Arsenal 0,Burnley 0: Chris Boden's thoughts on a much-improved performance

It was the youngest side in the Premier League versus the oldest.

By Chris Boden
Monday, 24th January 2022, 10:24 am
Erik Pieters stays close to Bukayo Saka
Erik Pieters stays close to Bukayo Saka

And Sean Dyche’s street fighters proved too streetwise for Mikel Arteta’s blooming Gunners to claim what could be a precious point.

Dyche had spoken to his players before the game about “getting back to doing the basics really well”, and they responded with a performance a far cry from their last league outing.

After the 3-1 reverse at Leeds at the turn of the New Year, Dyche had admitted: “They had the edge against us with that desire.”

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It was a most un-Burnley like display at Elland Road, even in a challenging season.

But they were back to their old selves in a defensive sense, putting bodies on the line, and having that “thou shalt not pass” mentality.

No one summed that up more than captain Ben Mee, who celebrated 10 years since completing a permanent move to Turf Moor in the week.

The skipper led by example at the Emirates, that blond head rising to head the ball away time and again.

The Gunners put 23 crosses in the Burnley box, and only two found an Arsenal player, as Mee, and James Tarkowski alongside him, dominated aerially.

And when the Clarets were beaten on the deck, by pace or fluid one-touch passing, Nick Pope was there, making two crucial stops, the first from Martin Odegaard from an offside-looking Emile Smith Rose’s pull back, before a quite brilliant strong hand to deny Smith Rowe from a clever corner routine.

In front of Pope, Erik Pieters came in for a rare start in the absence of Charlie Taylor, and again underlined what a terrific professional he is.

Having had little time on the training ground after Covid, the Dutchman slotted in and stuck to his task of picking up Bukayo Saka manfully.

Beaten by sheer speed on a couple of occasions in the first half, he kept his composure and ended up frustrating the young England star with a dogged display, never giving him a moment’s peace.

It was almost a year to the day when he came on for the last half hour of the famous win at Anfield, again replacing the injured Taylor, when his instructions were, basically, 'see that Salah fella, just try and stop him'. And stop him he did.

An unsung hero, Pieters never moans about his lack of game time and gives his all whenever called upon - the consummate squad man, who has never let the club down.

On the other side, Connor Roberts could be pleased with his first Premier League start for the club, up against Gabriel Martinelli, who Jurgen Klopp raved about in the week after he gave Trent Alexander-Arnold a difficult night in the Carabao Cup, saying: “Martinelli by the way, everybody should remember that name because he's an outstanding player.”

Roberts reduced the Brazilian to a peripheral role, forcing him inside, where he all too often stood up crosses that were meat and drink for the Burnley back four.

Burnley’s defensive effort was about the whole side, working within the framework, grafting from the front, with Jay Rodriguez, and Matej Vydra in particular, pressing well, while Aaron Lennon was nuisance value, buzzing around on the right, and Dwight McNeil was as impressive as he has been for some time on the ball, particularly late on when two counter attacks could have snatched an unlikely win.

Ashley Westwood and Josh Brownhill were both booked in the first half but kept their discipline, both in terms of their challenges and tactically, outnumbered as they so often are by a midfield three.

Brownhill's yellow card, however, will keep him out of the next game at home to Watford.

Burnley were just short of that extra bit of quality on the ball - showing tantalisingly where they remain short with just over a week of the transfer window remaining.

There are, as Dyche often says, not that far away. A couple of astute signings, and the return of Maxwel Cornet from the Africa Cup of Nations, could be the shot in the arm this team needs, especially given their next game is a critical one.

This performance, however, suggests all is certainly not lost in the survival battle, although the Clarets have to find a way to turn some very good draws into wins - most of them away from home - and rediscover the winning formula at Turf Moor, where home form will be vital, especially given four of the five games in hand Burnley have in hand on some sides are in front of their own supporters.

But at least; after a weekend where they saw both Norwich and Newcastle win, they showed they are very much alive and kicking.

This was, as Dyche said, a “building block”.

All too often this season Burnley have laid one in place, only to struggle to add to that foundation.

They quite simply have to, moving forward, if they are to claw their way out of danger.

That will be tough, especially as Manchester United and Liverpool follow the Hornets at Turf Moor.

There are fixtures following those 'free hits', though, against the likes of Brighton, Crystal Palace, Brentford - who must be a side the Clarets can target to drag into trouble - and Southampton, where Burnley have to pick up points.

Whatever happens, the supporters will, at least, accept whatever fate lies ahead, providing the level of commitment and desire not to be beaten remains the same as at the Emirates.