After Saturday’s results–Liverpool’s shock home loss to Swansea and Manchester City playing Tottenham to a draw–Arsenal can move ahead of all these clubs and into second place. A win would get us within five points of league leaders Chelsea who play Hull City just after our match concludes.
Although Burnley have notched only a single point on their league travels this season (at Manchester United, however) they have been playing well recently and would find themselves back in the top half of the table if they could pull off an upset and win at the Emirates. Sean Dyche, managing his 200th match for the club, would love to celebrate with a result that catches up to his team’s fine road performances and matches their recent winning run at home. Burnley have gotten much better results at Turf Moor. In just the past week they’ve beaten Southampton in league play and added another home win in a midweek FA Cup replay vs Sunderland.
Gooners will also remember that it took a very late and controversial goal from Laurent Koscielny to beat the Clarets when we played them at their place earlier this season. In that match, Burnley were very well organized and were able to frustrate our attacking game while appearing dangerous several times from set pieces and on the counter.
They will surely set out again to defend first and will not mind giving us plenty of possession. How then does manager Arsene Wenger set up his team to break down a resolute Burnley squad?
My guess is that he goes with almost the same group he put out a week ago at Swansea City, switching only his fill-in at right back, Gabriel Paulista, for the usual starter, Hector Bellerin, just back from injury. Here’s the group I think Wenger will play:
Substitutes: Ospina, Gabriel, Gibbs, Coquelin, Oxlaide-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Perez
Many observers would prefer Alexis to start as our center forward with Olivier Giroud, who hobbled off with an ankle knock at Swansea, relegated to the bench. Wenger has suggested that Giroud’s injury isn’t serious and I think he’ll be keen to start the big Frenchman who has scored in each of his last five matches. Some feel that we can break down the parked bus teams better with the pacier Alexis up front. My feeling is that teams who choose to sit deep nullify our pace by leaving less space in behind their back line. As such, deploying Giroud, a slower but more natural target man who can play with his back to goal, seems the superior tactic. To each their own, of course, but my hunch is that Wenger goes with Ollie up front once again.
Others might prefer additional changes in the squad. Francis Coquelin, also just back from injury, might be preferred to either Granit Xhaka or Aaron Ramsey at the rear of our midfield. The Xhaka-Ramsey double pivot started very slowly at both Swansea and in our FA Cup match at Preston North End, where we were quite fortunate that we only went behind by a single goal before the duo worked out the kinks and the team scored a pair of goals to seal the victory. We didn’t do much better in previous matches with Coquelin in the team, shipping three goals in the first half at Bournemouth and taking more than 85 minutes to finally break a deadlock vs West Bromwich Albion back on Boxing Day. No matter who plays, winning the midfield battles, moving the ball forward cleanly and at pace, and getting off on the front foot vs Burnley will all be keys to victory.
What do you think? Who should Wenger play and how can we beat a Burnley team that will surely be both motivated and resolute?
Arsenal have tough away matches on the horizon at Southampton (FA Cup), Chelsea (Premier League) and Bayern Munich (Champions League) so it’s tempting to look past this one. The chance to go second in the league should be a motivator but we also need to build upon the good result and better performance a week ago at Swansea and put more stodgy efforts (and a pair of road losses back in December) further behind us. As we know, however, there are no easy matches in English Football so here’s to a focused, committed and commanding performance along with the three points.
Go on then…