Tally another one in the “I need more than a few deep breaths and probably a stiff drink” column for Arsenal. Today’s 1-1 draw at Burnley definitely qualifies. It had everything. Arsenal gifting their opponents a goal. Arsenal dominant but fluffing chances. Arsenal looking unable to hold the ball against a crap team. Arsenal getting the wrong end of a call. Just hit all the right notes of a “tell me why, again, I choose to put myself through this” match.
Arsenal’s first goal on the day was lovely. Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka worked a great 1-2 to break the press with Partey’s ability to create space with a little shimmy particularly noteworthy. He then progressed the ball quickly up the pitch to Willian, who found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The striker then did unspeakable things to Matt Lowton with a stepover and found the bottom corner at the near post to give the Gunners and early lead.
Arsenal looked firmly in control of the match for most of the first half but couldn’t find a second goal. The best chance fell to Bukayo Saka, but he fired wide on one that he clearly expected himself to score, judging by his own reaction. The Gunners managed a few other half-chances and almost chances to no avail.
And then in typical Arsenal fashion, they gifted Burnley a goal to even the match. I swear, it’s as if the Gunners are looking for new and more disappointing ways to give away goals. Bernd Leno never should have played the ball into Granit Xhaka. Granit Xhaka never should have taken a touch; he should have played it first time either back to Leno or wide to David Luiz. And Xhaka should never have tried to curl a ball around Chris Wood with his weaker right foot.
Just a comedy of errors all around. Just hoof it up the pitch. Or hoof it into touch. Stop giving it away in horrendously bad positions.
Arsenal came out flat in the second half and pretty much wasted 25-plus minutes of time in which they could have been getting back on top. Burnley actually had the better chances, and it took two very good saves from Bernd Leno to keep the match level.
But bringing on Nicolas Pépé made a massive difference. Pépé should have earned a penalty for Arsenal, but somehow, on an incident that everybody who has ever kicked a football looks at and says “yeap, penalty” the two people that matter, Andre Marriner and Kevin Friend the VAR, said no. Pépé also fluffed a sitter and had one deflected onto the crossbar. The deflected shot was initially called a hand ball and straight red for Erik Pieters but was correctly rescinded by VAR. I guess VAR only works correctly when it’s to Arsenal’s detriment.
The Gunners also hit a post in added time through Dani Ceballos. And it probably wouldn’t have mattered, but they weren’t allowed to take a corner at the death even though referee custom is to let the corner happen. To be clear, in that situation, the referee does not have to allow one second beyond the added time, but generally they do allow attacking moves, free kicks, and corners to run their course before blowing for fulltime.
Arsenal did enough to win today. Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pépé missed really good chances. They hit a crossbar and a post. And they should have had a penalty. Could they have created more? Yes. If they had scored another would it have made it so the Leno-Xhaka mistake and the penalty non-call? Yes.
But still, miss me with this “you make your own luck” garbage. The fact of the matter remains that Arsenal were not given a penalty that they almost certainly should have been given. Penalties change games. Arsenal were denied a game-changing moment through a referee mistake. It’s not unreasonable to expect referees to do their job and get calls right. And as an aside, isn’t doing enough to earn a penalty “making your own luck” anyway?
But we can’t control the referees, we can only hope they do their job right. What we can “control” is Arsenal and Mikel Arteta’s squad selection. And I think he got it wrong, again, today. The caveat to all of this is I don’t know how much the upcoming Europa League match influenced any of the decisions, and if it did, fair play. The Europa League is Arsenal’s only realistic chance to get back to the Champions League next season, so decisions that prioritize winning the EL are okay in my mind. You’d like to be able to make those decisions AND beat teams like Burnley, but it is what it is.
Anyway. I don’t like taking off Martin Ødegaard early in the second half. Arsenal struggled to control the ball after he came off, especially in the attacking half of the field, and that was a big reason why. I would have much preferred to see Alexandre Lacazette replace Willian and push Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wide.
Arteta also should have brought Nicolas Pépé on sooner. Generally, I just don’t get his usage from Mikel Arteta. I know that Arteta believes Willian better in tight spaces and for ball retention, but I just don’t understand how Willian, who had another mediocre at best performance today, keeps getting playing time. Willian just doesn’t offer as much as Pépé does, full stop. Additionally, Pépé has been playing really well over the last month or so. He’s consistently among Arsenal’s most dangerous players on the pitch and is regularly creating chances. Hasn’t he earned his playing time with his performances?
It looked like Thomas Partey is still working his way back into form / fitness. He had a very good first half and a not so good second. I thought Pablo Mari was solid, as he usually is. And shout out to Calum Chambers for a solid performance in his first Premier League start since tearing his ACL against Chelsea in late December 2019.
Bleh. This one leaves a real sour taste in the mouth. Not much to be done other than move onto the next one. Olympiacos in the Europa League on Thursday. It’s a big one.