Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Burnley

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 1
11:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Craig Pawson
    • Assistants: David Bryan and Derek Eaton
    • 4th Official: Jonathan Moss
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 3 - 1 Burnley (March 6, 2010)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 44 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: D-W-D-L-D-W
  • Burnley's League Form: D-D-L-D-L-L
  • Weather: Partly Cloudy, 15 C / 60 F
Alexis Sanchez: The best thing ever.
Most teams wouldn't enter this match with any trepidation; after all, Burnley are without a win all season. Then again, most teams don't make everything as difficult as Arsenal.

I can't be the only one who has that sinking feeling, right? This is the kind of match where the opposition sets out to be difficult to break down at the start, where Arsenal often struggles to find that first goal. If Arsenal struggles creatively, as they have so often this year, this match could end up feeling a lot like last weekend's dour affair in Sunderland.

There's no question that Arsenal possess the quality to easily capture all three points from the league table's basement club. There was no question about having that quality against Anderlecht and Sunderland as well, and while Arsenal did take all six points from those matches, they made it as difficult as possible.

The Gunners have comfortably won just twice this year (Aston Villa and Galatasaray;) my stress levels could really use a third such win.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ospina (thigh,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Ozil (knee,) Debuchy (ankle,) Giroud (ankle)
Doubts: Gibbs (hip)

Kieran Gibbs is not expected to miss out after leaving last
week's match with a hip problem.
We're getting to the point where listing all of the players who are "lacking match fitness" can't really be listed as doubts anymore, because they're going to have to start playing some time. Theo Walcott was unused off the bench last weekend; perhaps this is the match where he finally makes a cameo?

As for the actual starting XI, I haven't heard any news about the hip injury that forced Kieran Gibbs off last weekend; to be safe, He's officially listed as a "doubt," but I think the expectation is it's not that serious. Jack Wilshere returns from suspension and Aaron Ramsey should be available to start again as he returns from a hamstring problem; the Welshman only appeared from the bench in Sunderland.

All that included, it's time to start asking some questions, and the largest is one of rotation. Will Arsene Wenger ring in some changes to the XI, with a Champions League fixture looming on Tuesday? One quote he gave (when referring to the odds of playing Walcott) seems to suggest he might not, as he said, "We dropped points at home unexpectedly against Hull and that's why we have to focus on winning the Burnley game before I can plan giving Theo some competition." This seems to suggest that the boss is focusing on securing the three points first before mixing and matching his squad.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Monreal, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck.

Burnley Squad News

Out: Reid (groin,) Taylor (Achilles,) Vokes (knee)
Doubts: Marney (hamstring)

Danny Ings signals that he has a hearing problem.
The Clarets are without two summer midfield acquisitions as Steven Reid is out with a groin injury and Matthew Taylor is out after undergoing a minor Achilles operation. Meanwhile, Sam Vokes, who has been with the club for two years, also remains out after an ACL injury last March. There are doubts over Dean Marney, who has not played since September with a hamstring injury, though he may be close to a return.

Sean Dyche is expected to play it safe with his formation and will likely field a 4-5-1; the Clarets played a 4-4-2 through their second place finish in the Championship last season and like to play it out from the back. Against Arsenal at the Emirates, they'll probably need to pack the midfield a little more.

Burnley played a 4-4-2 against Everton at Turf Moor last weekend and gave the Toffees 62% of the possession in a 3-1 loss. To play a 4-5-1, Danny Ings will likely be the Clarets' only forward, while Lukas Jutkiewicz will drop to the bench in favor of a fifth midfielder.

Predicted XI: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Kightly, Jones, Chalobah, Boyd, Arfield, Ings.

