At times it felt like it was going to be one of those frustrating days. A team that came to sit deep and defend did that pretty well for most of the first half. I wasn’t sure if that was how Burnley would approach this, but you can understand why they did. It was more a case of whether or not they’d be able to keep it up, and I think we saw signs towards the end of the first period that there were just some cracks in their concentration.
We had come close a couple of times. Bukayo Saka’s instant right-footed shot from inside the box looked for all the world like it was going to hit the top corner, but James Trafford made an absolutely outstanding save to deny him. One of the best you’ll see all season, honestly. He also stood up well to a Leandro Trossard effort, and there was a chance for Kai Havertz who headed over when he should have done better.
At the other end a slight mistake from William Saliba presented Burnley with an excellent opportunity to open the scoring, but much like his opposite number, David Raya made a very good save to deny Johann Gudmundsson. That was a big moment, I don’t think I’d have fancied an hour against a team scrapping to hold a one goal lead.
As I said though, I think they found the going tough, because this sitting deep stuff isn’t really what they do. Obviously they doubled up on Saka and Martinelli, but doing that means someone else can find space, and that’s how the opening goal arrived. Martinelli had two players to contend with so he rolled it back to Oleksandr Zinchenko who sent in a hopeful cross. It was one that Saka attacked and headed on towards Trossard, who was brave to nod it home at the near post.
The Belgian was hurt in the process, taking a whack to the forearm – which is a shame because that will surely inhibit him when it comes to clobbering opposition players in the head without censure – but that connection between him and Saka is really quite something. All six of his goals this season, and the only goal he scored last season, have come from Saka assists.
There were signs of life early in the second half from Burnley, and in the 54th minute they were level. It was six of one, half a dozen of the other between Tomiyasu and Koleosho in the build-up, and our man came off the wrong end of it. We did get the cross clear but the shot from Josh Brownhill hit Gabriel’s heel and wrong-footed Raya. 1-1. Not ideal.
However, the quick response was. We had a lot of corners in this game, and when Trossard curled it in, Saliba just posted himself in front of the goalkeeper, headed home from close range, and we were back in front. Mikel Arteta made a change almost straight away, taking off Havertz and putting on Fabio Vieira, looking for something more from the Portuguese than he got from the German. Jumping ahead – there was more, but none of it was good.
Vieira was no better than Havertz in terms of performance, which reflects poorly on both of them, but he then picked up a straight red card, leaving us to play the final 10 minutes plus injury time a man light. It’s a stupid challenge, studs high on the knee, and he can have no complaints. I don’t know what he was thinking, perhaps he was crotchety having taking a bit of a clatter to the head a couple of minutes earlier, but it was daft and he deserved to be sent off.
Thankfully, there was daylight in the scoreline at that point, after Zinchenko had scored a quite sensational goal to make it 3-1. When a corner was headed onto the Burnley bar, it was headed out towards the edge of the box. He didn’t have time to take a touch, instead he jumped – channeling his inner Danny LaRusso – and guided it perfectly into the top corner. What a finish.
There wasn’t much more to it than that. Even with 10 men we looked comfortable at the back, and Burnley offered little threat. Nor did we look like adding to the scoreline, and on the balance of play, 3-1 was comfortable enough. Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said:
I’m really happy with the result, especially with the performance after playing 72 hours ago, with the last three games, how we played against Newcastle, how we played against Sevilla, how we played today, how dominant we were against teams who are very hard to dominant the amount of situations that we dominated, I think we fully deserved to win the game.
He was a bit sarcastic about the red card, but that’s fair enough really. I think he just wanted to make it a non-talking point, because he knew it was stupid. His face on the bench as Vieira walked off told you plenty about what he thought about it.
One thing that was noticeable was how, in the second half, we were so tilted to the left hand side in possession. Saka was barely in the game after the break, and I don’t know if that was a conscious decision, or if it’s just a consequence of having more connectivity on the left. Rice, although new, glues things together on that side because of just how involved he is at all times, while Zinchenko and Martinelli obviously know each other well. On the right, the Tomiyasu, Havertz/Vieira, Saka triangle wasn’t really functioning in the same way.
Obviously we miss Martin Odegaard, and hopefully he’ll be back after the Interlull, but I can’t really remember that kind of imbalance in our possession before. It might just have been a quirk of this game, but perhaps something to keep an eye – especially as Arteta did talk pre-game about the relationships in certain areas of the pitch. I also think conversations about our performance levels this season have to take into account the players we’re missing, and the fact that guys like Havertz and Vieira – whose roles right now necessitate them to deliver when others are missing – just aren’t doing that. In that context, a 3-1 win is not to be sniffed at, but I’m sure Mikel Arteta will be seeking improvement as much as anyone.
Beyond that, a quick mention for Wolves who came from behind to beat that lot with two injury time goals. I was watching this, and it was very, very funny. Thank you Gary O’Neil, and it’s fair to say that after being diddled by VAR two weeks in a row, they deserved something like this. And at the expense of Mate FC, all the better.
Ok, let’s leave it there for this morning. Have a great Sunday folks, back with more tomorrow and an Arsecast Extra. Until then.