Another day, another Arsenal draw — thirteen on the season now. Only Norwich (4) and Watford (5) have fewer wins than the Gunners (6) this season. The club has its lowest points total after 25 Premier League matches in decades. Things are bleak.
Bleak is how many would describe Arsenal’s performance today away to Burnley. The Gunners mustered only two shots on target all match and looked out of sorts structurally and tactically for large swaths of the game. Burnley had the better of the chances, especially in the second half. But for Jay Rodriguez somehow volleying into the crossbar at precisely the correct angle for the ball to bounce straight down with no spin whatsoever and miraculously stay out, Arsenal would have lost 1-0. Overall, it was not a great performance.
But I’m choosing to see today’s match a little differently.
Arsenal were by far the better team for the opening 20-25 minutes. They should have gone ahead in the first five minutes, but somehow Alexandre Lacazette went wide on an uncontested header taken from 10 yards out in the dead center of the area (more on him in a bit). Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were eviscerating Burnley down the left side, and the Gunners were repeatedly getting dangerous service from the pair.
A few hard fouls on Saka later, combined with a particularly nasty one in the opening five minutes of the match, and the left back was hurt. He stayed on through halftime, but his mobility was limited. He wasn’t able to get into the attack at all. And the match turned.
It’s how Burnley play. It’s how they have played under Sean Dyche for years. They play a physical, fouling style that is designed, to put it charitably, to wear down the opponent. That “wearing down” sometimes injures opposing players. Saka was not the only Arsenal man limping around the pitch after being on the receiving end of a borderline challenge.
But Mikel Arteta and Arsenal knew that and should have been prepared for it. Saka getting hurt doesn’t excuse the performance after he went down, and it doesn’t excuse Arteta not having a Plan B. But it does explain the progression of the match in a different, possibly fairer way than most would use.
Arteta is going to make mistakes as a first-year, first-time manager. Just like players have bad games, he’s going to have bad games. Today was one of them. He set the team up well but wasn’t able to adjust when things went wrong. He left Alexandre Lacazette on the pitch for far too long and didn’t bring Nicolas Pépé on at all.
There’s not much more to be said about Lacazette. He needs to be dropped from the starting lineup. His slump is starting to slump. Striker form is a tricky thing to manage. You’d like to give guys the opportunity to play their way back into form, but at what cost to the team? His lack of production is really hurting Arsenal.
And on Pépé, Arteta is not the first manager to suggest he needs to do more in training. If that truly is the case, I’m in the manager’s corner. If you’re not working hard and doing what the manager wants in training, you shouldn’t play. So maybe leaving him on the bench wasn’t a mistake, per se, from Arteta.
Today’s match was one that Arsenal probably would have lost in seasons past, so credit to the defense for preserving the point. Bernd Leno made the saves he had to, and David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi both had strong games. I was impressed with how consistently they contested Burnley in the air and matched the home side’s physicality. Some of the credit probably belongs to Arteta; the defense has dramatically improved since he took over.
If Arsenal start scoring, the draws will start turning into wins. They’ve got a two week break with some warm weather training in Dubai to sort it out.