Following their remarkable 1-3 victory over Leicester City a week ago, Arsenal fans have likely resigned themselves to a reverse of the recent seasons. In previous years, Arsenal have been unbeatable at home and timid away from home, but like most teams in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the home advantage has since been lost.
With an important Round of 32 tie with Olympiacos and the daunting visit of José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur in the North London Derby, it was a little surprising to see the strength of the team that Mikel Arteta fielded against Burnley.
However, Arteta’s selection seemed to be vindicated as Arsenal took an early lead at Turf Moor. Some quick play in midfield between Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka meant that they were able to quickly release Willian, who fed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who jinked and swerved through the Burnley defence and squeezed a possibly lucky effort past Nick Pope to give Arsenal a deserved lead.
From there, Arsenal continued to dictate play. Though Burnley continued to defend fairly well, they struggled to contain Arsenal’s main attacking threats, as was shown when Bukayo Saka’s effort fizzed millimetres wide.
However, in recent weeks, Arsenal have since been the orchestrators of their own downfall and Saturday afternoon did not disappoint in that regard.
Arsenal’s insistence of playing out from the back, something that has been a constant source of terrified squeal from Arsenal fans around the world since the final days of Unai Emery, reared its ugly head once more.
Bernd Leno sold Xhaka short on a pass as the Swiss international was being pressed by an attacker, however, the midfielder committed that most unforgivable sin of passing the ball across his own penalty area, which cannoned off Chris Wood and into the open net. It was the easiest goal he’ll score in his entire life and Arsenal inexplicably found themselves level.
The second half was one way traffic for Arsenal. With a renewed desire to grab all three points, Arsenal began to attack with gusto, however, things did not become too clear cut until the introduction of Nicolas Pépé.
The former Lille man, who has been so important to Arsenal of late, was again at the heart of everything that was impressive about Arsenal as they continued to attack Burnley, although he likely won’t be forgiven for his mis-hit of Kieran Tierney’s cross, which would have won the game.
He was however, at the heart of two controversial VAR decisions. The first was a blatant handball from Burnley substitute Erick Pieters. The defender’s hand was raised, in an unnatrual position and Pépé’s flick upwards smashed off the defender’s wrist in a blatant handball that was infuriatingly dismissed by VAR.
The second was his late effort cannoning off the bar from Erick Pieters’ block. Andre Marriner incorrectly dismissed the Burnley defender for a handball, though replays showed that the ball had brushed his shoulder and was therefore not a penalty. VAR again coming to Pieters’ rescue.
But the drama still wasn’t over. Following a scramble in the penalty area, the ball fell to Dani Ceballos, whose shot thudded off the post and ended the game not five seconds later.
It couldn’t have been a more frustrating afternoon if Arsenal had tried. Try as they might, they seemed unable to score a second and VAR controversy and individual errors cost them dearly.
Granit Xhaka’s error in the first-half was perhaps the midfielder’s only misstep all game, but it was a costly one. The basic, almost Sunday League adage of “never go across your own area” seemed to go out the window. On another day, the ball goes out for a goal-kick or misses Chris Wood altogether, however, it’s difficult to play the unlikely game when you see it roll into the net, powerless to keep it out.
As for VAR, Arsenal saw the good and the bad mixed with the ugly. The overturning of the red card was a correct decision and Pieters would have felt hard done by had Andre Marriner sent him off for such a small indiscretion, whereas his blatant handball from Pépé’s initial flick is truly baffling. Not only is Pieters’ arm in an unnatrual position, the ball clearly cannons off his wrist and is about as blatant a handball as you will find.
A frustrating day in Burnley is not what Arsenal needed heading into their European excursions, but they must keep the focus and put Saturday’s frustrations behind them.
1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
23.) David Luiz
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 80’)
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Lacazette 63’)
12.) Willian (Pépé 69’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)
33.) Maty Ryan
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
8.) Dani Ceballos
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette
1.) Nick Pope
2.) Matthew Lowton
5.) James Tarkowski
6.) Ben Mee
3.) Charlie Taylor (Pieters 63’)
7.) Jóhann Guðmundsson (Brady 68’)
18.) Ashley Westwood
8.) Josh Brownhill
11.) Dwight McNeil
27.) Matěj Vydra (Rodriguez 86’)
9.) Chris Wood
15.) Bailey Peacock-Farrell
23.) Erik Pieters
34.) Jimmy Dunne
28.) Kevin Long
26.) Phil Bardsley
41.) Josh Benson
16.) Dale Stephens
12.) Robbie Brady
19.) James Rodriguez