Morning all and welcome to match day. Have sampled the delights of a Saturday 3pm kick off a couple weekend’s ago, we’ve had it whipped away from us with another Sunday game, this time with an away trip to Burnley kicking off at 2pm this afternoon.
Ahh Burnley, with the ‘booiest’ fans in the Premier League. Nobody does ‘woe is us’ like the Burnley fans and that really pointless and mind-numbingly boring “Same old Arsenal, always cheating” nonsense is sure to be sung at least once during the duration. So will at least one Arsenal player being booed, most probably after being clattered and staying down for more than ten seconds on the deck. It just is what it is. We have to deal with it and hope that our team silences the crowd today.
We did that on Monday by producing a sublime first half against Bournemouth and that has to also be the aim of the game today. Bournemouth isn’t exactly a big ground, but Burnley is also just north of 20,000 so if we start well, start quick, establish our dominance in possession and move the ball around quickly into the wide areas, then we have a chance of making this a quiet afternoon.
What you do have to say about Sean ‘It’s always Arsenal diving’ Dyche is that he’ll play on the ‘hard-done-by’ nonsense that we get when we play them home and away, but he will also set his team up to be physical, to snap into tackles and to try to cause us issues by overloading the box on set pieces and with balls deep into our box. Arteta described Burnley as the most ‘English’ of teams and he might as well have thrown in ‘Brexit’ and ‘don’t like it up ’em brigade’, because that’s what it feels like when we go there.
This will be a very tough game though. We won’t get the same space that Bournemouth afforded us. We won’t get players standing off us in defence or midfield and I’m certainly not expecting us to come out of this game without any bumps and bruises. But I am crossing my fingers in hope that we get three points. We’ve got a good record there but this season everywhere we’ve had a good record seems to have been thrown out the water so i’m not 100% confident of a victory. If you’re a stats or probability person, you’d probably be looking at a draw, because that’s what we’ve been specialists this season. But under Arteta so far it has felt to me like there have been some mitigating situations that have led to some of the draws we’ve had. We’ve had players sent off, we’ve had some unfortunate deflected goals against us, plus we’ve had injuries. Today we’ve got a team that is starting to look a little stronger with the return of Luiz and Auba from suspension, plus a few players that have been rested and also have had six days rest. So my hope for this afternoon is we get yet more improvement from Arteta’s charges.
So to the team news, which I suspect will be:
Bellerin Sokratis Luiz Saka
Pepe Ozil Martinelli
Firstly, you can’t not start Auba in the team, with all of the goals he gets. Then you have to look at the impact of Martinelli in the last three or four games and surely the only conclusion Arteta can draw is that he starts? You could certainly questions whether Ozil and Pepe could be rotated out and perhaps given Burnley’s high intensity and the fact Willock was so visible for an hour in winning the ball back higher up the pitch, you could argue for his inclusion. I listened to the ArsenalVision podcast the other day after the Bournemouth game and the guys said something interesting about Pepe that I hadn’t really considered much until I heard it. We spend a lot of time attacking down our left hand side and both Saka and Martinelli have done well in creating goals and chances. On the other side Bellerin hasn’t got forward as much and that is surely a tactical decision. So it leaves Pepe isolated on that side and that’s why he perhaps hasn’t sparkled as much as we would have liked him to.
With that in mind, who else could play that role isolated on the right? Nelson? Possibly, but I don’t think he’s fit yet. Martinelli, with Auba going wide left and Lacazetter through the middle? Well, maybe, but I think that causes structural issues in the team and felt like it would just be there ton accommodate Lacazette who, let’s face it, isn’t exactly in form and banging in goals just yet. So for me the inclusion makes sense at the moment whilst we have such structural imbalances with Saka pushing forward to support Martinelli, leaving Xhaka to tuck in.
One way of getting around this could be that on both left and right hand side, whichever full back pushes forward, Xhaka lots in behind, but that is probably asking a lot of the Swiss and I’m not sure it’s a long term solution. It worked well on Monday and I suspect we’ll get to see more of it today, but it seems to be isolated on that left hand side of our defence and so I’m not expecting it to be replicated for Bellerin on the right.
So Pepe will most likely play today because he can play in that isolation on the right hand side. We just have to hope he can deliver some end product for us. Perhaps today is that day.
Burnley will look to get the ball out wide and cause us problems via Wood and Rodriguez up top. Dyche always plays a traditional 4-4-2 and the emphasis is getting the ball into wide posisitions and getting it in to the mixer. That means that when the ball turns over we’re going to need to rely on the likes of Xhakla and Torreira to fill space left behind by the likes of Saka getting forward. If Bellerin has pushed on too then it’s something we need to be wary of.
It’ll be fascinating to see which Arsenal we get away at Turf Moor today. Let’s just hoping it’s a winning one.
Back tomorrow with some match thoughts.