Burnley 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Ramsey (12)
A significant win for Arsenal on so many levels, not least of which is that these three little points mean Chelsea cannot be crowned Champions in a fortnight’s time. We can though, if results go Arsenal’s way, celebrate St Totteringham’s Day with three points on that day. These are the small things which matter when there is nothing else to play for in the Premier League.
Of course, such matters have not crossed the minds of the manager, staff or players; they are just happy to have come away with three points. The majesty of the victory over Liverpool could not be replicated but Burnley were equally reticent to consistently stretch the Arsenal defence, a point Sean Dyche couched in more positive terms to the waiting massed media ranks after the match.
Arsenal didn’t reach the heights of the previous weekend and arguably some were several notches below that level, for this was an afternoon where flamboyance took to the shadows and hard work kicked in. Two of the most consistent performers stood out in this respect; their consistency acknowledged previously, their importance to the good run of form never understated. Step forward into the limelight Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin.
The Spaniard patrolled his flank with a sentry’s vigilance and was rarely found wanting, all in an unassuming, unfussy way to the extent that his contribution was barely noticeable. The same cannot be said of Francis Coquelin. Injuries passed luck his way, recalled to the Arsenal squad and rapidly making himself indispensable for this campaign. Arsène, in the same way Bobby Robson did with England at Italia ’90, is profiting from his stumble into the right solution; luck is as much a weapon in the manager’s armoury as experience and tactical nouse.
Coquelin battled and drove Arsenal forward with a diligent display, ferocious in the tackle when needed but more importantly, disciplined in his duties. The youngster’s path to the first team is similar to that trodden by Alex Song but their attitudes are markedly different. The latter’s attacking instincts became evident but he never had the positional fortitude Coquelin is displaying.
Passing their way out of defence is a shared – defining – motivation but Song was far keener on the interception; Coquelin never shies from the confrontation. And rather than curbing his aggressive passion, he has channelled it into providing a barrier for the back four. Not impregnable but certainly an arduous obstacle to overcome and in matches like this, where style is overshadowed by substance, his performance should not be underestimated.
Wenger and Thierry Henry were quick to praise their compatriot afterwards. Arsène noted that,
[Coquelin] gives the ball quickly and well and is good technically. Overall he has contributed to the balance of the team.
This is a player who has been with us for seven years. Sometimes you have to be patient. I’m very happy for him because it shows great mental strength
As Henry put it, he had to become the player he is today to show that he could make the grade at Arsenal. It’s too soon to say he’s Mr Right – that’s a process that takes a couple of seasons or more – but Coquelin is certainly Wenger’s Mr Right Now.
There were moments in the game where Arsenal might have been undone and George Boyd was chief culprit, completely fluffing his lines as the ball came across the area. But those moments were few and far between with David Ospina continuing to justify his selection ahead of Wojciech Szczesny, comfortable in dealing that which Burnley threw, kicked and headed at him.
The goal encapsulated the difference between the two sides on the afternoon. Arsenal hemmed their hosts into their own half, pushing the defensive line deeper until Mesut Özil’s blocked shot to Alexis. He suffered the same fate before Aaron Ramsey stepped forward to finish the job. Pinball – or pingball – accurately sums up the end of an attacking move but from there on in, it always felt that Arsenal had enough gears left to win the game more comfortably.
Whether they could have done had Burnley equalised is the stuff of conjecture; it was that sort of afternoon where theory and reality may have departed company. It wasn’t put to the test and Arsène was as happy with that as the watching Reading scouts would have been worried. Any plans to shut up shop and park several buses across the Wembley turf have had some awkward questions asked of them.
Arsène tempered the exuberance of those who believe the title race is open by looking over his shoulder. Tottenham and Southampton are a couple of wins from being ignored entirely but of far more importance in the context of the season is today’s Manchester derby. Leave the fantasy talk to the media, desperate to contrive a title race out of nowhere, a task beyond even David Copperfield and his cohorts.
All that matters is that at least one of the Mancunian teams will be four points behind today. In an ideal world they both will with the match drawn. There are advantages to both teams winning, more in Van Gaal boring everyone into submission than City emerging victorious with United travelling to Stamford Bridge next weekend. None of the possible outcomes at Old Trafford rule either side out of the race for the automatic Champions League spots but defeat does make reaching them a harder task.
Arsenal have a fortnight’s rest from the Premier League, events are out of their hands until Chelsea crash their bus through the gates and onto the pitch. They can concentrate on next weekend’s semi-final and in that sense, a change is as good as a rest.