Burnley 0-1 Arsenal: Boring, But for a Purpose

Photo: BBC

Admittedly, I went into this one fearing that it would be something of a potential banana-skin match for our heroes. Burnley are notorious for their work ethic and the opportunistic finishing of Danny Ings - or, in other words, exactly the sort of side that historically causes us problems. Instead, a throwback "1-0 to the Arsenal" performance - blended just so with our new-wave passing game - was enough to see off the brave challenge of a side fighting for its Premier League life.

Both sides picked exactly the XIs that you would expect, though of course this is not exactly the part of the season where you'd expect much rotation.

Almost from the opening whistle, the match settled into the pattern that would hold for the entirety of the 90 minutes. Arsenal dominated possession and tried to find openings in the Clarets' massed ranks with short passing moves. Burnley worked their tails off and held their positions exceptionally well, often pressuring the Gunners into mistakes in the final third. But, those defensive efforts left Ings and Sam Vokes largely starved of service, and thus a stalemate was achieved.

Still, the home side did fashion a few half-chances off of the counter. David Ospina had to be sharp early on, when Vokes torched Per Mertesacker for pace. Thankfully, the Colombian read the danger well and blocked with his body.

How often has it happened over the years where some opposing keeper would make a smart stop against us, and all of a sudden their lot would come up the other end and score? Well, for once, the roles were reversed and it would prove to be the only goal we'd need. A giveaway in midfield sent our boys away, and it came out left to Mesut Ozil. He uncharacteristically took the shot himself, but Tom Heaton saved well with his legs. The rebound squirmed out to Alexis Sanchez in the center, but his shot was blocked. Luckily, that deflection found its way to Aaron Ramsey on the right, and he managed to find the top corner through a forest of bodies.

The early lead allowed us to let that previously-mentioned stalemate play itself out, though Burnley's most dangerous moments did come soon after they had conceded. Kieran Trippier's free kick tested Ospina, but it was at a comfortable height and easily parried out.

That's not to say that we were entirely bereft of chances, though. Santi Cazorla had a beauty of a free kick himself, but it was on a tough angle from the left and he just couldn't put it the right side of the post.

A long period of bitty, awful football was ushered in from there, though. There was little flow to the match as both sides took turns fouling with abandon and bitching at the referee for the fouls that were called. The Burnley supporters, in particular, seemed to take great offense at the referee calling them for anything. It rather got on my tits, to be honest with you.

Halftime came and went, but The Pattern of Stultifying Football remained. Sanchez had a half-chance with a long-range shot, but Heaton was always going to keep that one out. Beyond that, Burnley was all too happy to let us ramble around the midfield before furiously pressing on their half of the field. Our final ball kept letting us down, too.

Oddly, they never did tire despite that expenditure of energy, and in fact got stronger as the second half went on. Arsene waited forever to make his substitutions, and arguably that allowed the Clarets to take advantage as the match reached the 70th minute. There was one heart-in-throat moment in particular when Hector Bellerin (who had a bit of a mare defensively) was nutmegged by Ben Mee, whose cutback found George Boyd in acres on the back post. Thankfully, the Scot slipped and the chance was gone.

The home side didn't give up though, and only some sneaky-great keeping from Ospina prevented a goal. Sam Vokes won a header in our area and guided it to the path of Ings. Their man's pseudo-bicycle kick connected, though our defenders got a partial block in. It looped to Ospina, who did well to catch and (more importantly) hold it. That was harder than it looked, and it was a damn good thing that he did, with Vokes lurking for a rebound chance.

It was right around here though that Francis Coquelin took the match by the scruff of the neck. He had played well all day, but with Burnley starting to threaten more than they had, he turned it up a level and ensured that we maintained possession through the latter stages of the match. Be it a timely interception or a crunching tackle, he was always there.

Man, imagine if the boss had worked out that a holding midfielder was a good thing all the way back in the beginning of the season, eh?

Anyway, belatedly, the subs came in. Oddly, the hard-working Olivier Giroud was withdrawn for Danny Welbeck, while Sanchez was withdrawn for Calum Chambers. Both of those were odd, as Ramsey was utterly anonymous after scoring the goal - and his constant tucking inside left Bellerin exposed more often than not.

In the end, it was our guys who probably should have killed it off with five minutes left on the clock. Ozil rampaged down the left on a counter-attack, and he played in a good ball to Welbeck. The Englishman made the wrong run though, it got tangled in his legs, and that was that.

Still, despite a ludicrous amount of stoppage time, Arsenal held and three massive points come back to London with them.

I think the key here was in our outlook on the match. Once the pattern of it took hold, we didn't overcommit men forward to try and force a change to it. How often have we been burned by that in recent memory? Instead, there was a calmness to our performance - a willingness to take what the match gave and to stay as solid as possible without the ball. The final result was a match that was not easy on the eye, but a scoreline that couldn't be more beautiful in the end.

Honestly, the title is probably long gone. I can't foresee Chelsea dropping enough points to make that an actual consideration as the season reaches its denouement. However, second place is still very much on, and you have to like our momentum as we head into the matches that really are important now - starting with the FA Cup Semi against Reading.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Ospina 7, Monreal 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Bellerin 5, Coquelin 8, Ramsey 7, Cazorla 7, Ozil 7, Sanchez 7 (Chambers N/A), Giroud 7 (Welbeck 7)

Man of the Match:

I'd say the real MOTM is anyone who stayed awake through all of this. But, since it must go to a player, we'll give it to Francis Coquelin. As things started to get hairy after the hour mark, his now-typical defensive resilience helped steer us through that bad patch and see out what could end up becoming a tremendously-important result.