It’s Burnley, it’s at home, they’ve had plenty of rest and we’ve had both the physical and mental hit that the game against Liverpool did to us on Thursday last week. But Arsenal cannot feel sorry for itself today, we simply cannot afford it, if we want this season to be one in which we achieve the final goal left we have to go for.
That goal is to reach the top four and given the position we are in right now we simply must acknowledge that our aims have been reassessed in the wake of our current position. We face Burnley today and thereafter Mikel Arteta has ample time to prepare his team for every match, for every player to be rested, for every game to be treated like a cup final and for this young side to fight for everything with fatigue no longer an issue. But today feels like a big hurdle to overcome. We could all see on Thursday just how patched up we are and because of the red cards to both Xhaka and Partey, coupled with the baffling lack of transfer activity, we find ourselves having to shove square pegs in round holes in midfield today.
Mikel will once again call upon Sambi Lokonga to play in the centre of the park and my hope is that we see a Sambi who continues to grow. He had one or two iffy moments against Liverpool, but the difference between that midfield and Burnley’s midfield is marked and if we get the same Sambi who played so well against Newcastle before the festive period, then that will be a big plus for us. Alongside him there will be Martin Odegaard and likewise, if he plays like he has been playing recently – good against Liverpool too I might add – then that will have a big impact for us.
Burnley will come, they will be compact in shape and look to frustrate us. They don’t have Barnes to sh*thouse his way through the game, leave his foot in, get away with murder and have the referee looking like a lemon by not booking him. They don’t have their most creative player in Maxwell Cornet – still away at the AFCON – so they’ll need to rely on Jay Rodriguez for their attacking threat. He’s a funny player because I’ve seen him a few times and wondered what type of striker he is, but he occasionally has a good game in him and I just hope that isn’t today. He’s got five goals this season but all in the cups against lower league opposition and whereas Chris Wood poses the obvious aerial threat, Rodriguez is decent in the air but not as much of a target man. So White and Ramsdale will have a different task assigned to them compared to the game at Turf Moor.
Burnley’s strength will bi in their back line of Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee and probably Pieters at left back. That’s where I think we have to try to get the ball to Saka as much as possible because I think he could have the run of Pieters. The guy got away with a clear handball when Pepe flicked the ball against him last season so I am hoping for some karma and for Saka to have a proper go at him today.
Burnley’s danger man will be Dwight McNeil. I like him. He’s a good runner, got some tricks and is good with his distribution from out wide. That’s where Burnley will see an opportunity to get to us and McNeil will fancy his chances against Tomiyasu if he still isn’t fully fit following his injury. My hope is that the game against Liverpool helped to blow away some cobwebs for the Japanese international and whilst that didn’t help us on Thursday, I just hope it helps us today.
Speaking of helping us out, we will need more from our forward line this lunchtime. Lacazette stunk out the gaff on Thursday but he’s our only option and we need him to get his head back in the game. The good news for him is that hopefully Martinelli, Saka and Smith Rowe will all be fit and by surrounding him with that talent you have to hope that those legs can provide him with the perfect platform to put his poor midweek performance behind him.
This is going to be a grind. Burnley haven’t won many games this season but they know their task very simply, which as we saw for our team at Anfield, can clarify the mind and make things easier at times. Low block, frustrate, give no space and see if you can frustrate the home team. And if you think back to our home games against them in recent seasons, we all know how this one plays out. Last season they beat us after we went down to 10 men and Xhaka was stupidly sent off. The season before that was when we won 2-1 on opening day after Laca opened the scoring early, Burnley scored against the run of play and then frustrated us aside from Auba’s goal. Burnley are a side who know exactly what they are here for and that is a draw or maybe nicking a goal from a set piece or counter. We need to keep our concentration, composure, plus not get too irritated if the game gets in to the second half and we haven’t managed the breakthrough. Then, at the back, we need to make sure that we don’t do stupid things, which feels easier said than done with The Arsenal, because we often have a brain fart in us.
Above all it would be good to finish a game with 11 men for crying out loud. We’ve played one game in January with 11 finishing the match, which was away to Forest, but even that felt like we were playing with fewer on the pitch, the performance was that bad. So for me this is an opportunity for us to get back to winning ways. I absolutely do not take it for granted, but the team need to step up now. Let’s get some of that feel-good factor back to The Arsenal.
Catch you all tomorrow.