Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Burnley 0 Arsenal 1

Arsenal's battling performance on Saturday night was a stark contrast from the previous week's slick passing and fluid movements against Liverpool, but the three points were equally important for the Gunners to ensure that they would remain second for another week on the eve of a Manchester derby. As the 1-0 victory at Turf Moor extended our winning streak to eight consecutive league wins, a feat that no other team have achieved this season in England's top flight, it may have been an even more significant win than the defeat of the top-four rivals a week ago. It was another bonus that we came through such a physically fierce contest without any injury to our players.

Arsene Wenger named the same starting XI who faced Liverpool last Saturday. Laurent Koscielny was passed fit after shrugging off a thigh problem, while Aaron Ramsey also overcame a knock he picked up during the Liverpool game to make his 150th Premier League appearance. Incidentally, this was also Santi Cazorla's 100th Premier League game. Wojciech Szczesny returned to the bench after recovering a rib (or hip, according to injury, but Gabriel missed out on the trip to the North West due to illness. Calum Chambers replaced the Brazilian defender on the bench. The remaining places on the bench were occupied by Kieran Gibbs, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott, and Danny Welbeck. Those players who had just made their return from injury were all left home. Roy Hodgson was spotted on the stand, but he would have been disappointed if he had been there to watch Arsenal's England players in action as none of our England internationals were included in the starting line-up. However, with Gareth Southgate sitting alongside with him, the England senior national team coach's aim might have been to check an England U-21 international, Danny Ing's progress.

Arsenal started brightly and controlled the large part of the first half after taking the early lead through Ramsey's 11th-minute strike. The build-up to the goal was instigated by Francis Coquelin's interception. Arsenal turned defence into attack quickly. The French holding midfielder's pass found Alexis on the edge of the area, whose effort was blocked, but fell to Özil on the left side of the area. The German playmaker's fierce shot was denied by Heaton, but the rebound fell to Alexis, whose effort bounced off two defenders. Ramsey fired the loose ball into the roof of the net. It was a rather scrappy goal by Arsenal's standards, but the main thing was we made sure that we took our chance.

The hosts began the second half on the front foot. As long as the scoreline stayed 1-0, we never felt totally comfortable, especially with Mike Dean in charge, who could give a big decision against us at any time of the game. Although defensive fragility seems to be the thing of the past these days, in a tight game like this, that blunder between Koscielny and Szczesny in the League Cup final still came back to our memories.

However, Arsene Wenger's men held on to their narrow lead. We could have lost this kind of game in the past, an away from home up north against a physical side on a cold Saturday night. In fact, according to Rambo in his post-match interview, the Gunners "felt pretty comfortable defending", although he admitted that this was one of their tougher games. Such was the progress that this side have made in the past years. Arsenal defended the slim lead by dominating in possession. Despite occasional threats from the home side, Arsenal commanded an impressive 69% possession. The Gunners have won games with a variety of game plans and tactics this season, including the most notable example against Man City, and their performance on this night added to those variations. They defended well without conceding possession.

The man behind Arsenal's gritty performance this night was Francis Coquelin without doubt. In fact, the French holding midfielder is the integral part of the north London club's impressive run of form in 2015. The media opinions were split regarding the identification of the Man of the Match. Sky Sports and the Mail on Sunday named Aaron Ramsey their MOTM, while gave Alexis Sanchez their highest rating of 8.42, hence the Chilean being their MOTM. However, Arsenal named Coquelin their fans' chosen MOTM. It's good to see the French midfielder's quiet work finally recognised officially in that way. 

There was little attacking flair but it was a professional performance from the Gunners. They were patient, disciplined and kept their calm. The 1-0 victory over a battling Burnley side saw us further strengthen our prospect of next season's Champions League football. Moreover, we are now 12 points clear of Tottenham thanks to their shock defeat to Aston Villa at White Hart Lane earlier on Saturday. The eighth straight win in the Premier League confirmed that Arsenal are officially the most in-form club in Europe. This only boosts their confidence, going into the FA semi-final against Reading this weekend. With their strong record against lower-division teams and top flight's bottom-table sides this season, we don't think complacency is a problem for this team.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
Not hugely tested, but made a couple of good saves to deny Vokes and Trippier.

Bellerin: 6

After last week's stunning attacking performance, this game tested his defensive prowess. Did OK. He was probably told not to bomb forward and followed the instruction.

Metesacker: 7
Solid. Made 1 tackle, 3 interceptions, and 12 clearances.

Koscielny: 7
Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 10 clearances.

Monreal: 7

Reassuring performance. Made 5 tackles, 1 interception and 4 clearances. His improvement this season is impressive, totally keeping Gibbs away from the starting line-up.

Coquelin: 8
He was immense, with 2 tackles and an amazing 11 interceptions. Snuffed out any danger in front of the back four. His passing was good, including 2 key passes with a 85.7% accuracy.

Cazorla: 7

Unlucky not to score from a free-kick, which narrowly missed the target. He made more passes (83) than any player on the pitch with an impressive 92.8% passing completion rate.

Ramsey: 7
Scored his 9th goal of the season (in all competition). He got in great positions and one of those occasions provided the goal for him. He was also in an ideal position when Özil's perfect pass found him 10 yard from goal, but he decided to take a touch, which gave Ben Mee a time to block his effort. We were surprised with him not volleying instead because he would have done so last season when he was top of his form. 

Özil: 7
Quiet game, but still created 4 chances for his team-mates. Not getting bullied in this sort of game may be a sign of his adaptation. Made 1 tackle and 1 interception. Covered 11.6 km, only second to Aaron Ramsey's 12.4 km among Arsenal players.

Alexis: 7
Worked hard, making 3 tackles and 3 interceptions. Had 6 shots, 3 of which were on target.

Giroud: 6
Tightly marked by Burnley's two defenders constantly and didn't get much joy going forward. Still won 5 aerial duels and contributed to the team by occupying two defenders all the time. Only had 48 touches before he was replaced by Welbeck in the 81st minute. It's good that we can win a game even when our in-form striker does not score, which is the difference to Tottenham at the moment. It is encouraging that somebody else can score a decisive goal even when the main striker doesn't get enough service, while the team can keep the clean sheet.


Welbeck: 6
Replaced Giroud in the 81st minute. Made an immediate impact, offering something different to Giroud, but missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 by shooting wide from 
Özil's pass.

Chambers: N/A
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in stoppage time. Totally pointless change when we wanted to wrap up the game as soon as possible. Had only 3 touches.

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