Morning all, Burnley arrive at The Emirates cast as the sacrificial lambs to be slaughtered this autumnal afternoon. Arsenal are expected to steamroller their way to victory and by curious coincidence – or ham-fisted contrivance, your choice – that is the title of this morning’s playlist. Steamroller can be found here or on Dad’s Jukebox in the right sidebar.
The Premier League’s bottom side ought to be as close to a home banker as is possible but I am sure they have drawn strength from Arsenal’s performances in recent weeks, noting how Hull and Anderlecht capitalised on defensive weaknesses, problems that have probably not been solved in the past seven days. Whilst Yaya Sanogo is back to bolster the attack, Arsène is left with a back four that is still best described as makeshift. Kieran Gibbs is most likely missing so Nacho Monreal will move to the left, Calum Chambers to the centre, Hector Bellerin coming in on the right.
It feels like Arsène is contestant on The Generation Game, sitting at a conveyor belt bereft of any prizes worth having. We know he is the architect of this in part by failing to invest in the summer. It’s a path well-trodden but it is what it is until the end of January. I was going to note the end of December bearing in mind his words about getting a deal done before Christmas but this is Arsenal and the winter transfer window. We have form in leaving things to the last minute.
Arsène was quick to praise Sean Dyche for his positive attitude toward the game generally and you have to say that the image he cultivated as a player was something at odds with the manager. Surprisingly – refreshingly – so and for that reason, Burnley reviving their fortunes would be welcome. Starting next week, of course. It is hard though, to see them surviving this season if they don’t pick up a significant number of points between now and the tough run of matches they have over the Christmas period where rewards will most likely be thin on the ground.
Their problem this afternoon is to stop Alexis Sanchez. Last week at Sunderland, occupying a more central position, saw him pressure the home defence and support Danny Welbeck to undermine fragile confidence, resulting in causing two mistakes that gifted us the points. Two gifts that came as the result of hard work all afternoon. Burnley’s defence is not quite as porous as the Black Cats but conceding twelve goals in their last four games is not a recipe for remaining in the top flight.
Arsène has been effusive in his praise of his summer signing. Unsurprising really, since the Chilean has saved his and Arsenal’s bacon already this season. When goals are hard to come by, he is Arsenal’s go-to guy. Wenger compared him to Suarez in his willingness to work hard for the team to recover possession.
Inevitably, the reckless use of statistics is introduced into conversations. He has apparently a similar return to Suarez which betrays the player in the same way that Giroud was ‘proven’ to be more productive than Henry and Drogba at the same points in the careers in the English game. Such comparisons conveniently forget different times and teams, as well as being the brickbats which will inevitably be delivered when the returns are less.
Will Sanchez score as many as Suarez? Who can say, we will see in coming months. Is he as pivotal to the team? Certainly, for me that has already been proven. As Arsenal struggle through this injury crisis and nurse players back, they are more reliant on Sanchez than they may be in the future. Crucially, he is showing little or no sign of being an expensive flop. His willingness to drag his teammates through a bad spell is testament to his desire to win and displays a selflessness that all teams need from key players. For Arsenal, that is all positive.
The worry is a dip in his form; who do we turn to if that happens? The reliance upon one player is a dangerous path to tread, we’ve been there before with Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie; who scores when they don’t? Danny Welbeck is still finding his way in an Arsenal shirt, the patchwork quilt team behind him can’t help a player to settle in. Half dozen league games and two goals is a decent return to begin with and will get better. Arsène is beginning to ease Theo Walcott back into the squad, today will most likely see his return as substitute. What should we expect from a player who has been out for ten months? I don’t know; hitting the ground running seems to be the best to hope for.
For today, I expect the line-up to be:
I genuinely don’t see the need for Flamini and Arteta this afternoon. I understood last weekend with the need to protect the back four but it looks stronger with Chambers in the middle, no matter how well Monreal has done to stand-in. The pressure is on Arsenal to make the running and Oxlade-Chamberlain will stretch the visitors defence in a match where they will sit deeper than Sunderland last week. I am sure you could argue that Joel Campbell deserves a run-out but that seems unlikely; he hasn’t fared any better than Oxlade-Chamberlain in his cameos thus far and I am far from convinced that he will be at the club beyond this season. If you can’t get into an injury-sapped Arsenal XI, is it realistic to believe you will when everyone – or more players – are fit? I don’t think so.
A handsome victory will see Arsenal overhaul Manchester City; three points brings them to parity. Arsène noted that only losing once in the Premier League will stand the team in good stead when confidence returns; it’s the flipside of the view that says five draws out of nine is too many. Just two more wins out of that quintet would see them sit in third place this morning, still within touching distance of the top of the table.
They haven’t happened and the gap to the top seems too much to overhaul or noticeably close at the moment. For that reason, concentrating on comparatively minor targets has to be the order of the day. Baby steps, if you like; win, then settle into the top four and look to climb to third, settle there, moving on to the next ambition for the season.
Can they achieve them? Anything is possible but it all becomes very difficult without winning matches so if we can start that this afternoon, it would be three points most gratefully received.
FROM THE VAULTS
Back to November 1967, the League Cup quarter-final at Turf Moor, a six-goal thriller (as the media like to call such things) which sent both teams to Highbury for a replay, with both Bob McNab and Andy Lochhead earning early baths.
This was the first of three matches between the two sides in seven days. The following Saturday Burnley emerged victorious by a single goal at Turf Moor before Arsenal turned the tables to win the replay by the odd goal in three, en route to their first League Cup final.
Enjoy today’s match wherever you are watching it.