For the first time since the one all draw with Tottenham at Turf Moor way back in March, Burnley played football in front of paying spectators last night, as two thousand Arsenal fans were sprinkled thinly around the vast bowl of the Emirates stadium to witness the Clarets produce the stand-out result of their season so far: winning at Arsenal’s home for the first time since 1974.
How did those Gunners fans respond to their defeat? Dear reader, they were not happy.
In truth, Burnley probably played better football in last week’s draw at home to Everton but their strength of character, their organisation and their discipline saw them through to a memorable victory.
Ah yes, discipline; a quality essential to any successful football team, but one which was lost on Arsenal and in particular their Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka.
A minor, something and nothing, skirmish early in the second half quickly accelerated to the point where Xhaka applied a choke-hold on Ashley Westwood, a red card followed after VAR had scrutinised the offence.
As tempers frayed in the ensuing melee, Burnley sent on Ashley Barnes in an effort to defuse tension and restore calm!
The dismissal of Xhaka proved to be the pivotal moment of the match; hitherto Arsenal had controlled the bulk of possession without ever really threatening to breach the grey wall of Burnley defenders. On the odd occasion when they did glimpse sight of Nick Pope’s goal, the Clarets’ keeper was in no mood to allow any concession.
Burnley’s best chance had come from an early close-range free header gifted to Chris Wood. Sadly he squandered the gift, putting the header wide of Bernd Leno’s goal.
Reduced to ten men however, Arsenal lost all their composure and cohesion. They should have incurred a second red card when James Tarkowski and Mohamed Elneny tangled before a Burnley corner. Elneny’s hand was thrust into Tarkowski’s face, but a combination of VAR and timid refereeing by Graham Scott decreed that a yellow card would be punishment enough.
Burnley however, were about to exact their own retribution. Ashley Westwood’s in-swinging corners and whipped in free kicks have proved a regular source of goals for the Clarets from set pieces, when he delivers accurately, they are almost impossible to defend against.
Westwood’s next corner provided an ironic twist of karma when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had been an almost Aguero like thorn in Burnley’s side in previous encounters, rose to apply the top of his Marge Simpson bouffant to the ball as it homed in on the near post and succeeded only in diverting the ball into his own goal.
Thereafter Arsenal unravelled, secure and crisp passing has always been taken for granted in previous Gunners teams, but now they sprayed the ball with increasing desperation and decreasing accuracy. Burnley were thus able to maintain their lead with few alarms.
All Burnley’s players deserve credit for the shift they put in to secure the victory, but a particular mention should go to James Tarkowski, a tireless warrior in Burnley’s defence. He is said to want to leave Turf Moor, and if so, it is gratifying to know he will not allow his personal ambitions to impede the job he is still employed to do at Burnley.
The three points earned at the Emirates hoisted Burnley out of the bottom three and set them up neatly for a run of fixtures from which more points must be obtained if they are to progress up the league table. The first of these games is scheduled for this Thursday, when the Clarets visit Villa Park, they will do so with the spring in their step happily restored.
A delighted Dave Thornley reflects on how Sean Dyche silenced the Gunners to record his first ever win over Arsenal in the English Premier League. (TEC).