Current Form

Everton celebrate a goal at Turf Moor last week.
They look like Spurs in this change kit...
Arsenal's late equalizer against Hull two weekends ago saved their home streak in the Premier League; the Gunners have not lost at home in the league since the season opener against Aston Villa last year, a streak that has now reached 22, 22 undefeated. 22, 22, I say. Arsenal have made difficult work of the past week of matches, but they did take two wins from as many games against Anderlecht and Sunderland, and ultimately, you can'd do more than that. That means, across all competitions, Arsenal are now three, three undefeated... wow, that doesn't work as well. It's also the first time they've won two straight since the span between last season and the start of this season.

Last-place Burnley, on the other hand, are the only team in the Premier League that have not won a match this year. They are already five points from safety, having drawn four matches and lost the other five. They have two draws away from home, against Crystal Palace and Leicester City, which is an improvement on their road record from the last time the Clarets were in the top flight, when they didn't pick up their second point away from Turf Moor until April 10. Burnley have scored just five goals all season (four of them coming in their last three matches) and have conceded 16. They had gone three straight matches with clean sheets at one point in the league (all of which ended 0-0,) but have picked the ball out of their net 12 times in the last four matches since.

Match Facts

This corresponding match last time took place a week after
Aaron Ramsey had his leg broken at Stoke; the Arsenal players
wore "Get Well Soon Aaron" shirts during warm-ups.
Only two of the players in this photo are still with Arsenal.
Arsenal took four of a possible six points from Burnley the last time the Clarets were in the Premier League, in 2009/10. At Turf Moor in December of 2009, Cesc Fabregas scored in the seventh minute, then picked up a hamstring injury that basically hung with him for the rest of his Arsenal career. Later in the first half, Thomas Vermaelen conceded a penalty as Burnley equalized. The match ended drawn at 1-1; it was one of the early matches in the long "Arsenal inexplicably can't win with Mike Dean" streak.

In this corresponding fixture, Arsenal led again through Cesc Fabregas before Burnley equalized again. At the Emirates, however, Arsenal got later goals from Theo Walcott and Andrei Arshavin to win 3-1. Nicklas Bendtner famously missed about three sitters in this match; he would go on to score a hat trick in the Champions League against Porto three days later.

Burnley's last win at Arsenal came on September 7, 1974, by a 2-1 scoreline. While that may seem like a long time, it really just means Arsenal have won three straight home matches against the Clarets; prior to 2009/10, Burnley had not been in the top flight since 1976.

The Referee

I think this is part of the Macarena...
The referee is South Yorkshire-based Craig Pawson. This is the second time in three Premier League matches where Arsenal will be seeing a referee for the first time, after Roger East for Arsenal v. Hull. Pawson has been the fourth official for Arsenal on a number of occasions, most notably the FA Cup semi-final last season. This is already Pawson's second Burnley match of the season; he previously took charge of the Clarets' 1-0 loss at Swansea in August.

Pawson did not referee a match last week; he was the fourth official for West Ham v. Manchester City. Prior to that, Pawson was the referee for the Crystal Palace v. Chelsea match, which saw each side have a man sent off three minutes apart.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Newcastle United v. Liverpool; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Chelsea v. Queens Park Rangers; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Saturday: Everton v. Swansea City; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Southampton; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. West Bromwich Albion; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. West Ham United; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Manchester United; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur; Villa Park, Birmingham
  • Monday (night): Crystal Palace v. Sunderland; Selhurst Park, London

Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal: Stuff Happened, Sort Of

Photo: Getty Images

Alternatively, the score in the header could have been Sunderland 2-0 Themselves, which honestly goes much further towards describing what actually happened here. The Gunners were incidental to proceedings, so many Vladimirs and Estragons vainly waiting for Godot while Sunderland went about the task of their now-usual comedic self-implosion.

I fully understand that this probably sticks me in the "miserable bastard" section of the fanbase, but this was utterly dreadful to watch. Sure, I'm happy that we got the three points, and I do hope that it gives us some momentum to take maximum value from a kind section of the fixture list upcoming. But, if the idea that we play beautiful football hadn't been killed off by now, surely today is when the doctor declared it DOA.

