Arsenal comes into the match at Turf Moor on a real high with a 2-0 win over North London rivals Tottenham, displaying the attacking swagger and defensive steel known to be within this Arsene Wenger team. Matches between Burnley and Arsenal have always been scrappy affairs with the previous two ending in some controversy in extra time but this is not a typical Burnley side. Sean Dyche, finally reverting to a 4-3-3 that he tinkered with last season, has Burnley playing with real physicality and the addition of Robbie Brady has added a level of creativity that has not existed. This is a game that can propel Arsenal forward or undo all the good that came from the North London Derby win.
Arsenal: Cech; Monreal, Mustafi, Koscielny; Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Bellerin; Sanchez, Lacazette (Welbeck), Iwobi (Wilshere)
Burnley: Pope; Ward, Mee, Tarkowski, Lowton; Brady, Cork, Defour (Wood), Gudmundsson; Hendrick, Barnes
Arsenal’s initial ball progression followed usual patterns seen throughout the season. The first line of buildup attempted to create 3v2 overloads in the central areas with the wing backs stretching their position and the number 6 rotating their position horizontally to allow easy access. With Ramsey instructed to play further forward on the assumption that Burnley would concede possession, Koscielny and Monreal had several options at different depths to establish vertical threat.
On their best day, Arsenal can pick apart teams with the ruthless precision of a well-seasoned surgeon. On their worst days, as it was in the early parts of the Burnley match, they can lack intensity and focus in both phases of the game. Pressing actions lacked the cohesiveness we saw in the North London Derby; with only the three forwards and Ramsey somewhat committed to counterpressing, Burnley easily bypassed Arsenal’s first line of defence to access the central zone.
While Arsenal lacked real intensity, Burnley more than made up for it with an aggressiveness in the final third and being physical on the ball carrier. At times Arsenal leveraged their tendency to hard-press by playing quick vertical passes between the lines with Alex Iwobi proving a capable outlet. Other times, Burnley’s approach caused Arsenal to rush their ball progression, leading to careless passes and lost possession. Sean Dyche obviously instructed his team to increase their tempo as Arsenal have shown that they can struggle with teams that are aggressive in their behaviour. While they did struggle, especially in the final third, Arsenal was better than they had been in the past.
Burnley enjoyed considerable attacking threat on the right flank as well with Gudmundsson and Defour given space to play several diagonal crosses into the box. Gudmundsson, in particular, caused Arsenal some problems as his intensity, skill on the ball, and instructions to vary the depth of his availability forced some miscommunication on the left side of the defense. He had several moments where Burnley was able to circulate the ball quickly around Kolasinac and give Gudmundsson access to the half-space near Monreal. Gudmundsson’s chance in the 15th minute came from Burnley able to penetrate Arsenal’s defense easily and Gudmundsson’s ability to get on the wrong-side of Monreal and hit the post.
After the break, Arsenal was given more space in the first phase of buildup as Burnley sat deeper in a low block to choke access into their own box. Burnley let Arsenal move the ball horizontally as they tried to diversify the direction of their attack but once any vertical progression occurred, Burnley would press from multiple angles. They were able to create several counterattacking threats down the right side but amounted to little.
Arsenal made some minor adjustments as Burnley sat deeper with Kolasinac given greater freedom to cut inside into more advanced areas. He had several moments of real attacking clarity with diagonal dribbles deep into Burnley territory but his lack of vision in this game led to missed opportunities. Wenger tried to add more creativity in Arsenal’s attacking options with the introduction of Jack Wilshere for Alex Iwobi, with the England international sitting deeper alongside Xhaka to aid in dictating the tempo of Arsenal’s progression. There were moments where Arsenal was dangerous, especially when Ramsey or Wilshere drove vertically from deeper positions. Their ability to create tight overloads and move the ball with quick one-twos found gaps in Burnley’s defence as they tried to press collectively. Wilshere’s chance in the 80th minute came from such an opportunity.
Alexis Sanchez: Jekyll and Hyde
Alexis Sanchez is a confounding player. The Chilean oozes world-class quality: his close-ball control, dribbling ability that only a South American could have, and unwavering desire to win at all costs has endured him with fans since his times at Udinese. In this way, he is the pure template of the South American attacking forward.
Yet, in any game that requires some type of collective cohesion, the inclusion of Sanchez can lead to cascading effects across the pitch. It is his individual desire to press forward that can force him to ball chase or pass the ball carelessly into the teeth of the defence. Against Burnley, we saw everything that Sanchez can offer. He tried to vary Arsenal’s attacking approach with tight vertical passes or long diagonals that were either ill-timed or forced. Having a pass completion rate of 67.8% on 59 passes doesn’t instil much confidence. However, he created the most chances (4) and has a gravitational force that only the most dangerous attackers can have. He used that ability at times against Burnley and he should do that more as Kolasinac clearly benefits from the openness on the flank such movements provide. That he coolly slotted away the penalty stupidly given by James Tarkowski (that push was unnecessary) showed that he can produce moments of magic when needed. While he hasn’t been in the best of forms lately, when he is on his game, there is no one who comes close to his ability and swagger.