5 Thoughts: Arsenal 2-1 Burnley

Photo: Shutterstock

Let's get this out of the way - this team isn't going to win the league. Letting Burnley of all sides have the most shots on goal in a first half since Liverpool a few years ago isn't exactly a portent of a side equipped to take on Manchester City's dirty oil blood money mercenaries.

On the other hand, who cares? At this stage of my life, all I ask of my football club is that they fight for the shirt, they attack and they play some good football. You know what? Our Arsenal has that in absolute spades now.

1. You can set your watch by Burnley, can't you? They played a modicum more of football than they usually do, but despite that they still are a festival of long balls and snide tactical fouls. I even think that Mike Dean had a halfway decent game by his graded-on-the-world's-biggest-curve standards, but some of what he let them get away with was absolutely shocking. Ashley Barnes went up for one header and kneed Matteo Guendozi directly in the back. I mean, he didn't even try to hide it, and somehow this went unspotted. Look, I'm a referee myself...I know what a red card is when I see it and if that's not excessive use of force then the term has absolutely no meaning.

But, I think there's an argument that this is a good thing. Nicolas Pepe, Dani Ceballos, some of our kids, some of our incumbents...they got through a game like this not only with no injury but they also saw out a result with professional aplomb. We haven't always had that, so I think it's worth mentioning and celebrating.

2. Ceballos is really, really, really good. WHAT a footballer.

I mean, I don't know what Real Madrid's situation is. I don't know what sequence of factors has led to this guy not being able to get in their team, but I hope it continues just long enough for them to agree to sell him to us on a permanent basis.

He's not only super-talented in his technique and his footballing brain, but he's got some fight in him too. Our second goal only happened because he won the ball back in Burnley's third of the field, and played in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang before the Clarets could get all ten of their center-halves back in position. Auba's finish was excellent, of course, but he never gets the chance if Ceballos doesn't put that on a plate for him.

And that, right there, is something different than we've seen in years past...even last season, which despite everything else was categorically a step forward for the club. This team now has verve and fight and a little bit of steel to them, and Ceballos embodied all of that just in his one performance today.

3. Even after watching all 90 minutes of this, I don't know if Alexandre Lacazette was specifically the striker with Auba on the wing, or vice versa. You know what? That's a damn good thing.

People, in my estimation, get too caught up in formations and what they think tactics are sometimes. It's almost like they envision this whole thing as a foosball table in real life. Football is, and always will be, a far more fluid proposition than that. Time and space are the currencies of this sport, and movement is how you acquire it. If we've managed to forge a style of playing where we have a more amorphous attacking line that could mean either or both are furthest forward at any given time, or our wingers are and the forwards arrive late at the top of the penalty area for a cut-back? Fantastic! That's exactly what we should be doing!

The knock on us in years past - and a legit one at that - is that we've been ponderous and slow and sideways and eminently predictable. It's hard to say that we're like that now based on today's evidence (though of course we're only two games in and there's a lot of proving still to do). Now? My read is that we have options and a range of different looks that we can give an opposing defense to try and pull them out of position.

I get that it's one thing to do that against Burnley and quite another to do that against Liverpool or the Nearest and Dearest, but my god at least we're bringing a gun to a gunfight now.

4. A casual observer may see the number of shots the Clarets had and the scoreline and somehow assume that they may have been hard done by today. Nah, fam. First off, their goal relied on a huge amount of luck with the deflection that took the ball past our back line and directly into Barnes' path for his finish. Other than that? Most of their chances (other than one mad 5-minute stretch in the first half) were long-range no-hopers that they skied into the Van Allen Belt. I genuinely cannot think of one top-class save that Bernd Leno had to make today.

Nick Pope, on the other hand, deserves some props for keeping this from turning into a cricket score. His angles, anticipation and positioning were all on point. You can see why he's in the England team these days, and on this evidence there's an argument for him taking Jordan Pickford's shirt. Replace him with his deputy Joe Hart, and we're probably having a much different conversation right now.

Even with Alexandre Lacazette's goal to open the scoring, I'm not sure there's much he could have done about that. Generally, keepers should never be nutmegged but there's always exceptions. In this case, as a keeper I wouldn't have expected the Frenchman to get a shot away while parked on his bum to begin with, and in this specific case he didn't have the cover on his far post that he should have had either. Laca was able to get that shot away so quickly. no human would have been able to react in time. Not David De Gea, not Manuel Neuer, not Ederson, not Allison. No one.

5. Another notable aspect of this game that strikes me as a sign of progress is how we saw out the game from 2-1 with a minimum of fuss. We got the winner in the 64th minute, and if you think back, Burnley never had that moment to make us have our hearts in our mouth. Even with their set piece prowess, the corner kicks and free kicks they had later on ended up presenting no danger whatsoever.

