I arise this morning in a nice Manchester hotel, having stayed the night in the land of rain, but thoroughly happy that mine and The Management’s away day excursion wasn’t ruined by the football result. It could have, well, sort of been a little bit rubbish though, if we hadn’t have scored the most last ditch of last ditch goals against Burnley yesterday.
The pre-match chitter chatter over a traditional North West Sunday lunch (and the nicest cauliflower cheese I’ve ever had) was all about whether Arsène would name the same team and whether there’d be any kind of hangover from a Champions League week. When we go away from home having played in midweek the games aren’t exactly vintage and are often turgid, so I did wonder whether Arsène would mix it up a bit yesterday and choose some rotation. He chose not too, and as we took our rickety seats in the away stand, the first couple of minutes gave some hope. We fashioned a couple of chances through Walcott and Alexis and The Management wondered whether her assertion that Arsenal would “do the goals today” would be a true prediction.
Sadly, that initial couple of chances didn’t set the tone for the afternoon, with the tempo of the game slowing to a pace that wasn’t really reminiscent of the last few Arsenal games. Burnley were set up to frustrate Arsenal, which you’d understand given their relatively new status as a Premier League wide, with two very compact lines in front of their own penalty box. That led Arsenal players to adopting a familiar approach to the game, but an unwelcome one for the away fans, as the aim was to retain possession and find space to cut through the Burnley defence with surgical-like precision balls.
The only problem with that though, was that this Burnley team are well organised, disciplined with their shape and knowing each other’s roles and zones within the pitch. That, coupled with a lethargic approach to Arsenal’s game, set the tone for the whole afternoon, really.
What was particularly frustrating for me was the lack of movement across the front three. The last couple of games before yesterday have seen Alexis, Theo and Iwobi rotating across their respective zones on the pitch. But yesterday Alexis looked static and Theo hugged the wide right position too much for me. Owl I also had a game in which you’d expect of a 20-year-old, and flitted in and out.
We just couldn’t get in behind their lines and never really managed to get Hector and Nacho overlapping the wingers at all during the game. Normally we expect to see that about a dozen times on each flank in a game, but yesterday’s pedestrian pace to the game meant that when Iwobi or Walcott got the ball, they didn’t have an overlap as often as usual and as a result it felt to me as though they kept coming in field to traffic.
So as the clock ticked down, I resigned myself to the fact that we’d just dropped a couple of points in a game that we really shouldn’t have. It’s never easy breaking down teams that don’t want to play, but if you have lofty aspirations, you have to find a ‘by-hook-or-by-crook’ way of getting the points.
So imagine the sheer delight by yours truly when a ball was bundled in at the back post by Koscielny/the Ox with about two seconds to play. It’s like the greatest time ever that can be scored. You couldn’t script a better goal time, summed up by the fact that as soon as Burnley kicked off, they booted the ball towards the Arsenal goal in some vain attempt to equalise. It was dragged well wide and the away end went nuts.
So, here’s a couple of points I have on the goal itself, which I think have been conveniently ignored by those in the media last night and this morning:
- It was indeed a handball and shouldn’t have stood. The officials didn’t see it and as a result we ‘got away with it’. But let’s not pretend Burnley didn’t ‘get away with it’ on a handball that looked fairly stone wall to me. There were two handballs in the second half and the first one was down by the defenders side so you could never give it, but the second one was definitely not a ‘natural movement’ to me and we should have had a penalty
- The added time was indeed two minutes over. But in that second half Tom Heaton, the Burnley ‘keeper, took two and a half minutes in time wasting for every goal kick. So the corner we had may have been seven seconds over according to Sean Dyche, but it was about a minute and a half should of the minimum the officials should have given.
I call it ‘karma’. But I’m not going to pretend we weren’t anything but fortunate yesterday.
It was a great result, we had to go through a lot of turgid football at times, but winning ugly is exactly what we needed going in to an international break, with two home games in the league coming up and a chance to really build some form.
So onwards and upwards, and most importantly, up the Arsenal.