Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday December 17 2009
A third seasonal trip to Turf Moor in succession and once again we departed London with the first snow of the winter, the brisk electricity of the cold winter air apparent as I left for North London to finish off some Christmas shopping in the Armoury prior to picking up the coach from Queensland Road-where we witnessed the filming for a road safety advert. With ice prominent and snow settling on the North London streets, one was put in mind of the potential banana skin that lay ahead at Turf Moor. Burnley have set their chances of survival against Stoke`s blueprint of last season to a certain extent, making home form their figurehead, with United and Everton already vanquished in Lancashire and Villa only able to pick up a solitary point. In the build up to the game, Arsene spoke of his side building on the win at Anfield and digging out a win on a tricky evening at battle hardened Burnley.
Predictably, the Clarets made a bright start and might have scored after four minutes. Wade Elliott`s right wing free kick caused confusion in the Arsenal area as Almunia came to collect but didn`t shout, causing Vermaelen to loop a header backwards towards his own goal with Almunia seemingly stranded, but the Spaniard made amends, shifting his feet excellently to claw the ball onto the cross bar. But the Gunners rode the early scare and moved into a 7th minute lead. The very impressive Abou Diaby found Fabregas on the edge of the area, Andre Bikey intercepted but then dithered in his own box, Cesc won the ball back before coolly pushing it into the corner to give the visitors the lead. Burnley looked positively shook with Arsenal pressing them all over the pitch and were there for the taking. Fabregas nearly added to his twelve goals this season a few moment s later, collecting Diaby`s pass whilst in forward momentum, he lifted the ball over Carlisle, chested down but volleyed into the side netting on his left foot. The home crowd were hushed and Arsenal should have been out of sight on fifteen minutes, Fabregas` low raking ball found Nasri; he cushioned the ball off to Arshavin who took one touch on the edge of the area before hitting a left foot shot across the goalkeeper but cannoned away off the post. Burnley were quaking and a ruthless instinct would have finished them off. Lamentably, Arsenal chose to let them dangle on the edge of the bait hook and let them back into the game.
Probably the most decisive moment of the game came when Cesc Fabregas clearly felt his hamstring and signalled to the bench to be taken off. The manager instructed him to try and run it off and it was this affliction that indirectly led to the goal. As Elliott and Jordan traded passes on Burnley`s left, Fabregas might well have intercepted the exchange but for a weak challenge in light of his ailment, the ball was tossed towards the onrushing Andre Bikey who was upended by a rash Thomas Vermaelen tackle in the area. It was an almost identical challenge to the one Gallas executed on Steven Gerrard in the area on Sunday. On this occasion, Mike Dean was not as generous as Howard Webb had been. Graham Alexander stepped up and lashed the penalty straight down the middle for the equaliser. Having let Burnley off the hook at 1-0, Arsenal had made the game difficult for themselves as a new vigour appeared in Burnley`s tackles, they suddenly began to close down with greater ferocity. That said, Arsenal might have moved back into the lead when a hobbling Fabregas split the defence with a slide rule pass to Arshavin who had manoeuvred into space, but Brian Jensen was out quickly to close down the angle and force the diminutive Russian to shoot straight at the Dane`s giant frame. Thereafter, Fabregas could continue no more and the dynamic of the game changed as a result. Jensen was again equal to an Arshavin strike when Silvestre had picked him out with a clever ball and Vermaelen powered a Nasri corner towards goal with his head only to see Jensen tip it over.
In the second half, Burnley sat their midfield slightly deeper and looked to play on the counter- a ploy they executed to a tee rabidly closing down any Arsenal player in possession and making chances a premium for the hungry visitors. Though we matched them for work rate, the sharpness in the final third had gone and without Fabregas providing the ammunition, the forwards were feeding on scraps. Walcott had a largely anonymous game on this occasion, his pace impotent against a deep defence. He did find one breakthrough in the 60th minute in front of the visiting support in the David Fishwick End, Alex Song evaded two challenges before picking out Nasri on the edge of the area, he shifted the ball right to Walcott in space, but the ball hit a bobble on a tricky surface and he skied his shot well over. The pointed chant of "Eduardo" that followed immediately after can only have harmed his confidence and suggests the honeymoon period has ended for Walcott. Burnley were still looking dangerous on the counter attack and when Chris Eagles motored past Nasri and Silvestre his shot looked goal bound but for the interception of the post. The home side had their tales up and Steve Fletcher should have done better when he controlled Elliott`s cross and turned in the box under little pressure only to sky his shot. This was not a game of the utmost quality, nor was it a technical masterpiece, but high octane and pulsating it most definitely was.
Burnley began to tire and Arsenal tried in vain to pick them off. Arshavin, now on the right of the attacking triumvirate, played a delightful through ball to Eduardo, but the Crozilian`s shattered confidence was in clear evidence as he approached the ball with all the vigour and purpose of a five year old boy trying to get the ball off his big brother in the garden, allowing Jensen to easily gather. I repeat, Arsene`s public assertion that he was definitely going to purchase a striker in January looks to have been an incredibly foolhardy move when one assesses the demeanours of Eduardo and Vela right now. It`s telling that the manager has been backtracking on that ill considered comment ever since. Burnley did have the ball in the net with ten minutes remaining, Alexander`s shot was parried by Almunia and Steve Fletcher tucked the rebound away only to be thwarted by an offside flag. I`m told that it was incorrect, for my part, the incident occurred at the other end of the field so I have no idea as to the validity of that claim. Arsenal picked their way through once more, Song finding Arshavin in the left channel, he cut the ball back into the six yard area with Jensen all at sea but once more Eduardo did not attack with verve and conviction, allowing Caldwell to clear.
In the dying minutes, William Gallas moved upfront and could so easily have won the game for Arsenal, Ramsey`s clipped ball over the top found Gallas in space in the penalty area, he needed a call from the nearby Eduardo to inform him of the time he had to control and shoot. Instead, Gallas headed tamely at Jensen, aware only in retrospect as to the time and space afforded him. In the end a point was probably a fair result against an incredibly dogged Burnley side who won`t give many teams change at Turf Moor. Arsenal`s big regret will be that they had Burnley cowering in a corner after twenty minutes but lacked the instinct and ruthlessness to kill them off. This lack of killer instinct is what separate champions from nearly men and one has to deduce that this sort of flakiness holds Arsenal back from the big honours. That said, Arsenal would have lost this game twelve months ago-particularly shorn of van Persie and Fabregas. In the end, it was the loss of the latter that probably prevented us from winning the game. We have taken four points from two very tough away assignments, but the feeling that we could have had more is palpable. Not the nest result in the world, but far from the worst.LD.
TEAM: 1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA, 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 18.SILVESTRE, 17.SONG, 2.DIABY, 4.FABREGAS(c) (16.Ramsey `42), 14.WALCOTT (9.Eduardo `64), 23.ARSHAVIN. Unused: 12.Vela, 19.Wilshere, 21.Fabianski, 27.Eboue, 38.Emmanuel Thomas.
Date:Thursday December 17 2009
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