David Luiz, whatever we may have thought of him in the past, came in and seamlessly integrated himself into our defense. He was vocal, he got stuck in, and if you ask me he's a massively underrated reason why we won today.

Beyond that, it has to be said that Matteo Guendouzi had a performance that belied his youth and inexperience. He was asked to take on a massive responsibility in the center of the park, and he delivered over and over again. It's never easy for a literal child to go toe-to-toe with Stoke City's spiritual heirs, but he did so without complaint. More of this, please.

Also, a frustration that I always had with late-stage Arsene Wenger sides was how nice and clean and Boy Scoutish we were. Here, we did what we had to in order to win. We fouled when we had to. We cleared it row Z when we had to. Leno wasted time and even faked an injury once. I'm fantastically not interested in people who tut-tut about that sort of thing. Fuck all the way fucking off, your favorite team does it too.

Win the game. Do your job. Arsenal did that today, and I sure as shit won't apologize for it.

Things get much more difficult now with a trip to Liverpool next and a home North London Derby right after it. You know what, though? I think this team is up for the fight and even if we don't get 6 points out of that (spoiler alert: we're not getting 6 points out of that), we'll at least give a good account of ourselves. That's all we can ask for, if you ask me.

Man of the Match: There's an argument for their keeper, but for my money it's Dani Ceballos going away.

The Super-Belated 2019-2020 Arsenal Season Preview!!!

Guess who's back...back again?

It's been almost a year since I took up my metaphorical pen in my capacity as Greek chorus to the doings of this amazing and infuriating collection of footballers. A year is a long time that goes in the blink of an eye, so let's take stock...what have we all missed since last we sat around the campfire of this here shebeen?


Me? I got a new job, I got a new relationship, and I've stepped down from the board of Arsenal NYC (amicably...it was time, and fresh blood was honestly required). I'm still reffing, and my hand injury has recovered enough where I'm back in goal on Sunday nights myself. I missed it terribly, as it turns out.

The Arsenal? We opted to not pay Aaron Ramsey the GDP of Luxembourg, so he went to Juventus. Our captain Laurent Koscielny threw his toys out of the pram and took himself and his 0.17 working ligaments to Bordeaux.  Petr Cech retired. Carl Jenkinson and Danny Welbeck left for first-team football (and the official stance of this here blog is that both are top Gooners and we wish them well). Denis Suarez (remember him?) was blown away by a light breeze back to Barcelona. We sold young starlets Alex Iwobi and Krystian Bielik, which I'm sure won't come back to bite us in the testes at all (just like Serge Gnabry, Ismael Bennacer, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, etc and so on).

The boys had 9/10ths of a halfway decent season, undone in the end by a month or so where they all turned into lobotomized sloths.

They've started this season with a clean sheet away from home, an event notable for the fact that the last one of those occurred somewhere around 1894.

(Deep breath)


I saw a Tweet (wish I remember from who so I could credit them) that said something to the effect of "Arsenal are like that guy at the pub who has no money to buy rounds but then orders a tray of Jager Bombs for the bachelorette party that just came in". I was going to make a joke about where we found that money, but Swiss Ramble actually has a brilliant breakdown on how we used installments and the like to fit this within our modest budget. Go check it out, I'll wait.

Right, so it's been weeks now and I'm still in awe at this transfer window. What in the actual blue hell happened here? 73 million on one player? DAVID LUIZ is here? A player came to us voluntarily from Real bloody Madrid?

Welcome to the Upside Down.

I'll try and stop my head spinning long enough to break down the squad for you in the usual fashion, position-by-position.


Photo: Getty Images

In my blogging absence, we went and got ourselves a pretty damn solid custodian in Bernd Leno. Germany tends to be something of a goalkeeper factory in any case, so going out and getting a guy in and around the edges of their national team was a smart play in retrospect. You have to go back to the days of Jens Lehmann (surprise surprise, another Torwart von Deustchsland) for the last time we had a settled and obvious No. 1. Leno isn't the tallest or most imposing keeper, but he keeps mistakes to a minimum and he's especially good at saving 1v1s - a handy skill to have when your back line is a porous disaster like ours. Keepers tend to peak in their early 30s, so at 27 Leno probably has a fair bit of room to improve as well. Either way, he's the guy and I'm all the way here for it.

David Ospina has finally moved on, meaning that Emiliano Martinez is the undisputed backup for the shirt. My read on him is that he's never going to be at the level to challenge Leno for the big job, but he's a perfectly competent backup who we can play in the cup games and the unfortunate early-round Europa League trips to the outer reaches of Eastern Europe without much fear.

