In their last league match of the season, Arsenal beat Burnley 3-1, ending their domestic campaign on a high note.
The only starter on the pitch other than Bernd Leno—who presumably won’t be starting the Europa League final—was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had a chance to catch Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah for the golden boot. Everyone else was from either the bench or the academy, with Dinos Mavropanos and Joe Willock getting valuable game time for themselves and giving the eventual EL lineup valuable rest.
Arsenal hit the frame of the goal on a set piece just three minutes into the game—Aubameyang bounced one off of the crossbar, still getting warmed up for his golden boot challenge. This might have been the game to give Eddie Nketiah a start, but with more than two weeks until the Europa League final, Unai Emery could afford to give Auba a shot at the award.
The only bit of real excitement in the first half was a bizarre yellow card shown to Ashley Barnes in minute 22. The caution probably should have gone to Leno, who had run straight through the back of Barnes on his way to taking a goal kick, but Mike Dean and his assistants either didn’t see or didn’t feel like doing anything, and Dean showed the card to Barnes, who was doing the most yelling afterward, about thirty seconds later.
Burnley were understandably miffed after that, and after hitting the post themselves, they had two more chances, one foiled by a pile-up on Arsenal’s penalty spot, and another by Shkodran Mustafi, who managed to whack the ball away.
Emery was forced into playing another starter with twelve minutes to go in the half—Mavropanos had come out of the penalty box scrum in bad shape, and Laurent Koscielny took his place.
The second half began with Alex Iwobi hitting a long free kick straight to Burnley keeper Tom Heaton, and Kos knocking over an advertising board at the other end of the pitch. With no changes at halftime, we might have been in for another goalless 45 minutes of football—but Auba was on the pitch, and when he got an open look at the goal after a sloppy Burnley touch, he didn’t miss. It was his 21st goal in the Premier League this season and his 30th in all competitions.
Leno was evidently using the meaningless end-of-season game to moonlight as a center back, spending an unnerving amount of time off of his line, hassling Burnley attackers at the edge of the box—which turned out to be fine, because Auba doubled the Gunners’ score in the 63rd minute, bringing his own tally up to 22. Iwobi lofted a pass over Burnley’s line of defenders and Auba hit it on the volley, powering it past Heaton before the keeper could get in the way.
Burnley got one back two minutes later, despite Leno actually staying in front of his goal this time. After several sequences of sloppy Arsenal defending, Barnes found himself on the end of a cross from Johann Berg Gudmundsson, and from only a yard or two out, it was a simple header to get his team on the scoresheet.
Aubameyang had a chance to complete his hat trick with seventeen minutes to go, but he poked his sliding shot wide of the goal. That would turn out to be Auba’s last chance, but Nketiah, who had come on in place of Willock, scored Arsenal’s third with seconds to go in extra time. His shot from short range pinballed off of each of Heaton’s feet before rolling into the net for Eddie’s first Premier League goal—hopefully the first of many.
As was expected at the beginning of today’s game, Arsenal have finished 5th in the league, behind Tottenham and ahead of Manchester United, who fell to 6th after losing to Cardiff at Old Trafford. Aubameyang ended his league season tied with Salah and Sadio Mane in the golden boot race, and he received his award directly after the match. Mavropanos didn’t get much opportunity to show off, but Willock had a good game, including a legitimate chance at the end of the first half, and Nketiah, of course, had his goal at the end of the match.
Arsenal’s league season is over, but they have one more game to play before the summer break—the Europa League final is on May 29th.