Sunday, April 12, 2015

Gunners graft to win at Burnley

After the thumping win against Liverpool and the impending FA Cup semi-final next week, Arsenal’s trip to Burnley could have been written off as a formality. It was just one of those games to get out of the way before bigger ones come into view. In that sense, it could have been a challenge for Arsenal to get themselves fully focussed for the game.
It wasn’t prettiest of matches as Burnley scrapped hard needing points to stay in the league, but Arsenal got the job done to win 1-0, and secure an eighth Premier League win in a row.
Even though the Lancashire side are in the bottom three, they’ve taken points off Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham this season, and looked to play at a high tempo throughout the game. Burnley played with two up front and used them to apply pressure to Arsenal high-up the field, just as the Gunners had done to such good effect against Liverpool last weekend. This meant Arsenal weren’t able to have a good rhythm in their play for a lot of the game, but with the confidence in the team following the winning run, Arsenal always looked dangerous when approaching the attacking third of the pitch.
For all of the impressive effort and organisation from Burnley, they struggled to open up Arsenal, with Francis Coquelin again playing a vital role in the victory. It was his interception and forward pass that sparked the play that led to the only goal of the game in the 11th minute. The Frenchman fizzed the ball forward to Alexis Sanchez, who controlled the ball well before manoeuvring himself into space to have a shot, which was blocked. Mesut Ozil’s subsequent effort was saved by the goalkeeper, Alexis was denied again and finally Aaron Ramsey put the ball into the roof of the net.
Ramsey was starting again on the right of the attacking three behind Olivier Giroud, keeping Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck out of the team. While it does seem like a compromise to try and keep him in the team alongside Coquelin, Cazorla and Ozil, Arsenal do miss the more direct, pace, outlet on the flank. But, Ramsey’s recent league record has been excellent, with two goals and three assists in his last five. His season hasn’t hit the heights of his stellar campaign in 2013/2014, but given he’s had such a stop-start season, Ramsey is still likely to make double figures for goals, which would represent another good return from midfield.
From taking an early lead, Arsenal worked a few more half-openings, but because of Burnley leaving two strikers up, the Gunners weren’t keen to over commit players going forward. As Arsene Wenger pointed out after the match, the visitors to Turf Moor were slightly undecided as to how to approach the game after going a goal ahead. Whereas after scoring against Liverpool, Arsenal went for the jugular, they were more circumspect against Burnley.
The Gunners weren’t helped by the Burnley centre-backs doing everything to stop Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman has been in excellent form, and always seemed to have two defenders following him around the field on Saturday. His link up play wasn’t quite at the standard he’d have wanted, but his presence in drawing in defenders did help Arsenal open up opportunities for midfield runners, such as Ramsey.
Mesut Ozil linked the play well again with a few deft passes and flicks around the box, while Alexis Sanchez seems to have had another burst of energy since the international break. Even though he didn’t get on the score sheet at Turf Moor, he seemed to be demanding the ball a lot more and looking to make things happen. Alexis has probably been helped by Ramsey playing on the right because if Arsenal are looking to go wide to a player to carry the ball and attack at pace, they’ll always give the ball to the Chilean rather than the Welshman.
As the game went on, Arsenal remained dangerous going forward and probably should have scored the second goal to avoid the final moments being a bit nervy, but the Gunners looked pretty secure at the back, so it would have taken something special for the hosts to equalise. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny limited the chances for Sam Vokes and Danny Ings, while Nacho Monreal had another quietly effective game at left-back.
The win did momentarily move Arsenal to within four points of Chelsea at the top of the table, but that gap was returned to seven with Chelsea’s victory at QPR on Sunday. It remains Chelsea’s title to monumentally throw away, but if they do somehow cough up the points, Arsenal just have to keep winning and see where they end up. If nothing else, finishing in the top three would avoid the Champions League play-off in August.
It’ll be interesting to see what changes Arsene Wenger makes for the FA Cup semi-final against Reading next weekend. With Chelsea coming to the Emirates a week later, on paper, a match with a Championship side is a chance to rotate the team, especially with plenty of players now coming back from injury. But Arsene Wenger will want to take the match seriously, especially after the scare Wigan gave the Gunners at Wembley last season. Along with the expected goalkeeper change, I suspect there’ll be some rotation at full-back, and an injection of pace with Danny Welbeck or Theo Walcott starting in the attacking positions.
If the players that come in can continue the winning run, even though the Premier League title still looks like a long shot, Arsenal can add a silver lining to a season that continues to gather pace.