Arsenal already have four away losses. How bad is that? To provide some context, in last year’s campaign, it took until March 4th in a losing effort against Liverpool, for the fourth loss away from The Emirates. As tumultuous as last year’s campaign was, the Gunners are four months ahead of schedule in the loss column on the road, a historically bad start.
How do we turn the corner from this? Luckily, our record at home has been excellent and has kept us in contention for a place in the top four.
For now, we sit in 6th *insert eye-roll* and face an away clash against Burnley. In recent years this match would have been a foregone conclusion as Arsenal have won their last six matches against Burnley, but this go around provides a different challenge. Arsenal are level with Burnley in the Premier League, only ahead by goal difference. Are they Arsenal quality? Of course not, but they are the “best of the rest” and on the road, can’t be taken for granted. We saw that happen against Watford and arguably against Stoke earlier this season.
Let’s start by giving Burnley some well deserved credit for their start to the Premier League season. Thus far Burnley have defeated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, while also drawing away to Tottenham and Liverpool. That is an impressive record for a “small” club that finished one spot above relegation just a few months back. Their most recent clash against a top six side was away to Man City where they lost 3-0, but with City’s form of late, 3-0 at the Etihad isn’t a shameful battering. Burnley have proved especially strong at Turf Moor, even going back to last year, including 10 wins, while only managing one victory away from home. In short, they won’t rollover and Arsenal need to be wary. Arsenal, and specifically Arsene Wenger, have a terrible habit of assuming quality and stature are enough to control games against weaker opponents. With four loses in the bag, casual approaches, especially on the road are no longer acceptable.
So, how do Arsenal approach this game? Our away record is dreadful and Burnley have proven to be a strong side, capable of competing and even defeating some of the league’s best teams. Fresh legs may prove to be the difference, but in two entirely different directions. The Arsenal first team last played Tottenham in a thumping win, which means they’ll come out and lay an egg come Sunday. Let’s hope not, but it wouldn’t be the first time. It’s important that the side takes the momentum and quality from their performance against Spurs and put that same intensity and energy into a match away from the Emirates against a “weaker” side. Top teams play every game like its win or die, Arsenal can’t accept a draw, let alone a loss if they hope to stay afloat in the race for top four. Obviously Burnley are doing something right to be 7th and contending with Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool.
How do the Gunners avoid a shock defeat, they must know who their up against. Burnely are one of the soundest defensive groups in the league, allowing a mere nine goals thus far. Their general defensive statistics are impressive. For starters, they block 35% of the shots they face, well over the league average of 27%. Perhaps even more worrying, they are almost never caught out, conceding fewer than 2% of their chances with one or fewer defenders back (OPTA). The league average is 14%! Don’t expect Arsenal to fly by their backline on the break, which can be worrying because Arsenal have a tendency to become “possession happy,” pass the ball about for the first 75 odd minutes and spend the final 15 scrambling to find a goal to avoid a scoreless draw. Burnley somehow allow the most shots on goal even with their other impressive statistics.
Ultimately, Arsenal are going to need quality shots from inside the 18 to avoid the fate of other Premier League sides. They need to continue with their lineup from last weekend’s victory. A Lacazette, Ozil, Sanchez trio at the top is an absolute must against a strong defensive side like this, with Giroud available off the bench if the aforementioned three can’t cope with Burnley’s physicality. Quickness will be key, perhaps not on the break as Burnley won’t risk throwing their defenders forward, but rather quickness in the final third and deadly finishing. Ozil showed his immense quality last weekend and has a great opportunity to shut down his critics once again. Burnley are very tough defensively, but lack a dynamic attack, creating the perfect opportunity for Ozil to focus on his offensive strengths. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey will also be called on to have top performances on both sides of the ball. Both will prove critical as they look to play through the lines and create real goal scoring opportunities.
One goal may prove to be enough for victory at Turf Moor and starting on the front foot is critical. Sanchez in particular has had an excellent record against Burnley in the past with four goals in his last five. If Arsenal come away with the win, they’ll have put in a performance with clinical finishing. Burnley offer plenty of chances, but rarely concede. Arsenal cannot take 20 shots, control 75% of possession, and still come away with nothing. Wenger must stress urgency and precision to his side throughout.
If the Gunners come out with intensity, play on the front foot and take their chances, the three points are all but certain.