Same old story with the result at the Emirates
Football is about winning, picking up points and moving up league tables so, in that respect, yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal was not a success for us, but that really doesn’t tell the story of an afternoon that, despite the loss, surely leaves Burnley supporters with some real belief that there is a good season ahead.
We know games in this league are tough, no matter who they are against and no matter whether they are at home or on the road. We also know that games against the top six are likely to be the toughest of the lot and this was one of those games, worse still for us it was against the one team that we really don’t seem to be able to get anything against.
It was the same old story yesterday, beaten by Arsenal for a tenth successive time in the Premier League, beaten by goals scored by Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but my word they knew they’d been in a game and I bet they could not have been more relieved to get off the pitch with those points after we gave them an afternoon that was far more difficult than the predictable result suggests.
We don’t seem to do Saturday afternoons at Arsenal these days and yesterday, like the game in December last season, was moved to a lunchtime kick off for live television and that meant an earlier than preferred departure from Burnley with my front door being locked behind me not much after 6 a.m. It was a trouble free journey all the way apart from our regular parking spot at Cockfosters not being available but a quick manoeuvre saw us move on one station down the line to Oakwood.
It wasn’t too long after parking that we had reached our destination at the Emirates and ready for another test against the Gunners that never seems to go our way and quite often turns against us with controversial and, let’s face it, clearly incorrect decisions.
Arsenal had won at Newcastle six days earlier, but Unai Emery made changes and that meant places in the starting line up for Dani Ceballos, who is on loan from Real Madrid, and David Luiz, our old friend from Chelsea. Sean Dyche, predictably, had named the same team that had beaten Southampton on opening day with the only change coming on the bench where Charlie Taylor replaced Kevin Long.
It all started with the home team on the front foot and it was a case of keeping things tight and halting their early push; it didn’t happen and we were a goal down inside 13 minutes when Lacazette, another making his first start of the season, turned the ball home through Nick Pope’s leg following a right wing corner. It was a really scrappy goal from our point of view, one that really should have been avoided but was it a prelude to another difficult Emirates afternoon?
The goal served only to allow us to wrestle the initiative from Arsenal and for much of the remainder of the first half we played as well as I’ve ever seen us play there and we might have been level when Ashley Barnes, last week’s goalscoring here, was presented with a chance which he put just wide of the post.
We gave them a testing time although this was by no means one way traffic and Arsenal were a massive threat, particularly when breaking quickly and able to put us under pressure with their pace and movement. Despite all that, Pope was probably only called into real action once more until, two minutes before half time, we deservedly struck and drew level. Jack Cork swept a ball out to Chris Wood on the left and he quickly moved it inside for Dwight McNeil. The wide man quickly got himself on the edge of the box and got in a shot which deflected off Sokratis into the path of Barnes who got the ball under control despite some pressure for a defender and stroked the ball home.
At that point, you think we might be going into the half time break level, and we did, but we had an agonising wait after the assistant referee flagged Arsenal offside in a move that saw Reiss Nelson score what they thought was their second goal. Last season we would have just taken a free kick but now we have this wait until it is checked by VAR. So 1-1 it was at half time and real hope that it might be just be our day.
It wasn’t, and after a quiet few minutes at the start of the second half we found ourselves under pressure from Arsenal but when they did score what proved to be the winner it was a familiar name on the scoresheet but a self inflicted wound.
Matt Lowton had done well to nick the ball off Aubameyang but Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson dallied and the hugely impressive Ceballos got the ball back and quickly to Aubameyang. He’s played against us three times previously, he’s scored two against Pope, two against Joe Hart and two against Tom Heaton, and he wasn’t passing up this opportunity to scored his seventh goal against Burnley in just four games. He’s a goalscorer, undoubtedly, and an expensive one at that but you can see why they spent their money on him. This one was a terrific finish.
Unlike the first half, this time Arsenal kept the pressure up and Pope was becoming the busiest player on the pitch, making a number of very good saves to keep us level. We sent on Jay Rodriguez and Aaron Lennon, who looked really bright again, but we just couldn’t pull it back and in truth there wasn’t really much for us in the way of goalscoring opportunities although a late corner saw Pope come up, win a header and almost set up a potential equaliser.
It wasn’t to be and Mike Dean’s final whistle signalled another Arsenal defeat. There were few departures from the away end at the final whistle, apart from the very large number of tourists in and amongst us. Our fans stayed to applaud the team. This might have been a defeat but there was so much to admire in this performance. I know each game is never the same as the previous one or the next one, but if we can produce this level of performance with any consistency then there really is a lot to look forward to.
All there was to look forward to now was the return journey. It didn’t take too long to get back to the car and we were on the road. Because of the early start we had missed our traditional pub break on the way but there was nothing to stop us adding it to the itinerary on the way home and our researcher didn’t let us down again with his choice of hostelry in Crick, Northamptonshire and we were home in good time for Match of the Day to watch an episode of ‘Was it handball and what about VAR?’ but, when they did get to our game they did say we’d played well.
The teams at Arsenal were;
Arsenal: Bernd Leno, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, David Luiz, Nacho Monreal, Dani Ceballos (Lucas Torreira 83), Matteo Guendouzi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson (Nicolas Pépé 72), Alexandre Lacazette (Sead Kolasinac 71). Subs not used: Emiliano Martínez, Gabriel Martinelli, Calum Chambers, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Yellow Cards: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, David Luiz.
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Erik Pieters, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson (Aaron Lennon 72), Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood (Jay Rodriguez 61). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Ben Gibson, Charlie Taylor, Jeff Hendrick.
Yellow Card: Ashley Barnes.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).
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