Preview by Numbers: Burnley v. Arsenal

Turf Moor, Burnley
Saturday, April 11
12:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Simon Long
    • 4th Official: Stuart Attwell
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 3 - 0 Burnley
  • This Match, Last Time: Burnley 1- 1 Arsenal (December 16, 2009)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 45 Arsenal wins, 33 Burnley wins, 21 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Burnley's League Form: D-L-L-W-L-D
Who would have expected this in November?

At left are the statistical odds that Arsenal will finish in each respective table position, as calculated by Sports Club Stats. As you can see, Arsenal have a better chance of winning the league than they have at falling out of the top four. Considering their goal difference advantage over Liverpool and Tottenham, Arsenal essentially need just four wins from their final seven matches to lock up at least fourth place and the brilliant invisible trophy that comes with it.

However, given Arsenal's current position, fourth would feel like a disappointment. After Manchester City's loss at Selhurst Park on Monday, Arsenal took sole position of second place in the table for the first time since the opening weekend of the season; they were bumped to third on the season's opening Monday.

Of course, the Champions League slots for next season are not awarded in April. There are still 21 points on the table and you cannot expect them to be handed to you. Burnley are fighting for their Premier League lives and they have taken points from plenty of the big boys this year: one from Spurs last weekend, all three from City a few weeks back, one from Chelsea before that, and one from United earlier in the season.

On the other hand, Arsenal are the only club in the league who have not lost to a team sitting in 11th place or worse in the current table. Arsenal have four matches left against bottom-half clubs this year and three against the top-half, two of which are at home.

Arsenal control their own destiny for second place and four wins should lock up at least fourth, but you can only get them one at a time; so, let's get started.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring)
Doubts: Ramsey (ankle,) Koscielny (groin,) Szczesny (ribs,) Wilshere (ankle,) Debuchy (shoulder,) Arteta (calf,) Diaby (calf)

Just as Arsenal's injury list dwindles, some of the lads went
out paintballing. Seems totally safe!
Holy crap, look at that. Only one player listed in the "out" column and even he, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, is back in full training; I believe he's going to be eased back into things as he returns from a hamstring injury suffered at Old Trafford in that super-awesome FA Cup quarterfinal.

All four long-term injured players (Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy, and even the fabled Abou Diaby) are "back in contention" according to Arsene Wenger. Debuchy has been out since January, Wilshere and Arteta since November, and Diaby since 1643.

As for the short-term injured, Wojciech Szczesny has a "good chance" to be available after he missed last weekend's match with a rib injury. Laurent Koscielny, who came off around halftime with a groin injury, had a "good" scan, but it's uncertain if he'll be risked. I have not heard anything on Aaron Ramsey, however; he came off in the second half against Liverpool with an ankle knock. Reports earlier in the week suggested he would be fine.

Predicted XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud.

Burnley Squad News

Out: Marney (knee,) Long (knee)
Doubts: Taylor (Achilles)

The ol' ginger side-eye...
Only two long-term injuries for the Clarets, as both midfielder Dean Marney and defender Kevin Long are out for the season with knee ligament injuries. Meanwhile, midfielder Matthew Taylor is considered a doubt as he comes back from an Achilles problem that has kept him out since August. He's likely short on match fitness as well.

After a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Spurs last week, I'd be surprised if Sean Dyche made any changes to his starting XI. The only possible change could be if Dyche decided to play more defensively, in a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2; since Burnley is struggling for goals and also at home, I don't see that as being likely. If he did, however, Sam Vokes would drop from the front line, Ashley Barnes would slot into a supporting role for Danny Ings up top, and a conventional winger, like Michael Kightly, would be brought in from the bench. But, again, I consider that possibility unlikely.

Predicted XI: Heaton, Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee, Jones, Boyd, Arfield, Barnes, Vokes, Ings.

Current Form

Arsenal points earned divided by games played, as it progressed
through this season (red) and last season (blue.) By the
nature of the statistic, the graph will always be more volatile
earlier in the season, then smooth out over time.
Your crazy uncle, the Daily Mail, ran an article this week pointing out that through 31 league games so far this season, Arsenal have the same number of points (63) as they had through 31 games last year. They used this as an attempt to prove that Arsenal are not progressing under Arsene Wenger. Here's why that's wrong.

First off, you remember last year, right? Arsenal were top of the league from September until February, when it became apparent that they could not win big games anymore. Now, you remember this year, right? Arsenal were struggling mightily in the fall, drawing a ton of games they should have won, and are now on a seven-match winning streak in the league, their longest in three years.

