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arsenal 2 1000x500Back in August, I set off for Chelsea for our first game of the new Premier League season and tomorrow I’ll return to London for our game at Arsenal which will be our last away fixture of the season.

It was a sweltering hot day down at Stamford Bridge and we can expect similar tomorrow at the Emirates. “It will be cracking the flags,” was how my dad used to describe it but I’m still to see a flag crack under the sun on a trip to a football match.

Preparing for this game, I have been thinking back to that day at Chelsea. Having comfortably survived last season despite winning only one away game, the Premier League decided to make things more difficult for us by giving us five of last season’s top seven in the first five away games. And there we were at Stamford Bridge, 3-0 at half time and wondering what on earth was happening.

It was no fluke, it set us up for what has been a remarkable season and this evening, when Everton failed to beat Southampton, our place in next season’s Europa League was confirmed. I’ve sat here since trying to take it in. When the decline set in at Burnley Football Club all those years ago, I thought that was it, I  thought we would never get close to playing in Europe again.

But that is July, this is May, and tomorrow it is Arsenal and Arsène Wenger’s farewell game at the Emirates. We are going there with no pressure although if we did win and results went our way next week we could even get up to sixth and straight into the group stages of the Europa League.

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It will be a big day for Wenger but Sean Dyche has said we’ve got to forget about that and get on with what we do. Goalkeeper, and Supporters’ Player of the Year, Nick Pope spoke of Wenger being the only Arsenal manager he knows.

He said: “Arsène Wenger is a legend of the Premier League. He’s someone whose career should be celebrated and rightly so. It’s a piece of history to be involved in but the game is the most important thing for us.

“There will be extra noise and extra things about it but that’s something out of our control. We have to take it as a normal game. We can’t go into it half hearted. If you do that, a team like that will punish you. We have to go there with the same attitude we have had all season. ”

He added: “We won’t know their team until Sunday, but we have to prepare for the best Arsenal they can be and that’s what we are. It’s been a normal week, training has been good and we look forward to Sunday.”

Pope dominated the Player of the Year Evening this week and his performances since replacing Tom Heaton have earned him England recognition and are now keeping the captain out of the team. He’ll line up in a Burnley team tomorrow that is expected to show a change from the one that drew against Brighton last week.

Ben Mee isn’t fit to return. While Scott Arfield looks certain to have played his last game of the season, Mee is back in training and could be fit for next Sunday’s final game against Bournemouth. Alongside those two, and the long term casualties, Chris Wood is expected to sit this one out. He was described as touch and go by Dyche which usually means he has little chance of playing.

The big question is who will replace Wood. Sam Vokes is the likely candidate but I’d much rather see us go back to the system we’ve used for most of the season with Jeff Hendrick back in the line up rather than playing with two strikers. I suspect that won’t happen and Vokes is the most likely to come in.

We should line up: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, Kevin Long, James Tarkowski, Stephen Ward, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Ashley Barnes, Sam Vokes. Subs from: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, Dean Marney, Jeff Hendrick, Georges-Kévin NKoudou, Nahki Wells, Jon Walters.

We go into the game in seventh place, the lowest we can finish. That’s one place and three points behind Arsenal but for their fans the season has not been acceptable. They’ve won nothing and that was confirmed two nights ago when they lost their Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid. That has helped force the pending departure of their manager.

It would take a dramatic turn of events for us to get past them. We’d have to win tomorrow for starters and then beat Bournemouth next week and hope Arsenal don’t beat either Leicester or Huddersfield. That would make a difference in terms of the point of entry for the Europa League with 5th and 6th going straight into the groups. No matter what, Burnley and Arsenal will both be in the same European competition next season.

It will be virtually impossible trying to determine the Arsenal team but we do know they’ll be without Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny and Laurent Koscielny who are all injured.

The two teams will form a guard of honour for Wenger ahead of the game but the main celebrations in the stadium will come after the final whistle which is expected to feature a number of former Arsenal players from the Wenger era. For Burnley fans, that might mean shorter queues at the underground stations.

It will be a good trip to round off what has been an incredible season on the road. We go into the game with 28 away points, that’s more than in the three previous Premier League seasons put together.

 

LAST TIME WE WERE THERE

 

This was episode two of the robbed in stoppage time feature. Earlier in the season at home, Arsenal had won it 1-0 with a stoppage time goal scored by Laurent Koscielny that was both offside and handball.

Move on a few months to the Emirates and Koscielny won a stoppage time penalty despite the fact he was clearly offside. Alexis Sanchez converted it with the goal timed at 90+8 minutes.

There hadn’t been any goals in the first half and we fully merited being level, but Arsenal got on top in the second half with Granit Xhaka a major influence but it was a Shkodran Mustafi header from a corner that gave them the lead just past the hour.

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Xhaka saw red five minutes later for an awful two footed lunge on Steven Defour but it was a while before we took any advantage. We had our own problems with Dean Marney stretchered off with a cruciate ligament injury; he’s not played in the first team since.

But into stoppage time and we thought we’d got a point. Wenger wasn’t happy with the penalty decision but it was a clear foul by Francis Coquelin on Ashley Barnes. The spot kick was duly converted by Andre Gray three minutes into the seven that had been added for the injuries to Defour and Marney.

Then came that appalling miss by the assistant. It wasn’t close but there was no flag when there should have been and the resulting penalty was converted. Surely it’s our turn to get something this time.

The teams were;

Arsenal: Petr Cech, Gabriel, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Alex Iwobi (Francis Coquelin 69), Mesut Ozil (Hector Bellerin 89), Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud (Danny Welbeck 87). Subs not used: David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lucas Perez.

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Stephen Ward, George Boyd, Jeff Hendrick (Joey Barton 73), Dean Marney (James Tarkowski 76), Steven Defour (Sam Vokes 77), Ashley Barnes, Andre Gray. Subs not used: Paul Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Tendayi Darikwa, Michael Kightly.

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