Dejan Iliev is out on loan to something called "iClinic Sered" (Sounds like somewhere you go to get your laptop fixed), leaving Matt Macey as our cover option. He's really tall.


Photo: No Credit Listed - also, HOLY SHIT THIS IS HAPPENING

William Saliba joined us from Saint-Etienne during the transfer window, but turned right around like the Grandpa Simpson GIF and went back there on loan. One for the future to be sure, though. Koscielny left as mentioned, so once everyone is fit, that likely leaves Rob Holding and David Luiz as our center-half pairing. Holding is of course coming back from that horrible cruciate injury, so it remains to be seen if and when he can get back to his best - though it bears mentioning that he was seriously improving before he ended up on the shelf. As for Luiz, I'm not sure what I can say that Barney Ronay at the Guardian didn't already get to so brilliantly. Yeah, he's got funny hair and got tonked 7-1 by Germany once. He's also one of the better defenders around and someone who will improve everyone around him. At 32 he's obviously a stop-gap until the likes of Saliba are ready, but this is exactly the kind of smart short-term cover signing that we haven't made in eons.

Once you get past that though, it's a return ticket directly back to the Island of Misfit Toys. Calum Chambers returns from his loan at Fulham, where he was their player of the year...although a) that's like being the nicest guy in prison and b) it was as a central midfielder. So, all the shrug emoticons there. Anthropomorphic yellow card Sokratis Papastathopolous is still here to make "who me?" gestures at referees directly after severing an opposing striker's leg at the patella. While we're on the topic of defenders with names worth triple digit Scrabble scores, youngster Konstantinos Mavropanos has remained with the club largely out of desperation necessity. Ideally, he'd be out on loan at Olympiakos or Panathinaikos or some other -kos somewhere, but, well, we need a fourth defender.

Wait, you mean Walking Calamity Shkrodan Mustafi is still here?

Look, I'm never going to be one of those bell-ends that harasses one of our own on Twitter or wishes him harm or anything, but my god would it be best for all if we could somehow shift him out in the international transfer window. If I remember correctly we have until September 2nd or 3rd or something. He didn't even make the bench for our 1-0 win at Newcastle to start the season (I don't think these things are unrelated), and that was with the population of Tokyo out of commission for one reason or another. He's obviously finished with Arsenal, and the sooner the divorce happens, the better.

At the fullback positions we're significantly bolstered on both sides - Kieran Tierney has joined from Celtic to man the left while Extremely Handsome Woke Man (now with a haircut!) Hector Bellerin has come back from injury to reclaim his post on the right. This is all fantastic news. At their best, both are solid defensively while providing width to the attack. We all know by now that fullback has become a critical position on the field, to the point where assists and the odd goal from there is mandatory in the modern game. Assuming no further injury, we have players good enough to give us that and more. It would also alleviate some of the burden on our wide forwards, which will open up tons of possibilities when we have the ball. I'm already salivating at the idea.

Nacho Monreal returns to provide cover both on the left and in the center in a pinch, though he showed last season that he's nearing the down slope of his career. A big part of our problem last term  was that we signed Stephan Lichtsteiner to be occasional cover and a mentor to others and he ended up having to be the main man - hopefully nothing like that happens this time around. On the right, I think we can all agree that at this point Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a common-law right back. It may be the best thing for his career, when you think about it. We're so stacked in most areas of the pitch, but if Bellerin gets hurt again we've got an empty cupboard at RB. I don't think AMN is ever going to crack the first team in central midfield or at wide forward, but with some improvement on the defensive side of the game I can see him being a solid rotation option right where he is. Sometimes you just have to know what your level is, you know?

As for Sead Kolasinac - besides being the scourge of would-be robbers everywhere (and let's just take a second to marvel at the marriage of unbelievable stupidity and galactic-level bravery it takes to try and rob a man that we all call "The Bosnian Tank". Seems like a good way to get your internal organs rearranged in alphabetical order to me), what actually is his position? Is he the reserve LB and Monreal will be left out? Will he play more at left wingback when we go to 5 in the back? Will he play more as a wide forward? I don't know, but he's always good for two or three goals a season that nearly decapitate the opposing goalkeeper, and that's worth his presence alone right there.


Photo: The National

This, right here, is going to dictate the success or failure of this season.

Which Mesut Ozil are we going to get? (By the way, gonna stop right here and say that like any decent human, I know his family and his safety come first and he should take as much time as he needs to get his situation sorted out). What are our best options in the center of the park? How good is Granit Xhaka really?

