Dave Thornley, the Clarets Mad resident match summariser reflects on yesterday's game.
Two matches, two goals and two points; Burnley continue to inch their way slowly but steadily away from the relegation zone. They are not safe yet, but their two splendid performances in this week's home matches against Leicester City and Arsenal suggest that the two or three wins still required will arrive imminently.
Wednesday tea-time’s encounter with Leicester was one of Burnley’s better performances of the season. The Foxes are high-flying, high quality opponents, but were it not for a skilfully taken goal by Kelechi Iheanacho and some inspired goalkeeping from Kasper Schmeichel, Burnley would have perhaps deservedly taken all three points.
The Clarets began well with a quick as a flash early goal from Matej Vydra, seizing onto a loose pass and fashioning the room for a clean strike into the top corner.
Vydra is an enigma, a puzzling player; he produces flashes of brilliance in most games, but then follows them sometimes immediately, with a batch of sloppy or ill-judged play. Forgive the amateur psychology, but this hints at a player lacking confidence in his own ability, suggesting that he does not trust himself to be playing at Premier League level.
The bottom line is that he does not score anything like the quantity of goals that those glimpses of talent suggest that he is capable of.
After Iheanacho’s superbly taken equalizer, the second half was a cut-and-thrust affair, an exciting game of football highlighted by a series of excellent saves by Schmeichel; one dive to deny a Chris Wood header, was a truly breath-taking effort. At the other end, Leicester’s Tielemans rattled the frame of the goal, and the game concluded at one goal each.
And so, to yesterday lunchtime and Arsenal’s eventful visit to Turf Moor. The Gunners’ starting line- up contained three players: Callum Chambers, Willian, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who have proved to be a thorn in Burnley’s side in previous matches. Although, Clarets supporters’ most recent memories of Aubameyang centred around his match-winning own goal when the teams last met at the Emirates Stadium in December.
The gifted Arsenal striker did not take long to redress the balance. A neat move in the sixth minute found Aubameyang cutting inside from the left wing. Matt Lowton failed to usher him onto his left foot, thereby narrowing the angle for a shot. Instead, Aubameyang was allowed a right foot shot which squirmed into the corner of the Burnley goal via Nick Pope’s outstretched glove.
For remainder of the first half, Arsenal were in the ascendency, moving the ball slickly and creating chances, the best of which were squandered by Saka and Partey.
A tougher one was put into the side-netting by Aubameyang, after Lowton had redeemed his earlier error with a half-interception which made Aubameyang’s task a much more challenging one.
Burnley were then presented with a gift wrapped equaliser. I personally abhor the current vogue of playing short balls around your own penalty area; it goes against the grain of everything one was taught as early as under-tens' football. And despite high-minded trendy notions of “beating the press,” it usually succeeds in only inviting more pressure on your own goal.
Yesterday, in such a move, Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno slipped the ball to his colleague Granit Xhaka, who attempted a pass to his right back, but instead found only Chris Wood, off whose hip the ball deflected into the Arsenal goal.
Like all good strikers, Wood informed his team-mates that he meant it, but his bemused reaction to the goal, was spotted by the rest of us.
After the game, Leno in interview seemed not to be too concerned that his and Xhaka’s combined folly had cost Arsenal their lead; suggesting that this is the way Arsenal play and if they sometimes concede as a result then so be it. It would be hard indeed to imagine Clough, Ferguson or even Dyche tolerating so casual an attitude towards conceding such a calamitously avoidable goal.
Burnley made the most of their good fortune in the second half and grew into the game, increasing their tempo, winning more challenges, and presenting more attacking options.
Wood came close to scoring after a brilliant piece of combination play with Vydra which ended with Leno’s outstretched foot blocking Wood’s shot.
The last half hour of the game turned into the Erik Pieters show. The veteran Dutch defender is the sort of player who gets on with his job unobtrusively and professionally. But yesterday, after coming on for a limping Charlie Taylor, he was front and centre of almost every other major incident.
Firstly, his challenge on Alexandre Lacazette resulted in a yellow card, after the Arsenal forward let out a scream worthy of a Hitchcock movie, then promptly sprung to his feet without even needing medical attention. The Match of the Day crew had a field day with this “screamer”.
Then Pepe’s cross struck Pieters on his wrist. Most people watching myself included, expected a penalty to be given, but referee Andre Marriner and VAR official Kevin Friend were unconcerned, citing the close proximity of Pieters’ hand to the origin of Pepe’s cross.
By rights, a penalty kick should have been awarded, but in mitigation, Burnley were refused a spot kick in almost identical circumstances against West Brom a couple of weeks ago. Two flawed decisions, but at least consistently flawed.
Up the other end, Pieters struck a speculative shot which looped and lofted like a nine-iron aimed at the green. Realising that the “green” in question was the back of his net, Leno scrambled across his goal and managed to turn the ball over the bar with an acrobatic mid-air save.
In a late surge of intense Arsenal pressure, Pieters deflected a goal-bound shot onto the cross bar. It was clear and obvious the ball had struck Pieters on the shoulder, but referee Marriner concluded that it was handball and promptly awarded a penalty and showed Pieters a red card. Fortunately, VAR came to his and Burnley’s rescue and rescinded the red card and reversed the penalty award.
Arsenal hit the frame of the goal again as the game concluded, but it ended even and the draw provided a valuable point for the Clarets, in their quest to beat the drop into the Championship.
With thirty points on the board and a seven-point gap over the bottom three at close of play, Burnley are almost safe, and it would take a major collapse in form and performance levels for them to be relegated. Sean Dyche is aware the job still needs finishing, and at the risk of sounding like a Government Covid briefing, this is no time for him and his players to lower their guard and become complacent.
Ken Hanson posts across social media from articles written by Dave, which are edited and sourced from Clarets Mad, by The Editors Chair (TEC).