This Arsenal side have been, for several years, desperately short of a strong character to bring a pit fighter's mentality to matches that cannot be decided by flair and elan alone. Call me crazy, but I think we've found our man.
Long after the match, I was saying to friends at the pub that I am utterly convinced that sooner or later, we are going to have someone else - Aaron Ramsey, the returning Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, perhaps - catch fire and take some of the burden off of our Chilean hitman. Until that day though, Alexis Sanchez is powering us forward on sheer force of will (and his prodigious, ridiculous talent) alone.
The supporting cast was as you'd expect, Arsene continuing with the Mikel Arteta-Mathieu Flamini central axis and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again preferred to Lukas Podolski. I for one would have loved to have seen Poldi get a start here, especially as the visitors bunkered effectively in the opening half.
As for us, there was once again no shortage of frustrating, pointless sideways passing - but unlike Sunderland last week there were green shoots of something better peeking their way out of the muck. There were a few instances in the early going where it looked at first glance like Alexis misplaced a pass, but really it was more that the Chilean is just thinking and playing on a different plane than his teammates, and he expected a run that never came. Oxlade-Chamberlain also looked far livelier than last week, and he deftly juked around his marker several times to create crossing opportunities.
While the half may have been frustrating, we should have had the lead in any case after the 21st minute. Arsenal had a corner, and it was swung into the box by Santi Cazorla. George Boyd - who was already on a yellow - clearly made contact with his hand. Somehow, both referee Craig Pawson and his assistant David Bryan both failed to spot it. Bloody typical. Had they done, Boyd would have surely seen red, and we'd have had a 1-0 lead and 70 minutes to add to it against 10 men.
Still, Burnley rode their luck at times to make it to the interval all square. Cazorla volleyed just wide, Sanchez followed up with another near-miss, then was denied by a fantastic stop by Tom Heaton. Unlike the Sunderland game, there were chances from time to time. All Arsenal had to do was to keep them coming, and surely the opposition's will would break eventually.
The halftime break didn't do us any favors though, as it served to disrupt our rhythm. The Clarets responded with their first half-chance through the deeper-lying striker, Danny Ings. Wojciech Szczesny, having had precious little to do previously, did well to keep his focus and hare off his line to force Ings into a wider position that he could do nothing with.
Once Arteta was withdrawn for Ramsey, we took the game by the throat and were continually parked in their half again. Cazorla might have scored just after the hour, but Michael Duff bravely blocked on the goal line with Heaton in no-man's-land.
In retrospect, the goal was always coming.
Appropriately, the man who provided the cross was Calum Chambers. On a day where Alexis will rightly take the plaudits for a world-class all-around performance, the young Englishman had a bit of a stormer himself. There wasn't much to do defensively, but he was aggressive and always looking to take on the defense. Here, he beat his man and curled in a beauty of a cross into the center of the area. The Burnley defense, so resolute for 70 minutes, were bull-rushed into oblivion by Sanchez. Both center-halves were in attendance, but Alexis' desire and strength won out. He split the two and powered a ferocious header past the despairing dive of Heaton.
As soon as that was in, the only question was how many more we'd get. It didn't take long for it to come, either. Two minutes later, another Arsenal corner saw Welbeck brilliantly denied by the blameless Heaton. The ball pinballed around, and just as Tom from O'Hanlon's predicted earlier on in the match one of those finally went our way. Chambers was there to slam home the loose ball, thus adding his first Arsenal goal to his previous assist. Not a bad day for the kid.
Shortly thereafter, Theo Walcott made his return to the Arsenal side. He and Podolski came on for the Ox and Welbeck, but it didn't slow us down one iota. In fact, the German was a beast in his ten-minute cameo, drawing a wonder save out of Heaton on a corner kick, then lashing a thunderbolt against the junction of post and crossbar soon after. There wasn't anything the former Manchester United trainee could do right at the end though, as Sanchez again popped up to turn in a cross from Kieran Gibbs.
That put a deserved sheen on the scoreline, and ultimately should make us all feel a little bit better about the direction of the team as a whole. Sure, we were playing the last-place side at home...and sure, the first half was dicey in spots there. However, the final result is that Arsenal took care of business and managed to break down a determined-but-limited side more than once or twice. Alexis is playing out of his mind, Ramsey and Walcott are coming back from injury, and Chambers has acquitted quickly to the jump up in level.
Yes, we need defensive reinforcements. Yes, it would be nice if we really tonked one of these lesser teams to the tune of 5-0 or 6-0. But, I have to say that I'm in a far better mental place about this team than I was a few short weeks ago. Long may this renaissance continue.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Monreal 6, Mertesacker 7, Chambers 9, Arteta 7 (Ramsey 7), Flamini 8, Cazorla 7, Sanchez 10, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Walcott 7), Welbeck 7 (Podolski 7)
Man of the Match: There can be only one - Alexis Sanchez scored twice, diligently tracked back to defend when necessary, and in short was the engine that made us go.