In some ways yesterday went more or less how I expected. I thought Burnley would be obstinate and difficult to break down, and they were. And I thought Arsenal might struggle a bit due to absences, and a lack of depth, and we did. However, I thought we would have enough to nick a goal – and I think one goal would have won it – but we couldn’t and thus it’s impossible not to look at this as anything other than two points dropped.
The team was pretty much as expected too. An injury to Takehiro Tomiyasu – which is going to keep him out for a few weeks – meant Ben White went to right back, with Rob Holding at centre-half. Apart from that it was the same side that played on Thursday, with five Hale End lads on the bench – four of whom have yet to play a senior minute for the club.
Burnley had a couple of moments early in the first half as we struggled to get into the game, Ramsdale made a save at his near post and Mee hooked one over from a corner. We had a Lacazette run which was good followed by a shot which really wasn’t, a nice move involving Odegaard and Smith Rowe which saw the keeper make a good save from the Norwegian, and just before the break our best piece of play of the game to that point saw Saka curl a shot not far wide of the far post.
It took us a little bit of time to get going in the second half, but when we did, we started to put some sustained pressure on Burnley. Odegaard clipped a free kick just over, and then from a corner he found Smith Rowe on the run with a well-worked routine which drew a genuinely excellent save from Nick Pope. There was another Smith Rowe shot blocked out for a corner, and the 20 year old then created the best chance of the game for Lacazette with a driving run down the left and a cut back into the box, but the Frenchman put the ball agonisingly wide. He should score, the net was empty, and in a tight game like this you have to be more clinical when the chance is that good.
I actually think we played some good stuff in that period, with 90% possession at one point, and it’s probably at that time you look to your bench to help maintain it and give you something else. Unfortunately, our bench was light and I think Arteta made a mistake with his substitution. I fully accept that Smith Rowe might have some fitness issues we’re not aware of, but taking him off and putting Eddie Nketiah on basically released the pressure valve for Burnley. There were 13 minutes of normal time to play. Could he not have stayed on, especially given we have a two week break? Without him, we lacked that bit of spark we’d had in the second half, and using Nketiah – a penalty box poacher by trade – in a hybrid midfield/second striker role added nothing from an attacking perspective.
Personally, I’d have been ok with Nketiah for Lacazette at that point, even if it’s more or less like for like (one goal-shy striker for another), but it would have allowed us to keep one of our most threatening players on. Smith Rowe and Odegaard were where any kind of goal was going to come from, and we reduced our capacity to get it by taking him off.
Also, with a few minutes to go, and in need of a goal, why not give an exciting young winger like Omari Hutchinson a few minutes? If they were concerned about being caught out defensively, that happened a couple of times anyway without him being on, and I don’t really think that would have been a huge gamble. Certainly much less risky than throwing on a player who has just arrived back from an international tournament.
When you look at the team and the bench, it’s hard not to think that with Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Nicolas Pepe to choose from, we probably would have had that bit extra. But we didn’t. The two midfielders were absent through suspension, who knows what’s going to happen with Aubameyang but yesterday hammered home the need for a new striker once again, and we knew AFCON would rob us of Pepe.
But the job is to find a way, to ensure you take three points against a team that is propping up the table. We probably should have when you look at that Lacazette chance, and the stats showing 20 shots show we did give it a bash, but I thought Aaron Ramsdale’s comments about how we spent so much time putting crosses in were telling. He said it was ‘meat and drink’ to Burnley, which is true. We don’t have any kind of aerial presence, so corners and crosses were just headed away. It is tough when the opposition sit in and stay organised, but don’t play to their strengths while they’re doing it.
Afterwards, Arteta was asked about transfers, and sounded less than encouraging that something would happen before the end of the window:
“Well, we are certainly trying, but I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it. The market is difficult, it’s complicated. We knew that, but it’s a lot to manage and we have to make the right decisions with players that we believe are going to really help us and try to bring in ones that can take us to the next level.”
This sounds like the classic January pickle where the player/players you really want aren’t available in this window, and we can all understand the reasons why. In that case, it sounds like they’re not willing to compromise and spend money on someone who they don’t feel is the right fit, and again we’ve seen too many half-baked Arsenal transfers in recent times not to at least acknowledge that’s a common sense approach. The short-term positivity that surrounds a new signing isn’t worth more medium/long-term frustration if he’s not what we really need. However, the question is, how do we get this team going again without something new?
Yes, we’ll have some players back after this upcoming break, and there is a top level – albeit fading – striker on our books who could play a part, but even with that, there’s a need for something more. January has been a horrible month. More red cards than goals, out of two cup competitions, and now two vital points dropped at home to Burnley. We have these little periods under this manager, and his task now is to regroup and hit the ground running when we come back. In the meantime, Edu and those responsible for recruitment, need to be doing everything they can to try and add something before the end of the window.
Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra at the usual time, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.
Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.