A visit to Turf Moor is on the cards today and suffice to say we are facing another stern test.
The win in the North London derby was grand, however it is not unreasonable to expect Burnley will play a totally different kind of game to Spurs. They are much more likely to sit back and soak up the pressure, content to hit us on the counter. Arsene Wenger likened the Clarets’ approach to a snake’s behavior:
“You know they’ve won games with 30, 25 per cent possession – that means they know what they want to do and are patient to have that killing instinct of a snake.
“They put you to that pace and suddenly they bite you.”
Burnley managed to concede just 9 goals, keeping 6 clean sheets in the process. Only United and City conceded fewer goals (Spurs conceded 9 too) and only the Manchester clubs outshone Burnley when it comes to clean sheets (though Spurs and Chelsea have just as many).
There’s an interesting catch though: Burnley are hugely overperforming their Expected Goals conceded, by a margin of 8! I think this is because only Bournemouth have allowed more attempts from inside the box and only 5 teams conceded more shots on target. Where Burnley excel though (behind only City, Spurs and Chelsea) is restricting the number of Big Chances (those scored with a statistical probability of 60%).
They also have an exceptional young goalkeeper to deputise for the injured Tom Heaton, Nick Pope. Pope is absolute top with an 88% saved shots (even De Gea has a slightly lower percentage, at 86%). Finally, their centre-back pairing, Tarkowski and Mee, is pretty darn good at defending. They are 2nd and 3rd respectively in blocks and clearances in the league.
That allowed Pope some breathing space. His save percentage is outrageous still, but Tarkowski and Mee kept the number of big chances to a minimum, while also ensuring Pope faced only 20 shots on target in his 9 appearances. That’s just above 2 shots per game, on average!
What all of this tells us, is that Burnley face a lot of shots and find themselves defending most of the time. This is confirmed by possession stats: Burnley average 39% possession in league games this season. If we throw out freakish the 52% against Huddersfield and 62% against West Ham, the average drops even further – to just 35%. That’s still not quite the 25-30% Wenger talked about, but it’s not much anyway.
Arsenal is on the opposite side of the spectrum here – the Gunners average 60% possession. Only City (at a whopping 71%) and Spurs (at 61%) average more. If we leave out the City and Spurs games (both at 42% for Arsenal), this number would be even higher, though I’m too lazy to do the maths again.
It is quite obvious how the game is going to go from those stats I think. We’ll have lots of the ball, while Burnley will hang on for dear life. The good news here is that we’ll face a problem of breaking down a bus – something I think we’ve got quite good at recently. I would fear the high press much more than a parked bus – because the former exposes the frailties of our central midfield pairing much more. I think Wenger is wary of that though, as he clearly opted for a long ball approach against Spurs, to bypass the midfield in order to free space in it for the likes of Alexis and Ozil to operate with more freedom.
Let’s hope he can find an answer to a completely different dilemma today too.
Team news update
We appear to have an almost clean bill of health:
“Everybody looks alright. There are some kicks because it was quite a physical game [at Cologne], but overall we have no injuries. Everyone who played will be available to compete for the squad on Sunday.” – Arsene Wenger
That includes Danny Welbeck, who was withdrawn at half-time:
“The last time he came back from injury, we played him at Watford and after an hour he got a bad hamstring. This time I didn’t want to take that gamble. I wanted to be a bit more progressive with him. Almost certainly, nothing would have happened but I felt it was more sensible to do it. He’s fine. He’s completely fine.”
The only absentees will be Theo Walcott (who’s been ill, but frankly I don’t have much love for him at the moment) and Santi Cazorla. Ollie Giroud looked really suspect against Cologne, though he played the full 90 and wasn’t mentioned by Arsene in the injuries update, so he should be fine. When I say “suspect” I mean “sh*t”, which can have something to do with match fitness. But I expect the Frenchman to make the bench.
It’s really hard to envisage Arsene making any changes to the last week’s team. Not only because it would make little sense to tweak what is our best squad on paper, but because it is literally our best squad. None of the second-string guys were impressive at all during the sh*tshow at Cologne, perhaps Mertesacker notwithstanding. Maintland-Niles was decent too, but it’s not like he is going to start over Ramsey or Xhaka, or, indeed, Kolasinac.
However I can’t help but wonder how much Welbeck and Giroud are in Arsene’s thinking. Maybe Wilshere too, despite him being pretty bad in Germany. Thing is, I’m not sure just how effective Lacazette can be against a team set out to deny him space, while Jack is the only decent dribbler we have left, with the exception of Alexis.
We will need to somehow find and create space between Burnley’s tightly squeezed two banks of four, and Jack’s dribbling ability can come in handy. Welbeck, meanwhile… Well, he’s just an honest, hardworking guy. He was Arsene’s go-to man earlier in the season and I think the Frenchman will try fitting in Welbz at every available opportunity.
Realistically though, all three are likely to start on the bench.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Koscielny – Mustafi – Monreal – Bellerin – Ramsey – Xhaka – Kolasinac – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette
Both our games against Burnley last season were tighter than a rat’s arse. We ran out winners 1-0 and 2-1 away and at home respectively, but there definitely wasn’t much in it. We have an overall good record against Burnley, winning 5 of the last 6 league meetings and drawing the other one, though.
I still expect today to be a close contest. As laid out above, Sean Dyche’s men are pretty good at defending this season. However they have still hugely overperformed and I hope today is the day they regress to the mean and ship a load of goals.
Come on you Gunners.
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