Could you make the argument that Arsenal regressed from February through December of 2014 and have now only progressed back to where they were in the fall of 2013? Sure, as that's what the Mail is trying to say. Listen, statistics are great and I use them all the time in these match previews (hence preview by numbers,) but stats also need context to be relevant.

But, in order to discuss whether or not Arsenal are progressing, you have to define a proper baseline. What the numbers really show is that Arsenal's points total is finally recovering from a sub-par autumn, when Arsenal failed to replace Olivier Giroud's scoring output while he missed three months through injury.

Maybe we should wait until, you know, May to compare this season and last?

As for Burnley, they are completing a difficult run of fixtures in which they have played United, Chelsea, Swansea, Liverpool, City, Southampton, Spurs, and now Arsenal in that order. The fact that they've picked up five points from the first seven matches in that list is commendable; their win against City, however, is their only win from their last 11 across all competitions. Those five points have not been enough to keep them above the drop zone. The Clarets are in 19th, two points from safety. After tomorrow's match, however, Burnley's most difficult remaining fixture will be a trip to 9th place West Ham.

Match Facts

Alexis Sanchez celebrates one of his two goals against
Burnley in the reverse fixture.
Arsenal won the reverse fixture by a 3-0 scoreline on the first of November, at a time when they needed to start racking up wins badly (they followed it with two straight league losses and fell to 8th in the table, of course.) Anyway, Arsenal controlled 68% of the possession on the day but still needed 70 minutes to break the deadlock, as Alexis Sanchez scored his ninth of the season. Two minutes later, Calum Chambers scored his first senior level goal to double the lead and Sanchez picked up a brace in the 90th to seal the three points. Theo Walcott made his first appearance since January of 2014 off the bench; he has only made 11 more appearances for Arsenal in the five months since.

Arsenal's last trip to Turf Moor came in December of 2009 in a midweek fixture just three days after a come-from-behind win at Anfield. Cesc Fabregas put Arsenal ahead 1-0 on just seven minutes but limped off with a hamstring injury just before halftime; that hamstring injury plagued the remaining year and a half of his Arsenal career. Burnley equalized from the penalty spot in the 28th minute and outworked the Gunners the rest of the way as the Clarets earned a 1-1 draw. At the time, Owen Coyle was in charge at Burnley; I had forgotten he had been there before Bolton until I pulled up the recap from this match. Coyle left for Bolton within a month of that match.

The Gunners were bounced from the League Cup at Turf Moor in December of 2008 in their last match in Burnley before that 1-1 draw. A year before that, though, Arsenal won 2-0 in Burnley in the third round of the FA Cup, through goals from Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner. Arsenal have not won a league game at Turf Moor since 1970, drawing three and losing one.

The Referee

The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, which, if you haven't been paying attention lately, is not as bad of news as it used to be. Arsenal have lost only one of their last seven matches with Dean in the middle, that coming 2-1 at the hands of Manchester United in November. Arsenal, of course, could not beat David De Gea that day, which wasn't exactly Dean's fault. In fact, the referee clearly should have sent off Jack Wilshere for ramming his head into Marouane Fellaini's... well... upper chest, but Dean, who was looking right at the incident, did not do so.

Arsenal had been unbeaten in five with Dean in the middle before that loss, but they rebounded nicely with a 2-0 win at Manchester City in January, in which Dean awarded Arsenal a first half penalty.

As for Burnley, they have seen Dean three times this year and drew all three matches: 0-0 at Crystal Palace in September, 3-3 at Newcastle on New Year's Day, and 2-2 with West Brom in February.

Speaking of Dean, draws, and Burnley, Mike Dean was the referee for the 1-1 draw between these two sides played at Turf Moor in 2009. Back when Arsenal had won just twice in 21 matches with Dean in the middle, that match was the fourth one in the list, so it came pretty early in the "Arsenal doesn't win with Mike Dean era." I feel pretty confident that that era ended in 2013.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Swansea City v. Everton; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: Southampton v. Hull City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Saturday: Sunderland v. Crystal Palace; Stadium of Light, Sunderland
  • Saturday: Tottenham Hotspur v. Aston Villa; White Hart Lane, London
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Leicester City; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Stoke City; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Queens Park Rangers v. Chelsea; Loftus Road, London
  • Sunday (late): Manchester United v. Manchester City; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Monday (night): Liverpool v. Newcastle United; Anfield, Liverpool
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and winner of Season 62 of American Idol. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat to tell him how much you love his hit single, "Charlie Owes Me 16 Dollars."