It’s always nice to kick off the Christmas period with a win and having dispatched a very physical Burnley side yesterday it feels like I can enjoy at least the start of my holiday.
It was always going to be a tough game against a side who are known for their stubborn resistance and after just a minute when Hart made a decent save before they hacked away the rebound from Aubameyang’s sliding boot I hoped we weren’t going to get ‘one of those days’, especially when they went up the other end straight away and were only a Leno boot away from us going one down, but thankfully we’d soon be up and that rarest of things this season: leading at halftime.
Burnley had come to frustrate and you could see that in their tactical set up and physical approach. Ashley Barnes decided to get in a bit of a wrestling match with Sokratis right in front of me on the touchline and then pleaded innocence after making the elbow gesture to the ref. The reality was that Sokratis wisely held his arms out whilst Barnes was flailing about and that helped immensely because it ensured just the Burnley player got a yellow. Rightly.
That did set the tone for the rest of the game actually, with Burnley trying to ruffle Arsenal a little and Sean Dyche amusingly calling Arsenal players divers. Certainly if you watched the Match of the Day Narrative you’d agree with that moronic suggestion, but Dyche complaining about decisions is a bit rich when the build up for the Burnley goal as a set piece in which four Burnley players were offside. He also conveniently missed the stamp by Barnes on Guendouzi in the second half and when asked about it in the press conference went full Arsene Wenger “I didn’t see it”. It was right in front of him too and so I suspect he was deflecting a bit. well, a lot, actually.
But anyway, silly complaints aside, it was a game in which Arsenal controlled about 75 minutes of the 90 odd and with Burnley getting a bit of steam up after they scored, it felt like a game that we made harder than we should have. Unai had named an Arsenal team that was designed to control possession and Ozil returned to the starting line up with the captains armband too. It was a statement from Unai because he could have named Xhaka captain but the German got it and I thought had a pretty decent game.
He was instrumental in the first goal and i’ve seen one still of the build up in which Kolasinac isn’t even in the picture but the German spots his run early, delivers a perfect ball to the Bosnian, who’s cut back is perfect for Auba to put us one up. It was the kind of move that we can make with a player like Ozil in the team and having spoken of his vision in yesterday’s preview blog, it does feel as though this was the perfect kind of game where he would thrive.
We controlled out the first half, then got in to the second and scored early on to make the game feel quite comfortable. Again it was good work from Kolasinac on the left hand side to find space, a good pass from him to Laca, then a pass to Auba who’s touch in the box is deadly and when you give someone like that only half a yard, he punishes you.
Two nil up, the game felt comfortable, but of course this is The Arsenal and nothing is ever simple. The one thing you never want to do is concede set pieces to a side like Burnley. They don’t create too much from open play but they have some big ol’ units in attack and they contest hard with their aerial duels. Having said all of that, they will surely have to feel a little lucky to not be called offside after a host of players were in behind the Arsenal defence when the ball is kicked. It happens so fast but to me it looked quite obvious and I’d have hoped the lino would spot that. Even then though, we had opportunities to clear it and so when Barnes lashed in from six yards it felt like we were starting to wobble.
The goal emboldened Burnley but I didn’t think that they did enough to nick a draw and so when Iwobi got the late third goal – again through another good driving run from Ozil – it felt like justice was done and we could go home happy.
I thought tactically the set up was interesting yesterday. On paper it looked like a back three with Xhaka once again slotting in, but he’d clearly been given instructions to step forward because from kick off when we had possession he was in midfield and it was only when the ball broke down from one of our attacks that he would drop a little deeper. It was a floating ‘free role’ and I thought Xhaka did really well.
I also thought Kolasinac was superb in that left wing-back position. It’s clear that he has issues as a full back and defending is not his strong point, but when he has three players behind him it gives him more licence to get forward and he once again showed how much of a threat he could be in the attacking side of the game.
Mesut Ozil played well too and I suspect he – as well as Unai and the rest of us – will have enjoyed quietening a few people in the media. Hopefully Unai uses him more of this Christmas period and all of the rumours of rifts are just dampened down a bit. In a dressing room that seems to be a happy place at the moment it feels odd that we’ve got these murmurings of discontent.
But that can be discussed on another day. For now we can bask in another victory and the fact that Chelski lost yesterday means we’ve drawn level on points with them and reduced the gap on those Totts to two points. Let’s hope Everton do us a favour this afternoon.
Righto, that’s me for another one, so I’ll catch you all soon.