Generally, I'm higher on both of those players than the average person, and significantly so more than the average Twitter mouth-breather. But, we can all agree that if we're going to crack the top four this season, both of them are going to have to provide more end product than they've done in a while. Ozil in particular now has no shortage of weapons at his disposal - does he have enough about himself in this stage to make full use of them? Will Xhaka cut out the two or three rough edges to his game and emerge as the fully-complete player that I believe is in there?

More questions than answers, eh?

Meanwhile, Ramsey's departure leaves more room for Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi to grow into their roles in the team. Both showed flashes last season, though both can also be excused to some extent with it being their first season in the Premier League. Guendouzi also arguably got thrown into the deep end before he was fully ready, though now he has a year under his belt. Both have excellent qualities, and I think to some extent they suffered from what seemed to this observer to be a lack of tactical consistency at times. The raw materials are there - can Unai Emery find the magic formula to unlock their next levels?

More questions than answers.

Dani Ceballos is an interesting one. I'll be the first to admit that I don't watch a lot of Spanish football (I'm not paying Spectrum a king's ransom every month for the privilege of BeIN Sports and I don't have tons of time for non-Arsenal football most weekends these days anyway). He couldn't get into the Real Madrid team but I suspect he'll have no shortage of first-team ball during his loan spell with us - especially if Emery decides to Krazy-Glue Ozil to the bench again like he did for long stretches last season. I imagine he's more of an offensive player and I've heard good reports from people I trust, but I mean we just had a Denis Suarez and I'm worried about repeats until proven otherwise.

Mohamed Elneny is still with us - though we'll see if that's still the case come the end of the international window. He's not a terrible player, but for me it's an an illustration of the harshness indicative of the uppermost levels of the game - the delta between good enough and not is infinitesimal at this level, and he's a shade under that bar. Some years back he would have fit right in with the Bendtners and Chamakhs of the world, but the Premier League is a money-soaked rock fight these days and it's no longer sufficient to just take nothing off the table.

Other than that, you want kids? We got kids!


I already mentioned Guendouzi, who is younger than half my t-shirt collection. Beyond that we have Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith-Rowe. The conventional wisdom is that they may not play much, but I don't know if that dog hunts. Football is a squad game these days, and with injuries and suspensions you need minutes from this second and third tier of player. They're all young, they all have talent, and ESR impressed on loan to Leipzig last season. They'll get their chances, especially in the cups and in the Europa League. I've seen enough Carlos Velas and Jermaine Pennants in my day to know that not all the kids will make it, but I think this crop has a better chance than most.


Photo: The Daily Star


Ok, so look. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the absolute truth and barring injury or a meteor hitting the Earth, he's going to bang in 30-35 goals and be the man again this season. He's already sitting in first place on our goal-scoring list within the first 50 appearances for the club (that would be above club deities like Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp). We don't need to spend much time drawing a topographical map of The Obvious here.

The question is, what will the surrounding landscape look like? We can be reasonably confident that Ozil or Ceballos will mostly play the No. 10 directly behind him, but out wide is where the interest lies.

As mentioned above, we just backed a dump truck full of money at Chez Lille and came back with a fresh new-model Nicolas Pepe. He scored ALL the goals in Ligue 1, though that isn't always an indicator of success in tougher competitions. Full disclosure? I've never seen him play. He arrives with no shortage of hype and with as good a CV as you can amass en francais, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to the English game. One has to assume that an impact will be made - the level and severity of such will - in conjunction with our midfield questions - determine what heights this season can hit.

Alexandre Lacazette is another question. He's obviously a class player, but where will he be deployed? Will we go with two strikers? Will he force Auba out wide, which is emphatically not his best position? Will we just say sod it and play with 10 forwards in front of Leno? Your guess is as good as mine. I know I'm beating this horse down into its composite atoms, but more questions than answers.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Yup. He'll play some here and there and probably not do much. Happy to be wrong on this one but I'm not holding my breath.


As usual, I'll stick my neck out and peer into my crystal ball. I won't do a full table anymore because, honestly, what I know about Norwich or Sheffield United or Burnley these days can comfortably fit inside a thimble. That said:

  • Arsenal will finish third. The galaxy-brain geniuses at the Guardian picked us to finish 6th, which makes me doubly sure on this point. I mean, Chelsea are a dumpster fire in Chernobyl, Man United bought no one and are managed by a troll doll, and Tottenham are starting to list under the weight of their collective stasis. You can only be nearly-men for so long before the mantle latches on to your shoulders, boys.
  • As said, Auba is going to score 30-35.
  • Man City will win the league. Again. Liverpool will finish second. Again.
  • Call me crazy, but I think City are going to finally win the Champions League this season as well.
  • One of the kids will break out this season - my immediate guess is Reiss Nelson.
  • I will make it to the pub more than three times this season. 

Enjoy the season, everyone!