The Clarets were able to banish the ghost of seasons-past and earn their first victory against Arsenal in the premier league era, on a night which seems to signify a serious low point for the North London men.
The stats did not make pretty reading for Burnley fans going into the game, with the Clarets only picking up two points in all their matches against Arsenal since the formation of the premier league. This reading was made grimmer by the fantastical form their star man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seemed to garner against us, scoring seven in the past five games against Burnley.
Sean Dyche named an unchanged side to the one that drew with Everton the week before, with the goal scorer, Robbie Brady, maintaining his place in the starting line-up. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta only named one change from his side that lost in the North London derby in their last premier league match, as Thomas Partey was withdrawn with injury and replaced with Mohamed Elneny.
As I nervously waited for the game to start today, I found myself in the rare circumstance where my head was more optimistic than my heart. Objectively the game would be close, but with Burnley becoming more and more like themselves as the season progresses, whilst Arsenal seemingly drowning under the weight of their own expectations, perpetuating their abysmal start, an upset looked on the cards.
However, memories of Laurent Koscielny throwing the ball into the Cricket Field end goal, or the last minute penalties, that can be described as dubious at best, still haunt me, and the fear that the Gunners would ‘rag’ it again lingered as kick off neared.
The first half was a rather drab affair in all honesty, with neither side having much in the way of attacking product. Arsenal had a lot of possession and were able to put in a lot of crosses, but the sum total of their efforts was a Alexandre Lacazette shot, which forced a snap save out of the Burnley keeper, with many thinking the striker should not have given the keeper a chance.
The best chance of the half fell to the visitors on the 13th minute. Robbie Brady found a good chunk of space on the right hand side, and was able to dig out a really decent cross towards Chris Wood. His marker, the Brazilian defender Gabriel, idiotically decided to push up and leave his man, giving the Kiwi a free header, and a glorious chance to take an early lead.
But the header was mistimed, skidding off his shoulder and wide of the target, letting the home side off the hook.
As much as I would love to wax lyrical about this historic Burnley performance, I cannot help but feel we didn’t reach the levels we know we can. Defensivley solid? Yes. Industrial and hard-working? Without question. But for the first half in particular, the attacking play was completely aimless with no control of the possession, which just seemed to invite pressure back onto the defense.
Thankfully the defensive side to our game was as excellent as ever. The back five were able to deal with crosses, shots and balls over the top comfortably and the midfield engine of Ashley Westwood and Josh Brownhill pressed the life out of any attack Arsenal tried to force, with a selection of brave blocks to prevent any long shots troubling Nick Pope.
Half time: Arsenal 0-0 Burnley
The second half started with a flurry of Arsenal attacks as they put the pressure of the visitors. Shots from Aubameyang, Tierney and Saka could only find the gloves of Nick Pope as he fought for his fourth clean sheet of the season. However, Arsenal’s attack had become a lot more direct and pacey as they looked to find the first goal.
This was all before a moment of pure madness that turned the game on its head. Granit Xhaka cynically took down a counter-attacking Dwight McNeil. The foul led to a confrontation between a few players, with others rushing in to break up any sources of ignition.
One of these players was Ashley Westwood, who rushed in to play peacemaker, accidentally tripping up the Swiss international, to which he took offense. Now, most people with any sense of reason and control would manage their emotions and not allow themselves to do anything stupid that could have detrimental effects to the team.
But as has been shown time and time again, Granit Xhaka is not a person with a sense of reason or control. In a move that is not to dissimilar to Sylvestor Stallone intimidating an antagonist in one of his 80’s romps, Xhaka decides to grab Westwood by the throat, within a metre of the referee Graham Scott (who still needed the help of the VAR monitor to make the correct decision).
It was a moment of pure madness from the former Arsenal captain, which not only gave Burnley a man advantage, but switched the momentum of the game, with the Clarets realising that this Arsenal side, who had caused them so much heartbreak in the past, were there for the taking.
The Clarets grew in possession and territory as they looked to take the lead against the North London men for the first time in the league since the premier league began. As often is the case, Burnley continued to look dangerous from set pieces.
A corner spelled problems for Arsenal before the ball was even kicked, as a coming together between James Tarkowski and Mohamed Elneny seemed to show that the Egyptian had pushed Tarkowski in the face. However, the Stockley park team (much to Graeme Souness’ dismay) declared that the incident warranted a booking and nothing more.
And it was from this set piece that the deadlock was broken. Ashley Westwood drilled in a vicioius ball towards the front post, which inadvertently deflected off the head of Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and past the stranded Bernd Leno.
The own goal means the Gabon striker has now scored as many goals from open play for Burnley as he has for Arsenal this season. Not one for your FPL team.
From this point, Burnley looked very comfortable as they contained Arsenal, minimising their threat and enjoying some decent possession at points. The Clarets have been very comfortable with 1-0 scorelines ever since Sean Dyche’s arrival, and the 10-men’s lacklustre attacking display showed why they currently sit 15th in the table.
Despite the circumstances and the desinsive solidity being shown by the Burnley players, I agonisingly watched on, begging for the final whistle before a cruel twist of fate delivered the Gunners and undeserved equaliser. But the equaliser never came and on the 95th minute, Burnley celebrated their first EVER win at the Emirates stadium, taking them out of the bottom three.
Arsenal will no doubt feel aggrieved at the result (seen most notably in the post match whinings of Mikel Arteta), as they did control a lot of the ball and were able to carve out a fair few goal bound efforts.
But the fact of the matter is that the attacking quality of Arteta’s men was minimal and if you cannot iron out mistakes and ill discipline in your performance, you do not deserve to win.
For Burnley, it was a performance where the defence shone, limiting an expensive group of attacking players to very few shots, all of which were comfortably gobbled up by Pope. Since Ben Mee’s return to the side (the City result not included), Burnley have looked back to their resolute best, and I expect the Clarets to pick up a good number of clean sheets this season.
But a team is unlikely to survive with 15 clean sheets and 15 goals, and goals still seem to be unfamiliar to this Burnley team at the moment. Chris Wood does look like a striker out of sorts, and there is a definite disparity between the front two and the midfield at the moment, which does need addressing. We won’t be playing teams like Arsenal every week.
It does feel strange to have complaints after a win as rare as this one, but I think that the loss to Spurs was a more complete performance than tthis one. I just hope that this win is the platform from which we can really build our season on.
Full time: Arsenal 0-1 Burnley