Theoretically, I could describe proceedings in rough chronological order, like I usually do. But, honestly, what's the point? We've all heard this song before - dominate possession, pass it sideways, watch in wonder as the opponent masses ten outfield players (plus the tea lady, four stewards and a literal double-decker bus) behind the ball while they wait to counter on the break...even the Groundhog Day comparisons have gotten old by now.

Sunderland, to their credit, were largely solid given the circumstances of last week. There was always the possibility that their previous result could have sent them on a tailspin the likes of which could see them relegated by Christmas, but they fought hard and were only undone by two ludicrous individual mistakes.

Our lot, meanwhile, did what they always do. The team almost entirely picked itself, but interestingly the boss went with two deeper midfielders in Mathieu Flamini and Mikael Arteta. That seemed a bit odd to me given that the Mackems showed little attacking inclination. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was handed a start out wide, but there was no place for midweek hero Lukas Podolski.

So, the game ambled along, as our games tend to do these days. Somewhere along the line, Wes Brown (this man once played for Manchester United...really) whiffed on a backpass that was a questionable decision in the first place. It ended up turning into a hell of an assist for the marauding Alexis Sanchez, who was in alone on old boy Vito Mannone. The Italian demonstrated why he now plays at Sunderland, coming off his line a bit but then stopping, putting the Chilean under no pressure. Then, as Sanchez arrogantly chipped over him, Mannone dove the wrong way. Our man was probably always scoring anyway, but the keeper didn't exactly make it difficult on him.

The goal was a brief flashpoint in the vacuum, to which we returned immediately thereafter. Sunderland tried, but for the most part their best player was referee Kevin Friend. He sure did wave yellow bits of cardboard around at anything in a matching-colored shirt, didn't he? That said, Arteta was unbelievably lucky not to walk for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon impersonation. His high kick, missing only some spinning nunchucks to complete the affect - only warranted a yellow in Friend's eyes.

Back to our slumbers we went until just about the end of the match. You'll be stunned to know that with weapons like Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Joel Campbell on the bench, we did not make any subs (with the exception of Hector Bellerin on for the crocked-once-again Kieran Gibbs) until scant minutes before the end. Here, I note the contrast to Southampton, who were still bound and determined to put the boot to Sunderland's throat even when they were 5-0, 6-0 ahead. Anyway, like I've said before, I don't even get mad at this shit anymore. Why ask why?

That said, the Sunderland AFC Comedy Troupe had one more act for us in injury time. Santiago Verigni, aka the man who scored the wonder own-goal last week, played a ludicrous backpass to Mannone. The Italian was immediately put under intense pressure by Alexis, and he could only shovel the ball a yard or two ahead of him. Sanchez, for the second time on the afternoon, accepted the gift and slotted the ball into the empty net.

Honestly, I feel for Mannone here. While he wasn't fantastic on either goal, neither was entirely his fault either. But, he's now coming off an 8-0 loss (also not entirely his fault), and now a second match where he's made a mistake...with Costel Pantilimion lurking on the bench. The glamorous life of a goalkeeper, folks.  Oh, and sidenote: Yeah, maybe Szczesny shouldn't have come off his line at the end there, but aggression is his game and for eff's sake he did just enough in that situation. The way some people are talking, you'd think he picked up the ball and threw it into his own net. 

At the end of the day, I suppose that the three points were the most important priority and we take them back to London with us. I've largely resigned myself to the idea that the pretty football that we've played in seasons past will be reduced to isolated moments in a sea of sideways passes. If it's going to be a grind, I'll take boredom and three points over boredom alone, that's for sure. The next fixture is Burnley at home, and that's another one where boredom and three points is the absolute minimum acceptable benchmark. We'll see.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7 (Bellerin 6), Mertesacker 7, Monreal 6, Chambers 7, Arteta 6 (Ramsey N/A), Flamini 7, Cazorla 6, Sanchez 8, Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Rosicky N/A), Welbeck 6

Man of the Match: It's safe to say that there is literally no other option that Alexis Sanchez.