides being closed down successfully on one occasion, was the perfect remedy for a side like Burnley and now has two clean sheets in two games. He brings a similarly calming presence to the side that we also saw with Emi Martinez and part of that is down to his swagger. Snatching and holding onto crosses despite being man-marked by Wood and Barnes, bizarre two-footed jumping catches to deter any charge downs, immediately stepping in to keep the knuckle-draggers away from Tierney and the deftest of touches to deny Vidra after an awkward backpass. His distribution was varied and decisive, finding the likes of Smith Rowe and Aubameyang in space on the halfway line and he was also alert to Cornet’s effort when Burnley finally got a sight of goal.
For someone who’s supposedly weak in the air, Ben White seemed to handle himself just fine if this is anything to go by:
- Most aerial duels won
- 3/5 ground duels
- 5/8 aerial duels
- 7 clearances
- 4 interceptions
- 83% pass completion
And even if he is worse than those statistics suggest, this is precisely why centre-back partnerships are so important and he just so happens to play next to an animal in the making. He hasn’t always fired on all cylinders and he still has a lot to learn but Gabriel looks capable of going toe to toe with just about anyone on his day. Between them, they look to have a balanced skill set and even if White can struggle on occasion, Tomiyasu is already looking like the perfect accompaniment after another impressive shift.
It was especially easy to place the spotlight on the defence because going forward, there’s still work to be done. As much or as little as the pitch may have played its part, too many of Arsenal’s shortcomings were inexcusable. Errors in judgement, sloppy touches, short passes and tame finishing are all to blame for the scoreline remaining 1-0 and the subsequent pressure at the other end. While the left side dependency has waned, Arsenal are still guilty of hopeful, half-baked attempts in chance creation and there are far better sides than Norwich and Burnley to see off this season. Aubameyang was once again starved of opportunities, and of the front three, was the most effective in creating chances which isn’t right. While Pépé’s off-day was easier to swallow after his contributions against Norwich, I have some concerns about Bukayo Saka who hasn’t looked himself at all this season. Sloppy in possession and lacking a cutting edge, I wonder if he simply needs more time off or at the very least, time on the sidelines to work his way back into the team. After slating Willian’s involvement for 6 months on the grounds of meritocracy, I’m inclined to be consistent in saying it may be time for someone else to take over from Saka for the time being.
While brief, a return to the Maitland-Niles/Lokonga pivot was a convenient Plan B to see the game out, and both did well to stretch the game and provide welcome relief for the back line. Whatever’s transpired between Ainsley, his representatives/family and Arteta has obviously cleaned the slate for the time being and his diligence seems to be repaying that renewed trust. When you make such statements about where you see yourself playing, the only way to really prove yourself is on the pitch and with Arsenal’s currently limited midfield options, he finally has an opening. Having someone like Thomas Partey to learn from is also an invaluable mentor and he’d be stupid to throw it away if that’s where he sees himself playing.
The Champions of August (trophy not included, see terms and conditions) and all round media darlings lost 3-0 today to Chelsea – without players missing. The table is set for Arsenal to go above them after a stonking 4-0 win and because that is a possibility, I’m convinced it’s going to happen. As much as this Arsenal struggle to create chances, I’m sure it’ll all come together when it matters most. On a more serious note, it’s the first litmus test of the season against a team that Arsenal are competing with in terms of the big picture. They have another bricks-for-brains troglodyte in Eric Dier that Arteta should be focusing his efforts on exploiting and a (14th choice?) manager that has already ridden his luck getting them to 7th place. Your move, Amazon.