Arsene Wenger celebrates 20 years as manager with a dramatic late win at Burnley.
It was always likely to be a war of attrition against a well-drilled Burnley side who have already proven they can hold their own at Turf Moor, and although a blistering display full of goals would have been a fitting way of celebrating the anniversary of Wenger in charge and everything he has done for our club, it was never going to be that easy. Betway made us favourites, perhaps for a reason given we have won our last four games, unbeaten in eight and are starting to show signs of being able to compete for the title, but you should never write off anyone in this crazy league. Arsene, like the wily old fox he is, played down the significance of marking twenty years as our manager and ensured his team were focused on the battle, as Liverpool provided a demonstration to the rest of the league of what can happen if you do not match Burnley stride for stride. For what they may lack in quality and star names, the Clarets make up with through work rate and determination – certain qualities that we have lacked in previous campaigns when complacency has cost us big time.
They say that good teams are able to win games even when they are not at their best, and my god that could not have been truer about this one. Arsenal struggled to find chinks in the two brick walls that Sean Dyche put up in front of his goal, with Alexis, Theo and Mesut Ozil finding it hard to thread anything through a watertight defence that stood up to wave after wave of forays forward. We certainly showed the more attacking threat and guile when moving the ball around, but Kos and Mustafi will certainly have bruises in the morning after their physical battle with big Sam Vokes. Burnley, to their credit, did have chances of their own through Vokes and a Michael Keane header which hit the bar in the second half, but considering that Alexis hit the outside of the post and was denied by a fine save from Tom Heaton, we always looked the more likely to nick it. You could argue that we played into their hands by trying to attack from wide positions and whip balls into the box when we were without Oli G’s aeriel presence or Lucas Perez as Alexis is hardly going to beat big defenders in the air, but in fairness, we tried everything to break Burnley’s resilience.
Time ebbed away, Wenger had rolled the dice and made the only changes he could with such limited attacking options on the bench, nothing appeared to be working. It was looking like one of those days where two points were going to be dropped…and then it happened. A moment of euphoria; there is nothing like a dramatic late winner in injury time to seal it! The most humble amongst us would say that it was harsh on Burnley, given the controversial nature of the goal, but many could not care less as we bagged three points. For all of their resilience and brave defending, it took one moment of smart thinking from Alexis to receive a corner taken short while Burnley were organising themselves, and whip a dangerous ball into the box from which Theo, of all people, headed on. It went towards the Ox and Kos at the back post as time just seemed to stop still, with Kos getting his foot to the ball first but inadvertently smashed it into his arm and into the net. One lapse in concentration is all it takes in the Premier League, and though Burnley have learned that the hard way, we picked up three points. Job done.
Five straight wins, just what we need to build up momentum and confidence…and now yet another international break. We know they have to be played at some stage of the season, but you do wonder who makes up the schedules given how there will be two breaks within the space of a month. It means that we will have to wait a fortnight to face a Swansea side who are struggling for form and confidence, and it is almost certain that Betway will boost the bet on us winning the game via their price boost specials. You have to feel that, on current form, the Gunners are in prime position to pick up another three points, and with our local rivals doing the whole league a favour by stopping Manchester City in their tracks, we have to seize the initiative and continue to drive forward. There is no question that the Burnley game will not be made into a DVD and fly off the shelves in the club shop any time soon, but if Arsenal can continue to pick up points in those sort of games and cut loose in the others, starting with Swansea, then we will not be the only ones that will take to take the Gunners seriously as title contenders.