Saka’s Injury Costly, Midfield-Mess, Was There a MOTM? 8 Observations Burnley v Arsenal

Burnley 0 – 0 Arsenal: After two steps forward, Arteta and his men took one back again.

young gunners feb 20

Eight Observations from a hard-on-the-eye game with, nevertheless, some shoots of positivity:

  1. We started reasonably well and should have taken one or two of our more than half-decent chances. Both Laca and Auba showed their rustiness early on and after that we did not really create similar chances to punish the dull as dishwater Clarets. Our lack of aerial prowess in attack became once again painfully clear (Giroud would have had a brace yesterday). After 25 minutes or so we let Burnley into the game and we never were able to dominate them again. This lack of dominance was caused by us sitting too deep and not being strong (see also last point) and compact enough in midfield.
  2. After getting back to basics and putting Torreira and Xhaka in deep-midfield when Arteta took over, he is currently preferring the combo of Xhaka and Guendouzi. The young Frenchman has lots of potential but, with Xhaka in a deeper and left-leaning role, Arteta has put a lot of pressure on his curls-covered shoulders. At best this is a work in progress and leaving the much-appreciated Torreira on the bench was a bold move. We lacked cohesion and effective link-up play in midfield between both Xhaka and Guendouzi, and Ozil and the Frenchman. It worked a treat in the first half v Bournemouth on Monday but not so v Burnley.
  3. The injury to Saka impacted us more than it should have. He managed to complete the first half but did not return for the second one. Producing quality crosses and passes into the box is one of Bukayo’s great attributes and once these stopped we really lacked attacking ideas, which is a worry. Xhaka did well defensively, but neither Auba or occasionally Martinelli were able to fill the void of silky Saka. Was Pepe not fully fit?
  4. My bigger point is that the lack of LB options meant that Granit had to be moved to LB which then affected our balance in midfield significantly – neither Guendouzi or Torreira filled the void and we were never again a force on the left side of our attack as a result.
  5. It is of course not easy to play good football against a well-organised, defence-minded team like Burnley, but the starting point is playing with a high tempo, intensity and daring to push up. We lacked all of this. The good thing is that we defended reasonably well and kept a clean sheet, allowing the Clarets just two shots on target (same as we achieved, so 0-0 was a fair result). We did need a dolop of luck though, with Rodriguez’s volley bouncing down from the bar on the line rather than behind it. They also missed some decent headers with which they bombarded us on a regular basis, as expected. The defence just about held out and a clean sheet away is something to build on.
  6. Mustafi, who we feared was injured for months to come, made a miraculous recovery and played with his usual gusto. This time there were no calamities and maybe Arteta is working his wonders with him and turn the German into a regular first-teamer… It would be some achievement, wouldn’t it, JW1? 🙂
  7. I cannot decide on our MOTM; your suggestions are welcome! Nobody stood out to me and we lacked the leadership on the pitch to get the team over the line in terms of finding that winning goal. Laca works hard but this role does not work for him; I wanted more from Auba, especially after his poor sending off and subsequent suspension; Martinelli was isolated on the right and missed his buddy, the Silk, on the left (when he finally got to play there), and; Ozil did not bring anything extra either (and in his defence this was not because of a lack of desire but a lack of support from midfield). I missed the collective awareness that this was a must-win game for these Gunners.
  8. My eigth observation is a full copy of a comment PB made re the game: “There are games – seen recently – where the youngsters outperform the veterans, and there are some – including but not limited to yesterday’s visit to Burnley – where the youngsters are our main liability. However I think it has little to do with age, maturity and experience. We were struggling yesterday – in my humble opinion – because we lost 90% of every body-to-body duels. Playing out from the back didn’t work out due to Burnley’s surprisingly effective front pressing, and when Leno kicked a long ball to the field it was the start of a Burnely (counter)attack most of the time. So it was probably a coincidence that our players that couldn’t deal with the physicality of the big, brute b*stards (BBB) were the technical, yet thin/small (and at the same time young) players like Bellerin, Martinelli, Guendouzi and Saka. I think if we could have started the game with AMN, Pepe, Torreira and Kolasinac in their position respectively, the outcome would have been much favourable. (Captain hindsight reporting for duty.) So I’m only a bit uncertain if Arteta could have foreseen of the physicality of the game, and could have opted a different side and tactics.

