Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Burnley at Turf Moor wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but sometimes you’ve got to gut ‘em out for the points. I actually think the Gunners put in a solid shift and would probably rate them higher than most would. The defense played quite well and the attack was nearly clicking. I like that Mikel Arteta chose an ambitious, attacking lineup, and I’m hopeful the cohesion will come with time.
I’ve got to talk about the defense first. Gabriel was absolutely massive today. I don’t think he put a foot wrong all match, and he matched Burnley’s physicality without giving away silly fouls. He’s the first name on the teamsheet for me. Aaron Ramsdale was similarly as good. If I’m remembering correctly, he only had to make one or two true saves, but that was mostly because he had such good command of the area that Burnley didn’t have many opportunities. It felt like every ball in the air into the penalty area, Ramsdale claimed. Takehiro Tomiyasu was quite good as well. He doesn’t get beat 1-v-1, he’s always in the right position to cut out passes, and he’s good in the air. Just an all-around solid defensive performance.
We’ve also got to talk about Ben White. He was surprisingly good in the air today given that “the book” on him is that he’s weak aerially. And his defending was mostly good. But boy was he poor on the ball. He had several loose touches, hospital balls, and giveaways that put his teammates under undue pressure. And he would have been responsible for a penalty had Ramsdale not timed his challenge well and VAR correctly overturned the call. I think White’s biggest issue is awareness, which is tied to decisionmaking. He seems uncomfortable and unsure where he’s meant to go with and without the ball. Hopefully that’s down to settling into a new system with new teammates. It’s concerning.
Kieran Tierney, who came off with cramp, also didn’t have his best performance. He was fine, but his passing wasn’t up to his usual standard — a lot of “hit and hope” balls instead of getting his head up and picking out a teammate. He does that every few matches. I’m not terribly worried about it; it’s just what you get with him.
Martin Ødegaard was magnificent today, especially in the first half. As I’ve said before about him, he does the little things so well — first touch to take the ball away from pressure, picking the right pass — that it makes the game look easy and can often go unnoticed. He’ll also try to hit the high-risk, high-reward ball, which sometimes doesn’t come off. But you take those because when they do connect, it’s a chance on goal. And what an incredible free kick that proved the match-winner.
The rest of Arsenal’s attackers — Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Nicolas Pépé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, weren’t as good. Emile Smith Rowe was invisible in the first half and only influential for about 15 minutes to start the second. Whatever role Mikel Arteta had him in today isn’t one conducive to maximizing his involvement and success. Going forward, one of the biggest challenges for the manager is figuring out how to get Ødegaard and Smith Rowe on the pitch together in a way that plays to both of their strengths.
The other attackers all had a few too many loose touches / poor final balls, especially in the final third. Some of the stats websites have Burnley out-xG-ing Arsenal today, which is largely down to the Gunners inability to connect in the final third. Bukayo Saka had two or three uncharacteristically poor touches in the box that saw the ball run harmlessly away from him. And the entire team had a case of woefully underhitting passes forcing teammates to either slow down or go wide to collect them. I wonder if the pitch quality had anything to do with that.
Thomas Partey, Kieran Tierney, and Emile Smith Rowe were all forced off early, hopefully just because of cramp / exhaustion and not anything more serious. I’m most concerned about ESR who seemed pick up a bit of a knock. Their replacements, Sambi Lokonga, Nuno Tavares, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were all quite good in relief, especially AMN. He showed composure and strength on the ball that has been lacking from his recent performances.
Arsenal are still very much a work in progress. They’re the third youngest team in the Premier League and the youngest non-promoted team. I’m quite pleased that the defense looks to be getting back to the solid unit it was last season, and I can see that the ideas in the attack are getting better. With improved technical quality, Arsenal will start generating more chances and hopefully scoring more goals. Things are moving in the right direction, and it’s good to be winning matches while developing and progressing.