Morning folks. Hope you’re having a good one. I have spent the morning awake since 5.50am as The Management’s decision to have a kitten is coming back to bite us. Not literally, but figuratively speaking, as the little toe rag spent the morning pulling clothes out of the washing basket and generally making a racket in our bedroom. He’s figured out how to open doors now so we have no respite putting him anywhere in the house.
But oh well. If I look at some kind of weird up side, by getting up two and a half hours earlier than normal on a Saturday, maybe my body will feel like today’s 12.30pm kick off against Burnley is actually a Saturday 3pm kick off. That’s the only positive spin I can think of for now.
As for the game itself, well, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Earlier in the week I was pretty confident. Burnley don’t score many goals, we have been better as a defensive unit this season than most season, plus they played on Wednesday whereas we had a week off. They have a couple of injury considerations, whilst we have a relatively good bill of health, ESR aside. So at the beginning of the week I felt like it was set up nicely for us to continue our momentum. And after I watched them get dismantled by The Scum, I wondered a) how that would affect confidence, and b) whether they would be that poor against us.
But we all know that is impossible, right? We all know Burnley will somehow find a level of energy and drive that wasn’t there against that detestable lot from up the Seven Susters Road. It’s what always happens. So I am fully expecting to see no sign of fatigue for the lunchtime kick off, no evidence of players in the fabled ‘red zone’, no letting up despite their lack of goals this season. I am expecting a Burnley side that morphs into Ajax 95 and causes us real trouble.
Even if that isn’t the case today, we all know we are in for a physical and tough afternoon. I think the first season they were in the Premier League we comfortably won 3-0, but that feels like the only time we’ve had games against them which haven’t been decided by the odd goal margin. So regardless of the side that Arteta and Dyche put out, I am expecting a close encounter today. But for Arsenal the emphasis has to be on attacking intent. Burnley have 19 goals in 27, worse only than Sheffield United on 16 goals and that means they average 0.7 goals a game. Their top scorer Chris Wood has four goals in 21 appearances (plus one as a sub). They look to get the ball back to front as quickly and directly as possible and rely on getting the ball out wide and good delivery. At the Emirates they scored through an own from Aubameyang, which was only their second attempt on target. And we were down to ten men due to Xhaka’s stupidity.
Everything feels like – assuming Arsenal get it right in the final third – we should be looking at three points today.
But this is Arsenal and things are never that easy. For one thing we have struggled to click in the final third for big chunks in the season and when there has been an opportunity to give an opponent an edge through our own stupidity, we have delivered on that promise a fair few times already this season. We have shot ourselves in the foot so many times already that it really wouldn’t surprise me if that happened today. Arsenal beating Arsenal is very ‘on brand’ for us right now.
So is early goals conceded, unfortunately, which is why I think the first 15 minutes and probably the first half is where we will need to be at our best to avoid a bloody nose, because that’s where it could all go wrong. Fatigue for Premier League athletes of any team won’t manifest itself in the first 30 minutes and so Burnley will be looking at that, coupled with the fact we’ve conceded early in something like like four of our last five league games, as their chance to beat us. They will think that if they can get a goal early they will be able to sit in a low block and frustrate us for the afternoon. And I suspect that if they do get that early goal they will do just that. We struggle to break down low block teams. Just think about what happened at Villa a few weeks ago. I don’t think Villa are any great shakes, but they got their goal and sat back, allowing us to have the ball and hit on the counter. Burnley won’t look to hit us on the counter if they score early, but they will sit in tight and deep and I fear a frustrating game if that happens.
So if anything we should be approaching this game with caution for the opening exchanges. Keep the ball. Dominate possession. Let them chase it. Then in the second half, when Burnley players begin to tire, we should look for spaces opening up. That HAS to be the gameplan today and I certainly hope that is how it plays out.
In terms of team selection I suspect Arteta will go strong today. He will want the momentum and whilst I’ve heard a few people talking about rotation and protecting players ahead of the Olympiakos game on Thursday, that match is a full six days from now. Arteta can afford to play his strongest side and still have them fresh enough for Thursday. So I’d be looking at Leno in goal, Bellerin at right back, Luiz and Gabriel as the centre halves with Tierney as the roaming left back. In front of them I hope we can see Xhaka ans Partey and in front of those two let’s have a three of Saka on the right, Odegaard in the middle and Pepe wide right. I wonder whether Arteta tries to continue the Willian hype train by playing him, but I’d rather see Pepe unleashed. Then you have Auba up top to complete the line up. I also hope Auba has an extra fuel for his belly today after his header own-goal cost us anything against Burnley at home. I also hope that Xhaka is well aware that Burnley might target him so I am hopeful that he is cool and calm enough in the middle of the park.
Like I said at the top of this blog, my confidence has slowly eroded as the week as gone on and we’ve edged closer to kick off, but if I see enough in the first 15-30 minutes from Arsenal, it will soon return.
Let’s hope for three points.
Catch you peeps tomorrow. Or straight after kick off if you fancy joining us on the post match GunnersTown pubcast.