Burnley held Arsenal to a draw at Turf Moor on Wednesday as Arsenal once again failed to convince they possess the consistency to be genuine title challengers. The game started in a lively fashion – Cesc Fabregas had an early chance after a mistake from Tyrone Mears before his shot was cleared by Clarke Carlisle. A few minutes later, Thomas Vermaelen’s wayward header forced Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia to test his agility as he tipped the ball on to the bar. The away side pushed forward in typical Gunners fashion and the deadlock was broken in the seventh minute when captain Fabregas took advantage of some slack defending and coolly slotted the ball home.
Both teams moved the ball into promising areas but neither found it easy to capitalise in the decisive quarters. Samir Nasri made a dash into the box but couldn’t provide the finish, while Andrei Arshavin rattled the post after good link up play with the Frenchman. Steven Fletcher had a chance to level for Burnley before Cameroonian midfielder Andre Bikey found himself in the Arsenal box and enticed a poorly timed challenge by Vermaelen. The reliable Graham Alexander accepted the gift from the penalty spot and drilled home his 100th league goal to make the game 1-1. Turf Moor found its voice as the Clarets pressed forward, but like Arsenal, they lacked a killer instinct in front of goal. Burnley could have taken the lead when Chris Eagles, who ran Arsenal’s defence ragged, skilfully beat Mikael Silvestre and rifled a shot on to the woodwork. William Gallas made his way up to the Burnley box in the dying seconds but a weak header found itself comfortably in Jensen’s arms.
Owen Coyle: “It was a very valuable point, no doubt. Both sides will feel at different stages they could have taken all three. The lads showed real character, dug in and got back into the game. They really took the game to Arsenal.”
Arsene Wenger: “I always wanted six points. Really I expected more to drop two points at Liverpool than here but I believe Burnley had a very good time tonight.”
Burnley’s have an impressive home record and demonstrated once again that their strength in character will be the bedrock of their battle for survival. Owen Coyle has injected a fighting spirit and steel-like exterior into the Clarets squad but not through the stereotypical image of ‘bruisers’. The quality in the Clarets XI was evident in the way they opened up Arsenal’s defence allowing Wade Elliot and the exceptional Eagles to cut in from the flanks. Eagles’ darting runs and probing eye caused several problems for the experienced Silvestre, who started at left-back due to injuries to Gael Clichy, Arnand Traore and Kieran Gibbs. Cries of ‘BEAAAAAST’ rang out from the stands as Brian Jensen once again gave a commanding performance, retrieving loose balls and winning aerial battles. Coyle conceded that his players did enough to win the game and their endeavour suggested that they certainly were not holding out for a draw.
Arsene Wenger was once again left frustrated that he failed to close the gap on league leaders Chelsea. Despite Burnley’s impressive display, one feels that these are the type of games that Arsenal should be winning. The Gunners unsurprisingly carved out many chances – the type of opportunities that Robin van Persie would have gratefully received. Physical presence was lacking – a common theme in the Arsenal spine – as they were frequently outmuscled on aerial balls. Theo Walcott, who is battling it out for a place on England’s flanks this summer, lacked penetration and was completely ineffective before he was replaced by Eduardo. The Brazilian-born Croat also lacked a spark and had Arsenal fans yearning for a star striker to be purchased in January. Wenger gave Burnley their due credit but bemoaned the fixture list: “The guy who organised the fixtures this season must have come from a special school, because he’s more intelligent than I am.” Burnley had an extra day of rest since the weekend but Wenger’s intelligence will be questioned if he genuinely believes Arsenal can compete without experienced January reinforcements.
Arsenal will be anxious that Fabregas walked off with an injury just before half time, as they cannot afford to lose another player of star quality to injury. Arsenal’s title hopes seem to lie in the hands of the smaller teams. Arsenal face Hull City, Portsmouth and Bolton Wanderers in three of their next four league games and Wenger will demand nine points from these encounters. But then again, he must have hoped for a similar outcome at Turf Moor and Arsenal must learn to compete physically if they are to get the results that their flair and precision deserve. Burnley will hope to turn more home draws into wins and associate themselves with mid-table rather than a relegation dogfight. Coyle and his team have shown resilience against all odds and dropping further down the table would not justify their efforts of the season so far. If the Clarets progress in this manner, they will once again be partying with the Premier League elite next season.
Burnley 1 – 1 Arsenal – Fabregas 7 – Alexander pen 28
Burnley (4-5-1): Jensen – Mears, Caldwell, Carlisle, Jordan – Elliot, McDonald, Alexander, Bikey (Gudjonsson 70), Eagles (Blake 83) – Fletcher (Nugent 83)
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia – Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre – Fabregas (Ramsey 43), Song, Diaby – Walcott (Eduardo 63), Arshavin, Nasri
Burnley – Arsenal
3 – Corners – 6
8 (3) – Shots (on target) – 17 (9)
11 – Fouls – 11
2 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 0 (0)
8 – Offside – 4