For all of the penalty appeals, woodwork hits and disallowed goals – the biggest moment of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Burnley came when Cesc Fabregas signaled to the bench that he had tweaked his hamstring and could take no further part.
He had by a country mile been our best player up until that point, scoring the opening goal and controlling the game with some excellent passing. And while his replacement Aaron Ramsey did not have a poor game after coming on we badly missed our Spanish captain as his absence robbed us of a player with ability to carve open a Burnley defence that worked exceptionally hard for the full 90 minutes.
Burnley showed why they have such a formidable home record with a performance full of commitment, power and efficiency while for our boys it was Sunderland all over again. Disappointingly Thomas Vermaelen erased our early advantage by giving away a thoughtless penalty and from that point on it we were second best as Burnley created several decent chances and restricted our team to very little.
Burnley’s outstanding player on the night, Chris Eagles, almost scored a fantastic second goal after leaving Mikael Silvestre and Samir Nasri for dead but it wasn’t to be as Manuel Almunia, who had been a train wreck up until that point, tipped his shot onto the post. Meanwhile Diaby, Ramsey and Alex Song were struggling to create clear chances for Andrey Arshavin, Nasri and a very quiet Theo Walcott as we passed and passed and passed without much final product.
It would be easy to berate the team after a performance and result like this but I’m not going to. The way the game turned out this was very much a point gained rather than two lost and in that respect I do feel a little fortunate. Two of our most reliable performers in Vermaelen and Song had arguably their worst games of the season and that was felt across the board.
When Burnley equalised just shy of the half-hour mark I was frustrated yet utterly confident that, given the way Fabregas was playing, we would find another goal. Unfortunately that all changed with his departure. We lost the focal point in our midfield and it seemed like Ramsey and Diaby were looking at one another to try and work out who should take over, the result being that neither of them did. It meant that no player attempted to play the difficult passes to open Burnley up and we were treated to a whole lot of tippy-tappy possession football played at snail’s pace.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing for the armchair football observer but in my opinion is that Samir Nasri, who had been decent in the opening half-hour if a little peripheral, should have stepped into the captain’s shoes as the playmaker. I think the manager should have said to the Frenchman and the rest of the team at half-time – “this guy is going to be our Fabregas in the second half, he is going to be the focal point and the one responsible for the killer passes” – instead of relying on 18-year-old Ramsey and Diaby the dribbler to take the initiative. That way we may have maintained our flow and continued to make the sort of clear chances that came our way before Cesc went off.
Many people will be frustrated that we have followed up such a great win at Anfield with a failed effort at Burnley, but that’s football. In truth I expected both Chelsea and United to take maximum points from their last two games and if you compare our results with theirs, we’ve kept pace with Chelsea and pulled one point back on United from two far more difficult fixtures. In other words, it’s not all bad.
Things to worry about are the severity of the injury to Cesc and the wayward performances of Almunia in goals. It pains me to say that he looks to be playing without a speck of confidence at the moment and has a very generous linesman to thank for sparing him the embarrassment of being punished for a truly horrendous error. I said before the game that I had hoped to see Lukasz Fabianski at Turf Moor and that view has only sharpened.
Hull are next at The Emirates this weekend and there’s no reason why we can’t bounce back. A win there would keep us in the race and with the Premiership being as unpredictable as it is this season it’s all still up for grabs.
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