On the weekend when Britain finally left the European Union, it occurred to me that Sunday lunchtime’s Premier League fixture between Burnley and Arsenal, represented a microcosm of the social divisions of Brexit.
The arrival of the Metropolitan elite as personified by the Gunners, pitched against the salt-of-the-earth, working classes from the deprived and under-invested North. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but no less valid a metaphor.
Arsenal’s players rolled into Turf Moor sporting a variety of hairstyles which defied both description and gravity; a shirt-numbering system that would be more at home in that evening’s Superbowl (a player wearing the number 77? - Oh Please!) and adopting an posture of fey aloofness.
Burnley on the other hand with nine Englishmen, a Kiwi and an Irishman in the starting line-up, hand slapped the Clarets' kids mascots and generally looked like they enjoyed plying their trade in the English Premier League.
As the match got underway, the visitors began in sprightly fashion, moving the ball swiftly and easily through the midfield and out to their wide wing men.
An underawed Burnley however, did not take too long to impress themselves on the game, pressing hard and high and denying the likes of Mesut Ozil, Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka the oxygen of time and space in which to operate.
Indeed the vigour and energy of Burnley’s play became the match’s defining characteristic; that and their prolifagacy in front of goal.
For Clarets fans, it was frustrating to see chance after chance go begging, with the ever-present spectre of the visitors snatching an ill-deserved winning goal.
Dwight McNeill, Jeff Hendrick, James Tarkowski and Jay Rodriguez were all on the end of very presentable goal scoring opportunities only to find their finishing touch desert them.
Rodriguez in particular will no doubt have suffered a disturbed night’s sleep as the vision of his point blank second half chance from McNeill’s flick rolled around his mind on a continuous loop. His shot cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and onto the goal line without crossing it. Where is a Russian linesman when you most need one?
Fortunately, Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang –a player who has previously caused Burnley countless problems – was similarly wasteful with the few chances that came his way.
Indeed, Arsenal as a whole were slack and lacklustre, with the honourable exception of Shkodran Mustafi, whose last-ditch defending kept Burnley at bay, as his midfield colleagues were swamped by the industry and tenacity of Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood and Jeff Hendrick.
In the end, Burnley could be forgiven for being slightly disappointed with the nil-nil final score. But, it is the first point that Burnley have squeezed out of the Gunners under Sean Dyche and that should be a source of some satisfaction, as should the fact that Burnley played with great energy and conviction and had much the better of the game.
Mikel Arteta, in his post-match reflections, voiced the opinion that the grass on the Turf Moor pitch was too long and put his team at a disadvantage. See what I mean about fey aloofness? Maybe, Mr Arteta has a goat which the Turf Moor groundsman can borrow?
Written with his usual dry post match humour by uber Claret Dave Thornley, on behalf of Clarets Mad. (TEC.)