Arsenal lightning strikes again
When Alexis Sánchez converted from the penalty spot in stoppage time to give Arsenal a 1-0 win against us at Turf Moor yesterday, it was so cruel and unfair on a Burnley side who had turned in a terrific performance and deserved so much more.
It’s a third successive 1-0 home loss to the Gunners. Last season’s came when Laurent Koscielny scored a stoppage time goal from an offside position with his hand and a few months later we were beaten 2-1 at the Emirates when the same player won a penalty despite being offside, with the spot kick scored, as was the case yesterday, by Sánchez.
Although less controversial yesterday, the award of the penalty for a James Tarkowski push on Aaron Ramsey is not clear cut. It’s soft, and only Arsène Wenger, the manager who misses most things, was adamant that the referee had got the decision right. I’m certainly not sure many Burnley fans would agree having witnessed a performance from referee Lee Mason that was nothing short of a disgrace.
If we play well and win a game, the reporting is, in so many ways, quite easy. It is similarly so when we have been beaten having turned in a poor performance. Where do you start after this? At times our football was exhilarating. At times, when forced, we defended superbly. This was a performance that was as good as any we’ve seen all season.
Just over a year ago, just before Craig Pawson handed the points to Arsenal on a plate as the ball went into the net off Koscielny’s hand, we were literally seconds away from a momentous result against Arsenal. Yesterday, in the same situation, so much better is this Burnley side than a year ago, that many of us went into the game believing we could get something from it.
I think we were all hoping for a horrible day weather wise. “Snow on the hills, freezing cold and raining. Here’s the clichéd: will Arsenal fancy it on a Sunday in Burnley?” John Cross from the Daily Mirror tweeted ahead of the game.
Yes, there was a small covering of snow high on Pendle, yes it did rain, as it so often does in Burnley, but freezing cold? If we thought that bad weather might make it more difficult for our visitors then, sadly, it was nothing like as bad as the forecasters had suggested.
Turf Moor was almost full to capacity with the sold out signs going up some days before the game. You can give me all the fancy stadiums dotted around, but, for me, nothing looks better than the Turf packed out ready for a perceived big game, although they are all big games these days for this Burnley team riding on the crest of a wave.
Sean Dyche had stuck with the team that beat Swansea eight days earlier. That meant just a place on the bench for record signing Chris Wood who replaced Nahki Wells among the substitutes.
Many outsiders would expect an obvious pattern for a Burnley v Arsenal game. They would dominate the ball, the play would be towards our goal and the Burnley players likely to be most involved would be goalkeeper Nick Pope and the two central defenders James Tarkowski and Ben Mee, but it wasn’t like that at all.
For much of the first half we were by far the better side. The midfield trio of Steven Defour, Jack Cork and Jeff Hendrick were outstanding while the two wide players, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady, were sensational, both I’m sure playing as well as they’ve ever done in a Burnley shirt.
Arsenal were simply thankful to goalkeeper Petr Cech for keeping them in the game. He remains an outstanding goalkeeper and at times looked unbeatable. His most spectacular save was from Brady’s free kick but the best of them was surely when he was able to touch Gudmundsson’s shot onto the post.
That move alone summed up our first half performance and that of referee Mason. Brady won the ball back for us on the left touchline and played it inside for Ashley Barnes. The play was swift as we moved it on to Hendrick and then Gudmundsson who took on and beat Nacho Monreal before firing in a superb shot. I don’t know why, but Hendrick comes in for some criticism. How often it is him who plays that final ball?
Both Mason and his assistant somehow missed Cech’s touch and a goal kick was awarded. Defour wasn’t happy and was yellow carded for dissent. I’d have no problem with that if players showing dissent were all carded, but as we all now know, the same rules were not applied to several Arsenal players, even those who couldn’t see white lines drawn on the pitch. It was all very similar to the rest of Mason’s game that saw Arsenal get away with far too much.
It might well have been 0-0 at half time but the home side left the pitch to a standing ovation. It really had been fantastic stuff from our team but I think we all knew that things might get a little more difficult after the break.
And they did. Arsenal looked much better and dominated the game for a spell, but not once did they trouble Pope. When required we defended superbly, protecting our goalkeeper to the point where he was hardly more involved than he’d been in the Swansea game. In fact, the one real save to be made during this period was at the other end where Cech got down to save a shot from Gudmundsson that was heading into the bottom corner.
We saw off that challenge and in the last quarter of the game we were again every bit as good as our opponents. If we could just snatch one, I thought. Even so, I was delighted with the point I was sure was coming our way and when the board went up for two extra minutes at the end was certain that we wouldn’t have an ending anything like those two last season.
I was so very wrong. It was devastating for us when Mason pointed to the spot. Yes, the pundits will tell us that it was a push but former Gunner, and for a while former Claret, Ian Wright suggested on 5 Live that it was soft. “Arsène wouldn’t have been happy if that had been given at the other end,” he said. The fact is, it wouldn’t have been given at the other end, of that I am absolutely certain.
A win would have taken is into the Champions League places, a defeat took Arsenal there and they’ll be all excited that they are above Spurs again.
As for us, just when you think we can’t get any better, we get better. For a time in the first half, and we have to remember that we were playing one of the Premier League’s better teams ( a superpower according to our manager), we played as well as I’ve seen this Burnley team play.
Watford are next at the Turf, but we’ve a bit of travelling to do before then, to Bournemouth and Leicester.
I was devastated at the end and I was still going through the events for the rest of the day. I’m still not over it, how we’ve been done again by Arsenal but this morning that devastation has been replaced by bursting pride at how good our Burnley team has become.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Steven Defour (Chris Wood 78), Jack Cork, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Barnes. Subs not used: Anders Lindegaard, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ashley Westwood, Scott Arfield, Sam Vokes.
Yellow Cards: Steven Defour, Robbie Brady.
Arsenal: Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Saed Kolasinac, Alexis Sánchez, Alexandre Lacazette (Danny Welbeck 79), Alex Iwobi (Jack Wilshere 67). Subs not used: David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Francis Coquelin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Olivier Giroud.
Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton).
Attendance: 21,722 (including 2,451 from Arsenal).
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