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arsenal 5 1000x500After wins against Chelsea and West Ham and a draw against Tottenham, our final visit to London last season ended in a 5-0 defeat at Arsenal. Yesterday and our return to the Emirates saw us lose for a fifth time this season in London following on from defeats at Fulham, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Spurs.

A stoppage time goal from Alex Iwobi completed Arsenal’s 3-1 win against us but we gave it a real go in the second half and I don’t think the scoreline did justice to just how much we put into the game. Having gone 2-0 down very early in the second half, this would have been a big, big defeat just a few weeks ago, but the sleeves were rolled up and we gave Arsenal a really difficult time before that late, late, clearly offside goal ended all hopes of getting anything.

It sort of ended a difficult day for me personally. I was on the train yesterday and the plan was to get the 5:55 a.m. X43 to Manchester. I was at the bus stop in good time but my wallet wasn’t so back home I went to collect only to realise I couldn’t find it anywhere. I managed to copper up enough to pay for my bus fare to Manchester (my bus pass was in my wallet) but seriously concerned as to the whereabouts of my wallet.

Thankfully, my rail tickets were on phone so I was OK for the train. By then I realised I must have left it at the ticket office while picking up tickets on the Friday but that was false hope. What I’d done was left it on the bus home on the Friday afternoon so I’d like to thank the very kind person who handed it in which enabled me to reclaim it this morning. The train was just pulling into Euston when I learned of its whereabouts by which time a friend had helped me out with the loan of some cash and an Oyster Card.

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When Robbie Brady returned from his long term injury recently, someone said to me: “Just shows signing Lennon was a bad decision, we’ve got too many wingers now and Dyche won’t know what to do with them.” I’d loved to have heard his follow up comment yesterday. We knew Aaron Lennon was out and alongside that there was no return for Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson while Brady was also ruled out. Dyche didn’t have one of them available, something he clearly knew a couple of days earlier when he admitted it might tinker with the formation again. He did; he had no option and he went with a 5-3-2 formation although in possession, Ben Mee often drifted into the left-back position with Charlie Taylor pushing forward to try and give us some width on the left. The lack of available players so Dwight McNeil back on the bench and he was joined by young left-back Ali Koiki for the first time.

Unai Emery found the need to field all of his big guns including Mesut Özil who returned with the captain’s armband. They’d lost twice in a week, at Southampton last Sunday in the league and then against rivals Spurs in the League Cup. They did not want to make it three defeats out of three.

Last week we were frozen and drenched at Wembley; seven days later it was almost cloudless skies with temperatures more akin to September rather than December and, for the first time ever at the Emirates, I was able to sit down once the game had started.

Not for long though, as first Arsenal and then Burnley came so, so close to taking the lead. James Tarkowski got in a good block to deny Arsenal after a save from Joe Hart and with the ball cleared to Ashley Barnes, he set up Ashley Westwood whose shot went just wide via a touch from Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno.

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It wasn’t the sort of start we’d have wanted. It was very open and you sensed there could be a goal at any time with Arsenal probably the favourites to get it. And they did in only the 14th minute. Özil’s ball through found Sead Kolasinac who played it back into the middle for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to give his team the lead with a mis-hit shot into the corner.

The remainder of the first half hour was a somewhat dour affair, only lifted by an incident in the diagonal corner to where were situated, an incident that ended with a clearly angry Barnes suggesting to referee Kevin Friend that he’d been elbowed.

Having seen it again, for the life of me I can’t see how on earth Barnes was singled out here and for the life of me I can’t see why Arsenal’s Sokratis got away with it. But this was Kevin Friend and his performance, along with those of his hapless assistants, was as bad as anything I’ve seen from officials for quite some time.

It was 1-0 at half time. Incredibly this was the first time Arsenal have been in front at half time this season in the Premier League. For us, it was the seventh time we’ve been behind at half time.

Even so, I still thought there might be something in it for us. What we couldn’t afford to do was allow Arsenal to double their lead but that’s exactly what they did just three minutes into the half when Aubameyang got his second.

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By then we’d already got our second yellow, this time for a foul on goalkeeper Leno. I’ve no quarrel with the free kick but the yellow card is pure nonsense to me but it was just a continuation of some dreadful decisions from the official.

The assistant soon joined in with the fun. Wood, who had a disappointing afternoon, missed a very good chance to pull one back. Was he offside though when the free kick was taken? Yes, he was, as were Barnes, Kevin Long, Tarkowski and Ben Mee.  Then we got a penalty. Oh, no, we didn’t. We should have had a penalty but like to so many that have gone before it, the clear two handed push on Long was waved away by Friend.

But then we did score. Mee headed the ball from the left of the box. Long got the final touch to Barnes who planted the ball home. There was nearly half an hour to go and my word didn’t we give it a go.

Jack Cork should have done better with a shot he fired wide and we then swapped the two strikers with Sam Vokes and Matěj Vydra coming on. Vydra was involved in two incidents that brought downright ridiculous decisions from the assistant. He was flagged offside when he was nowhere near and was then pulled up for a foul when he broke clear in the box on the right; that was pure farce with no foul having been committed.

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Try as we did, there was not going to be an equaliser but there was renewed hope when five minutes were added,  but just as was the case last week, we conceded in the first of those minutes. Guess what? It was offside and this time the other assistant didn’t bother.

And so a defeat, and we can’t afford to keep losing, that we all know. But the performances are getting better although I suppose, sometimes, it is much easier to offer a brave performance against the top teams. What we need to do now, what we have to do now, is turn in performances like this against the other teams in the league and start picking up some points to get away from the bottom.

We are in the relegation positions at Christmas. Kevin Friend and the two with the flags will settle down for Christmas believing they’ve had a good day. Whether Sean Dyche should have made the comments he did is up to each individual to decide. Maybe he did go too far but we must be able to expect better of match officials than we got in this game.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

The teams were;

Arsenal: Bernd Leno, Sokratis, Mohamed Elneny (Lucas Torreira 59), Nacho Monreal (Stefan Lichsteiner 37), Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, Sead Kolasinac, Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette (Alex Iwobi 78), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Subs not used: Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka.
Yellow Cards: Sokratis, Matteo Guendouzi.

Burnley: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley (Matt Lowton 83), Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jeff Hendrick, Ashley Barnes (Sam Vokes 77), Chris Wood (Matěj Vydra 77). Subs not used: Tom Heaton, Ben Gibson, Ali Koiki, Dwight McNeil.
Yellow Cards: Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood, Ben Mee, Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicester).

Attendance: 59,493.

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