Opinion: Arsenal inflict another defeat on Burnley, but the signs suggest the Clarets are finally adjusting
and live on Freeview channel 276
The Clarets have lost their last five league games, six in all competitions, and have taken a measly four points from their opening 12 Premier League fixtures.
It’s been abundantly clear for some time now that Burnley have struggled to acclimatise to the new level, the gap between the Championship and the top flight is arguably as big as it’s ever been.
But over the course of the last two games, despite a grand total of zero points being accumulated, the signs have been far more positive. Are Vincent Kompany’s men finally learning and making the necessary adjustments?
Against Crystal Palace, the performance couldn’t have been much better. They produced 17 shots on goal and enjoyed an element of control we’ve not witnessed since the end of last season.
But, in a season where everything that could have feasibly gone wrong has seemingly gone wrong, the Clarets somehow transpired to lose a game to a side that didn’t even attempt to score, never mind win the game. How Palace escaped with a 2-0 victory, I’ll never know.
Fast forward to this weekend’s daunting challenge against Arsenal, expectations were low. Clarets fans travelled down to North London in hope more than anything, but even then those hopes were slim.
While the result went about as we would have expected, the Gunners running out relatively comfortable 3-1 winners, the performance from Burnley was reassuringly mature.
That was the word Kompany picked out during his post-match press conference: mature. The description fits perfectly.
In taking on one of the league’s best sides, Burnley knew they couldn’t go toe-to-toe with them. As a newly-promoted side in this league you have to show some respect.
But Burnley were organised, they were tactically disciplined and they played with spirit. From open play, this was by far and away their best defensive display of the season. They kept to their shape, stuck to the low block and gave away very few, if any, basic errors resulting from taking too long on the ball, which has been a recurring theme of the season to date.
The first-half was going just about as well as anyone of a Burnley persuasion could have expected. They were holding out and frustrating the hosts, who saw plenty of the ball but weren’t doing a great deal with it. Dare I say it, the visitors looked relatively comfortable?
This wasn’t a rearguard defensive display which saw them offer no attacking threat whatsoever though, because that wasn’t the case at all. They caused Arsenal problems and had their moments, none more so than when Johann Gudmundsson went through on goal only to be denied by David Raya’s strong hand. It was arguably the clearest opportunity of the half for either side.
But what was most frustrating is that Burnley were unable to see out their half, with their resilience being broken in the final minute of normal time.
Not only that, it was a soft, soft goal to concede. Frustratingly so. A relatively routine cross into the box was won by Bukayo Saka of all people, heading back across the face of goal for Leandro Trossard to bundle home.
At this stage you’re half expecting the floodgates to open. But again, this wasn’t the case, because Burnley showed character and stuck to their game plan, getting their reward when Josh Brownhill’s low strike deflected beyond Raya and into the back of the net, much to the delight of the sold-out away end.
As if the timing of Arsenal’s first goal wasn’t frustrating enough, the second was even more maddening. Burnley were level for just three minutes.
Again, the nature of Arsenal’s second was the most frustrating aspect. The visitors failed to deal with a corner and William Saliba had the simplest of tasks heading home from barely a few yards out.
How can a centre-back, who, incidentally, was being marked by Zeki Amdouni of all people, have a free header so close to your goal? It’s inexcusable.
The Gunners never really looked back and subsequently added a third. Guess what? It came from another corner, Burnley’s achilles heel.
Dara O’Shea somehow managed to head the ball against his own bar before the ball was partially cleared to Oleksandr Zinchenko, who volleyed home with aplomb. And that was that.
Burnley enjoyed a late flurry of sorts when the hosts were rightfully reduced to 10 men for Fabio Vieira’s rash and crunching challenge on Brownhill, but by then it was too little, too late. Had there only been one goal in it, it would have made for a much more entertaining finish.
Time to assess
And so here we are, another defeat. That’s now 10 in 12. We all know where this is heading if it continues.
But this loss, coupled with last week’s, offer more hope at least. Perhaps it’s a case of clutching at straws, but you have to take the positives when you can.
Nevertheless, I’m confident Burnley are learning. They’re at least making a fist of games, rather than the opposition being out of sight within the opening half an hour. It might not sound like much progress, but it is. Baby steps.
Of course there will become a point where improved displays still won’t count for anything if the results don’t follow.
But I’m a lot more confident heading into the West Ham game on the return from the international break than I would have been two weeks ago. Now it’s time to get those points on the board.