It’s hard to properly analyse a game like yesterday. Quite often I tend to jot down some post-match thoughts that tend to focus on Arsenal being a) rather quite good, or b) rather quite pants. So often it’s the result that has such an important impact on my (and I suspect yours too) thoughts on the game.
So the tone of today’s blog essentially shifted from positive to negative, then back to positive again, all in the space of the seven additional minutes at the end of the game.
As we hit injury time my thoughts were very much that we make it hard for ourselves, but there was a grit and determination about this Arsenal team that we should be pleased about, as they ground out a difficult result in the end. Then, when Gray hit home the penalty for Burnley on 94 minutes, the tone shifted to Arsenal having shot themselves in the foot again, as is the usual story with this team every season. Deja Vu has hit us once more and like every season in the last three or four, we’ve hit the point in the year where we fall apart before inevitably picking up to secure a top four spot. Then finally, as Alexis cheekily chipped us the winner right on full time, my thoughts were of relief that the team is still in the title race, now sit second in the league and have shown the grit to grind out a win in the most dramatic of fashions.
Doesn’t this team just love a late goal though, eh? Don’t get me wrong, I love that we have that in our locker, but I do just wish we’d see a game out before we get to the 85th minute. It’s much better for my blood pressure.
Speaking of blood pressure, or blood boiling, it would be churlish of me not to talk about the key moment of the game that really did frame the ending: Xhaka’s sending off. Sometimes I have these random thoughts, and it’s easy for me to say this now, but at the beginning of the game when I saw it was Jon Moss reffing the match, I thought about the ridiculous sending off he gave to Xhaka and felt like he might do something similar yesterday. I should have tweeted that gut feeling at the time, because it would have validated my premonition, but oh well. Sure enough though, Moss got his card out, and even now I’m not sure whether I think it’s a red card. On the one hand in real time from the camera angle of the TV it looked like a two footed challenge and so I could see that Moss might have thought that. But when I saw it again from a different angle, as well as the contact Xhaka got on Defour, it looked quite soft. He barely touched the Belgian – who made a meal of it – but also it was a single foot lunge that turned in to a bit of a scissor challenge. I have seen Danny Rose do that about three or four times this season already, whilst Rojo at United has already been shown as somebody who has licence to two foot somebody without any recompense.
So my red and white tinted specs are quite obviously going to lean in favour of Xhaka, who I thought had a decent game up until that point.
In fact, most of the team had played ok, I thought. Burnley were always going to set up as compact and defend for their lives and as soon as we hit halftime without scoring, you knew it would be the odd goal that would decide the match if we didn’t score early. And I felt like we started a little sluggishly. We controlled possession and looked in control bar a few Burnley pot-shots, but whilst Alexis was content to take all of the shots he possibly could from outside of the box, his range was a little out and so was the rest of the team. But the end of the game I think we’d had close to 30 attempts at goal, but I suspect that only half a dozen were on target.
Thankfully Mustafi decided that he wanted to continue his good form in the team and nodded us in front with a decent header. Niall Quinn blamed the Burnley defence for giving him too much space, but I actually thought that more props should be given to our German, because he was in between two Burnley defenders and still managed to guide the ball to the back post to the perfect spot away from Tom Heaton. Heaton is a great ‘keeper who I think is one of the best in the league, so he’s not getting beaten like that unless the header is perfectly placed. Perhaps there can be a question mark about putting somebody on that back post, but that’s a set up thing rather than a defensive mistake based on the movement (or lack of) of the players.
So we’re one nil up and with about 25 to go and this had all of the hallmarks of one of those games in which Burnley push forward and we catch them on the break and win two or three nil. But Xhaka’s tackle caused more grief than it should and Jon Moss – who had ignored a stonewalled penalty on Mustafi in the first half – decided to give a little something something to Burnley to make the game interesting by carding Xhaka. Then, with quite a swift and decisive decision on Coquelin in our box, he probably thought he’d stolen a point for Burnley in injury time. It was one of those silly challenges that players do sometimes. He hung his leg out, tried to quickly retract when he knew a player would take advantage, then the rest is history as we know.
Here’s a conspiracy theory though: I bet Moss knew he’d buggered up a penalty decision for Arsenal in the first half, so any opportunity to readdress the balance he was going to give, which is why he was so swift in giving us the 97th minute penno. Let’s be honest though, it was a penalty, no matter what some neutrals have tried to tell me. It was a penalty because if you put that move anywhere else on the pitch, does the ref give it as a free kick? Yes he does. So when the linesman failed to flag for a really marginal offside, the next passage of play was a penalty, regardless of what old gravel-voice thinks himself. Alexis takes, Alexis converts, three points to Arsenal and up to second place.
So the overriding feeling today is of relief. We sort of got away with it in the end, but there can be no doubt we were the better team and had Burnley not been granted two lifelines in that second half, I suspect the game will have petered out like the Chelski/Hull match did afterwards.
Next up it’s a tough away game to Southampton, before Watford at home and Chelski away and if we beat Watford and Chelski fail to beat Liverpool, it will make the game at Stamford Bridge even more scarier than it feels like it is right now.
More thoughts during the week when I get time in between rum-based cocktails.