By TotalArsenal (and PB).

19 thoughts on “Saka’s Injury Costly, Midfield-Mess, Was There a MOTM? 8 Observations Burnley v Arsenal

  • Hi TA…I’m quite pleased that you’ve put up a post. And, of course, it’s another clear eyed and well written one. I also think that PB makes a good point and that J-Dub’s comment (near the end of the previous post) about Martinelli on the right was also a strong one.

    I’m less pleased with my own work on the live-blog as it was hard to find much nice to say about the proceedings. I actually thought we started the game quite well, with our players quickest to a bunch of the contested balls. Early on, in fact, the curly MF, Guendouzi impressed me a bit, getting a leg in AND keeping his feet, so as not to overly rely upon the ref for whistles and slowing the game down as I think he might’ve when he was Emery’s golden boy. (Or just fresher from Ligue 2…and not up to speed with the PL…)

    In truth, I wonder if this sort of thing is why Arteta left Torreira out of the starting line-up. I do feel that he’s the better player (over Guendo, for controlling the middle of the pitch) but his size means that he needs some help from the ref at times. I know that folks believe that David Luiz is quick enough with his feet or that AMN might work a treat in there, but I just don’t see such things. In fact, for me–and, of course, when he avoids calamitous errors that lead to opposition goals–Mustafi is the best of all these guys, given that Ozil isn’t gonna become our new Santi and work extremely hard or risk limbs on tight passes in deeper parts of our half the pitch. (Emery’s statements about Ozil and away matches–if he’s expected to play deeper, at least–had, of course, a whiff of the truth to them…)

    Basically, given the personnel on hand, at this point we DO NOT look very capable of playing the ball through any sort of moderately aggressive first line (or two) of defenders. At home–if the home crowd actually gets behind their players, (see for example, Burnley and their supporters…) the ref can become a bit of a 12th man, using his whistle and giving cards to the away team’s midfielders, IF the home players get to the ball first and/or pull out of challenges and roll around on the floor a bit. (And, as the match went on, this is exactly what the Burnley players were able to do…)

    Anyhow, I thought our first 10 minutes or thereabouts looked promising and that we’d make more than just that very early Lacazette chance…

    But, soon enough Burnley got on top and the Saka injury allowed them to get that little bit more aggressive. Xhaka (and maybe Luiz as well) made a couple of good passes from deep (to always onside PEA) but those are always half-chances (at best), at least until the receiver does something very special with them, which isn’t always going to happen.

    Thus, compared to the far more relentless bombing (from open play and plenty of corners and free kicks), I think it’s a stretch to say that we deserved the clean sheet and the draw. The commentators go on and on about “a team of (or with…) Arsenal’s quality…” (should be winning these matches…), but where exactly is it (the quality?). As I tried to describe last week, the game has changed and the modern manager needs the quality to begin at the back, which makes me wonder. We looked very shaky trying to play it around and out (and never gained any advantage from the Emery-esque look of that tactic even when we did get near or into their half) and route one–when you’ve got no real targets (indeed, TA, I note your on-going love of big Ollie…) isn’t very appealing either. Arteta, at some point, will need to realize that we just don’t have quite the ball-players back there that he was watching when he was Pep’s assistant. (Which, again, made Saka’s exit loom large, yesterday…)

    But, of course, that’s why we might try and create some belief that these two loan signings (with options to buy…) might bolster things. A bit of aerial presence in the box (Mari) makes Leno’s line-rootedness less of issue (maybe?) and Cedric Soares can play some touch and move football, as best as I can recall. Those boys should be joining the rest for some work (and bonding) down in Dubai.

