My first return to Arsenal this season, and what did I bring back? A first-half lead. That was all me.
The Burnley game really wasn’t much to write home about. There was a distinct lack of intensity from both teams. They really are a rough outfit to watch. They have nothing about them. They move the ball around like they hate it and they have thuggish similarities to Bolton when they were a thing.
Emery didn’t exactly make things interesting, fielding three defensive midfielders. Lucky for us, Xhaka was NOT in central defence, that role falling to Nacho Monreal who left the pitch after 37 minutes with another injury.
Mesut Ozil dropped a world class pass for the opener, finding Kolasinac from a crazy tight angle, the ball was clipped back into the box where Auba was foxing in the box to put us 1 up. When you see that sort of pass from Mesut, you kind of understand why a generation of casual football fans love him so much. He can deliver the perfect 6-second clip for a shareable video on Twitter… but explore his offering a little deeper and you can see why he’s struggled to make an impact this season. He always seems to have one foot in the game. Capable of flashes, but he very rarely grips a game these days from start to finish.
We actually carried the lead into halftime for the first time this season, then grew out our advantage after the break with a stunning goal from Auba again. The way Arsenal moved the ball up the pitch was a sight to behold. The finish was electric as well, a real near post lashing. That had Auba as the top scorer heading into Christmas. Wonderful.
We did let Burnley back in with a sloppy goal, but Iwobi stepped up and actually found the net late on to seal the game.
The afternoon was pretty bland from a football spectacle. Emery had to drop a heavy rotation, and thankfully it paid off. I had big reservations about our ability to turn in a result yesterday. The key message for me was that we had an instant response in the Premier League after losing a great run. Under Wenger, the walls would cave in and we’d sputter for a month or so. After United bullied us out of our invincible run in 2004-05, we drew 3 games, won 1 and lost the other. It took us a month to find our feet again. That didn’t happen this time.
The worry for me, as I’d highlighted before this patch of games, was that we’d start to pick up injuries if the manager had gone too hard on the players in a bid to get them Emery sharp. We’ve had a rough run of late, picking niggles and strains all over the place. Our defence is particularly creaky, and age I’d imagine is a factor here. It’s not good that we’re having to rely on Lichtsteiner, who really does look off the pace of the league. There’s going to need to be an intervention in January if we’re to survive the season.
One of the most heartening advances under Emery is the bite the side has. We don’t get pushed around. We have nasty actors, Sokratis being a key figure here. He won’t be bullied and he doesn’t let our team get pushed around. It was quite unbelievable to watch the aggression thrown at Guendouzi yesterday (Barnes stamping on him).
He was being kicked pillar to post. What I loved is he’d just get up and carry-on. He’s a little rough around the edges, but my oh my, there’s a lot of talent brewing inside of him.
Final point, I couldn’t believe how few people showed up to the game yesterday. It was so empty there, I went and sat downstairs for the second half. I don’t want to be draconian here, but if you don’t show for your ticket, there should be some sort of cost. I was hearing from so many people yesterday that they sit next to seats that are never filled. The casual nature of some fans is f*cking embarrassing. It was also frustrating to watch hoards of tourists rolling into the ground 15 minutes late. It’s so disrespectful to the game and the people you’re sitting next to.
Next up is Brighton on Boxing Day and they have Lewis Dunk suspended, which is going to be very helpful.
Also… how bloody marvelous was it to see City and Chelsea lose?! I love it when the world of football bemoans a teams invincibility and the death of the game as we know it… I think people forget how incredibly tough it is to keep a winning machine running on track in the Premier League. City has the pick of players, but every coach in the top 6 is capable and every club has players capable of causing an upset. Sad to say it, but I think it’d be good for the league for Liverpool to win this season.