Another Saturday 3pm match day: I could get used to this.
It’s Burnley at home at The Emirates today and this is one in which we want to send the international boys off to their respective countries with a swing in their step and another three points on the board.
In year’s gone by the narrative would be “physical game”, “Low Block FC”, “we know this will be one in which it’ll be difficult to watch at times”, but this is a different Burnley that come to our gaff this afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, I still think they are going to try to work at making life difficult for us and being tough to break down, but stylistically they very much have switched how they play and it is over on Merseyside with a certain bald, gravelly-voiced manager that we now have those connotations and expectations.
So whilst I do think Vincent Kompany will be looking to snatch a point or nick three with a defensively resolute performance, I don’t think it will look the same as Dyche’s Burnley of three year’s ago, for example. They’re currently second from bottom on four points, with the second lowest xG on 9.6 goals. Interestingly their xG allowed – so how many goals they should have conceded – is 16th ahead of West Ham, Luton, Sheffield United and Bournemouth, so whilst they are struggling to score, they at least have a defensive record that isn’t the worst in the league like Sheffield United, who came to us two weekend’s ago. Having said that, they’ve still got an xG allowed of 20 goals in 11 matches, so this should be one today in which we are looking to get a couple in at least.
Their last game saw them lose 2-0 at home to Palace and in that they adopted a 4-4-2 system to Palace’s 4-2-3-1, so a little different to the expected 4-3-3 that we’ll adopt today I think, but having looked at the two games before that they played with a 4-3-3 against Brentford and Bournemouth, so it will be interesting to see what Kompany goes with. Will he stick with a more progressive philosophy and try two wide forwards and a central striker? Or will he be more pragmatic? To get an idea of that I had a look at their opening game at home to City and Kompany went with a 5-4-1 formation and it did them no good; they created barely any opportunities and City cantered to a win. Against The Scum it was a 4-4-2 and Newcastle away for them was a 4-2-3-1, so I really have no idea what they’ll go with today.
But the same can be said for us in terms of playing personnel too, because Arteta’s press conference yesterday didn’t really give anything away (as usual). He said he still wasn’t sure about Saka, Eddie or Odegaard, although a video has emerged of those players being with the first team in the hotel the night before the game yesterday, so I suspect all might be available. If that’s the case, I think the team might be:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Rice – Havertz
Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli
I haven’t heard anything about Gabriel Jesus, so maybe he makes the bench, but I think Arteta goes with a team today that has more attacking poise about it. I think he’ll go with Zinchenko because Tomi picked up a knock in midweek against Sevilla and although he’s in better form, this is the sort of game in which you feel Zinchenko would work. We’re going to have more of the ball, more control, more time spent in the Burnley half, so we somebody like Zinchenko feels like a natural choice today. Of course if Tomi is fit and Arteta wants to reward his performances then he could opt for him at left back and if he does, I have a feeling that Jorginho would play. It does to me feel like there are a few players whose place in the team feel linked. Tomi at left back means you can give Jorginho another start and after his good form against Sevilla (with a very good pass to Saka for the first goal we scored) I could understand if that happened. Then you can play Rice at left eight and if that happens I wonder if Havertz gets a start up top? But if Zinchenko plays, I think it’ll be Rice at the six, Havertz left eight, Nketiah up top. This is the sort of game in which we’re all fine to see Eddie start and so either approach from Arteta today would be fine by me.
What will be key is how we expose Burnley’s weaknesses. I must confess I haven’t watched a lot of their football this season, but the numbers suggest they want to play progressive football which carries the ball forward (they sit mid table in progressive carries at the moment and 16th in progressive passing. Their struggles come in the final third though; they are third bottom in terms of shots on target against their opponents with just 32 in 11 matches and they have attempted the second lowest number of shots at 114; so they’re basically only having three shots a game on target out of 10. Defensively they are allowing 65 attempts at goal (again the third worst). Their stats are also a bit weird on passing; they have attempted more passes than any other team in the league, and the average length of their passing is just over 27 yards – shorter than us! Yet when you look at the number of launched passes, it’s fourth highest in the league. So they are making lots of passes over short distances, as well as making lots of long passes over 40 yards, but not being very successful with them.
This should be a game that we control and dominate and the stats seem to suggest it should be a quiet day for our defence, but in the Premier League every dog can have it’s day, so I suspect Arteta will be pressing home to his team that another repeat of West Ham away in the League Cup is not acceptable. Control the ball, control possession, probe and move it quickly and if you do that spaces will appear.
It’d be nice to get a decent send off today and hopefully this evening we’re talking about another juicy three points. But the business must be done on the pitch.
Catch you all tomorrow for a debrief.