Viewing the line-ups for this game it struck me that there would be very little in the way of excuses if we were to fail to win.
The majority of the Burnley line-up had played twice in the 140 or so hours since the final whistle had blown at Leicester in our last game.
It was also as close as you can be to our strongest line-up, give or take the rotation in three headache positions where the personnel are much of a muchness. Those being right back – where we now look to have two strong candidates to oust Bellerin, the ‘10’ position where there’s no evidence to suggest Smith Rowe is head and shoulders above Odegaard – or indeed vice-versa; and on the wings where it stands to reason that Saka is first choice and those vying for the opposite wing are all of similar quality.
Starting strong and alert has certainly been an urgent request in recent versions of this column and an Aubameyang goal with just six minutes on the clock came after opening exchanges to this fixture which had us firmly on top. Getting that deserved reward should have been the catalyst to kick on against an inferior side, as has often been the case before. It might stand to reason that games in which we score first we naturally have a good record in, but going back the last 20 seasons nearly 95% of our victories by 3 goals or more featured us hitting the net by 23minutes, essentially within the first quarter of the 90.
If a lot has changed about the side over those last couple of decades, one thing that remains the same is that early goals and facing an opposition that are chasing the game is absolutely ideal for the type of players we have. Yet something very strange happened after that well-worked goal at Turf Moor yesterday. The team who had the longer rest period, fresher players, better players and the benefit of a one goal lead to build on… well there’s no other phrase for it… took their foot off the gas.
We of course had a frantic last half hour of the much where we tried to kick back into gear, and were certainly unlucky with decisions and chances. There was still also an element of being responsible for our own downfall, even if you leave aside the bizarre circumstances in which we came to be level. Pepe should have buried at least one of the golden opportunities he had towards the end, his lack of technique at critical times there for all to see. Something highlighted by an awful free-kick under no pressure when he had just been brought on.
We’ve taken a solitary point in two games against the struggling Clarets this season and fully assisted both of their goals in the 180 minutes of action. Even when level yesterday we sat back to the point of the commentators remarking that the game had just gone stale. How? Our opponents were there for the taking and it took us ages after the equaliser to get revved up again.
The latter and darker days of Unai Emery’s reign featured us trying to hold on to narrow leads in matches when we had our opponents gasping on the canvass, and the fact they kept getting back up to deliver knock-out blows led to his dismissal. But when we refer to those darker days before Emery got the sack do we remember them correctly? What if I was to tell you that yesterday was Mikel Arteta’s 47th Premier League game as Arsenal manager, he’s fully 14 points behind where Emery was at the same stage.
When faced with that statistic the fans that have gone all-in on Arteta like to say that it’s because Emery had the benefit of a seemingly lucky unbeaten run of 22 games (14 of those in the league) which contributed heavily to his overall figure. I guess the first point you could make there is that who cares when those games took place, but let’s indulge them for a second… how about we take Emery’s record after that unbeaten run, so from Premier League game 17 onwards and compare both bosses to this point:- Premier League game 17 to 47 inclusive= Emery 51 pts, Arteta 44 pts.
So even if you remove Emery’s best run as Arsenal manager from his records, he still significantly outperforms our current manager!
And then they might say Emery was terrible at the end wasn’t he? And I agree and say, yes – the botched Champions League qualification when it was in his hands was almost unforgivable when assessed against the quality of the remaining opponents. But then you compare Arteta from Premier League game 38 to 47 inclusive with the same games in Emery’s reign and see: Emery 15 pts, Arteta 14 pts.
It doesn’t matter which way you slice and dice the league figures nothing puts Arteta ahead.
Now at this present moment in time we only care about what comes in the future when assessing the relative merits of the guy currently in charge. I’ve already said that I think the league games are a bit of a freebie and it would be wrong to overreact. Although yesterday I feel the fanbase underreacted! There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to believe that Arteta is an amazing boss and should be given all he wants in getting the job done in restoring former glories. There’s also no evidence for the complete opposite either. There’s no need to be, as I referred to earlier ‘all in’ either way.
We don’t need that division in the ranks of Gooners after years of the Wenger debate, but we must treat all of the protagonists fairly and it does seem that Arteta is getting far too much of an easy ride from some. I want him challenged but most importantly I want him to find the answers. His friends on BT Sport were still saying after the game that Arsenal are in good form. We’d won TWO matches in our last seven as they were stating this! Go back to his mate Tim Cahill rowing with Roy Keane at Old Trafford and note how Keane’s comments still stand to reason now.
If Arteta is going to pull it out of the fire and get us back to where we belong, he needs to challenge his players to be ruthless and have a killer instinct. He will also benefit from being judged fairly by fans and media alike. We want the difficult questions to crop up in the future and him to be able to handle it and point to his grounding in these difficult days. If we have to have a softly, softly approach to him now imagine when it really matters like needing to win at Burnley to go top of the league (we can hope!) and only drawing…
Show us there’s a process and then we can trust it. True supporters will want him to do well regardless of their opinion at this point in time. He needs to galvanise a huge performance from his team in midweek to keep our only route to the Champions League alive, let’s hope he manages it…