LONDON — After the draw with Tottenham at the end of September, Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta suggested his team conceded too many goals at home and were getting swept along with the emotion of the Emirates crowd.
His words were clearly heeded by his young team and despite conceding their first goal on home soil since Sept. 24, Arsenal proved their growing maturity to bounce back quickly from Josh Brownhill’s equaliser on Saturday and maintain their title challenge.
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Heading into this game, Arsenal were unbeaten in 37 home league matches against newly promoted opposition — a run that stretches back to 2010 — so it was perhaps unlikely that Vincent Kompany’s struggling Burnley team would pose too many problems for Arteta’s side here. And it eventually proved as goals from Leandro Trossard, William Saliba and Oleksandr Zinchenko gave Arsenal a commanding 3-1 win.
The issue for Arteta this season remains the same though, with Kai Havertz’s indecisiveness in possession continuing to look out of place alongside the razor-sharp movement of his teammates. It was no coincidence that he was absent from the build-up that led to Trossard’s opener. It also seemed significant that Arteta took the opportunity to quietly remove Havertz from proceedings as the home fans celebrated Saliba’s goal in the 57th minute.
However, Havertz’s replacement didn’t fare too much better with Fabio Vieira being shown a straight red card for scarping his studs across Brownhill’s knee as both players contested a loose ball in the game’s closing stages. Bukayo Saka, who was fit enough to play despite hobbling off in midweek, was exceptional as he stretched and probed the Burnley back line. Arteta never misses an opportunity to pick Saka but he was back to his best after experiencing the first difficult spell of his nascent career during the past few weeks.
Arsenal are a slightly different beast so far this season, with Arteta opting to exert more control over matches instead of unleashing his team on the opposition in the thrilling style that proved so successful last season. Declan Rice’s arrival has been pivotal to that tweak in style and he showed his value when Arsenal went down to 10 men as he marshalled the Arsenal midfield alongside the experienced Jorginho for the remaining minutes after Vieira’s red card.
“Really happy with the result but especially the performance after playing in 72 hours with the last three games,” Arteta said.
“How we played against Newcastle, how we play against Sevilla, how we played today, how dominant we were against teams. That is very difficult to dominate the amount of situations that we generated. I think we fully decided to win the game.”
Goalkeeping loyalties are a hot topic in this corner of north London but it’s not just Arteta whose preference for a certain shot-stopper has been questioned of late. James Trafford’s performances since arriving at Burnley in a £19 million deal last summer have led to calls for the previous No. 1, Aro Muric to be reinstated between the posts for Kompany’s team.
Trafford, though, made his case with an outstanding reflex save midway through the first half to deny Saka after the Arsenal winger found a yard of space in the penalty area. Kompany’s tactics and devotion to playing football his way in Burnley’s first season back in the Premier League have been described as naïve by outsiders but they were far more compact at the Emirates with two defenders doubling up on Saka and Gabriel Martinelli whenever they had the ball in wide positions.
Arsenal’s problems were exacerbated by the fact that Burnley’s tactics continually left Havertz as the spare man whenever they went forward. The Germany international consistently found a way to blunt Arsenal’s surges upfield, most glaringly when he wasted a three-on-two counterattack in his team’s favour with a weak pass to Trossard that halted all momentum. Judging by the howls of derision from the home crowd, it’s fair to say that the Arsenal fans’ patience with their new forward is wearing thin.
But Burnley’s resistance was finally broken on the cusp of half-time when Trossard bravely bundled the ball over the line to score Arsenal’s 1000th goal at the Emirates since its opening in 2006. His commitment to the cause was underlined by him colliding nastily with the post in the process of scoring after Saka headed Zinchenko’s cross invitingly back across goal.
Burnley got themselves level after the dangerous Luca Koleosho got the better of Takehiro Tomiyasu inside the Arsenal box, with the Burnley winger’s cutback eventually falling to Brownhill who saw his shot deflect into David Raya’s goal. Arsenal hit back just three minutes later when Saliba rose highest in the box to head home Trossard’s corner from a few yards out. Zinchenko took the game beyond Burnley with his best impression of Paulo Di Canio’s iconic goal for West Ham against Wimbledon in 2000 as Burnley were again undone from a set piece.
Despite their man advantage in the game’s closing stages, there seemed little threat of a late comeback from the away side. No team in the division has scored fewer goals than Burnley’s nine. The absence of top scorer Lyle Foster, who is in the care of specialists after a recurrence of a mental health issue, is a loss for Kompany.
“These types of games, we always say you need a little bit of luck and that’s the shame because that moment I thought was the red card in the last 10 minutes,” Kompany said.
“Sometimes that’s enough if you are 2-1 down or 1-1… All of a sudden there’s a little bit more in this game. You need to be perfect in everything you’re going to do and we were perfect in most things, but then obviously set plays is a big part of it and today it costs us against a very good side. The first promotion up… It’s pretty ruthless.”
As former protégés of the Premier League’s main antagonist and patriarch, Pep Guardiola, Arteta and Kompany are certain to be among the candidates for what is currently the top job in English football once the Manchester City boss chooses to step away.
Kompany, who prowled the Emirates touchline here in his Kendall Roy-esque ‘quiet luxury’ winter coat and baseball hat combo, was the coming man having transformed Burnley into a modern and vibrant attacking force who won the Championship with ease last season. Kompany’s status as Guardiola’s ‘number one boy’ was evident back in March when the City boss said it was “written in the stars” that the club’s former captain would one day be offered the manager’s job.
But Burnley’s recent struggles have caused Kompany’s star to fade and his contemporaries, such as Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi, are now feeling the warm glow of Guardiola’s affections. Arteta spent three years as Guardiola’s assistant at City and seemed destined to succeed him before choosing to take over at Arsenal in 2019 — a decision that Guardiola has alluded to as being born out of impatience on his compatriots’ behalf.
Indeed, with Arsenal continuing to challenge City at the top of the table, it is unlikely that Arteta would even be tempted by an offer from his former employers. Based on the evidence of the past 18 months, he is busy trying to create a dynasty of his own.