    Finally, (and despite the inane and almost troll-like commentators…) I still think we’ve got to avoid “expectation creep.” We would have hoped that nearly a full week to prepare for this match was enough (soon enough we’ll be playing teams like Burnley–which, in fact hadn’t played since 22 January–when they beat ManU 2-nil at OT, and only 3 days earlier had beaten Leicester 2-1, as well!!) every few days when they have much longer to prepare. We’d all like to think that we (ought to) have a deep enough squad and win against these “lesser” clubs, but we have to accept just how far down we (ownership, management, supporters too, I’d argue…) have taken our own club and that it’s a lo(ooooonnn)ng road back. As such, a single point, Oop Norf, against a team we’re level with, should probably be pocketed without too many (rueful) glances over our shoulders…

    MOTM, then?… I’m still sticking with the bottom of the bar. Imagine how much longer that road would feel if we were nursing our wounds after a 1-nil loss?… 😦


  • Good stuff, Seventino, and all agreed. In the end a point is not too bad and yes we need to keep our expectations in check. I think we need to look at this as the final game of a mini-era: Arteta took over and he had no time to settle in with so many games on the programme. Now that he has two weeks to work with the team and got his two loan-signings, Arteta will be able to start a new era; one that will last till the end of the season. I am fully confident that he will help us progress further and am looking forward to the rest of the season. Just little over three months to go…

  • I agree, TA, but…

    As “fans,” we’re entitled to live and die with each result. (And, obviously, I’m encouraging these sorts of fans to see yesterday’s result as “the patient is still in dire straits, but we have a pulse, even if it’s one beat instead of three that we heard/felt,”…or something…)

    As “supporters” I think, like the manager himself–who is a MUCH better communicator than Good Ebening Unai–and can maybe help us get on board with the longer term project…we need to know that we can only get to the top of the mountain one step at a time. As much as we’d like to believe things will miraculously turn around, it just doesn’t work that way…IMO…

    Our first away win (in the PL) WILL be a (minor) miracle (and the “fans” will project other great things from it, unfortunately). For better or worse, the next opportunity won’t be for another 6 weeks(!!) at Brighton on 14 March. So, it could be argued that IF Arteta (and the team) can have some good vibes in Dubai (DuVibes?…) AND stay in the two cup competitions, (AND, of course, notch full points and better performances in home matches vs Everton and West Ham), all the while deepening or at least learning about the squad as he goes, he’s really got that whole time before we’re faced with a (somewhat) similar test…

    That’s about as upbeat as I can get here on a Monday morning, but, indeed, I like what you’re saying about putting this “era” into the rearview (while, of course, still learning from it) and trying to imagine better things moving forward…

  • Think you hit the nail square TA. What came before now by way of Arteta’s efforts– has to have been with tempered expectations. Look– I’m a happy guy now. Arsenal are starting– where I’d always wanted the club to build from, post-AW. Only disappointed in the route taken to get here.

    Can even find a way to acquiesce to patience with– Mikel’s methods of trying to patch the (goal-)leaking tendencies of the HMS Destroyer 20. 🚀

    “This time there were no calamities and maybe Arteta is working his wonders with him and turn the German into a regular first-teamer… It would be some achievement, wouldn’t it, JW1? 🙂”

    Believe it or not? Sunday’s was the first PL match since last April (2019) that #20 wasn’t excruciatingly involved with Arsenal dropping points. Even made the point of using the term ‘today-infallible #20’ in describing his contributions. Small steps. Yet progress– yes?.

    The idea that we didn’t get a bounce from MA’s arrival– was a gravity-lens effect of sorts. The latency with which the Execs/Board acted to jettison Emery from the airlock– meant the bounce would be almost flat– if at all. The club escaping, at the last probable moment, just afore passing over a footballing event horizon.

    Arsenal is lucky. Very nearly Darwin Award-winning ignorant.
    But then, just as lucky– that Mikel Arteta waited for this job. Again.


  • Thanks jW. Good point about the lack of MA-bounce. The timing was very tough; Arteta was thrown into the deep end and only now gets a chance to get back on the shore.

    Where is everybody, hey?!

  • TA, I think we were out of words to say. At the moment it is better not to say anything bad just yet.
    Anyway, the strikers are out of their depth, and we played better without Laca.

    This is the winter break week, so it feels like an interlull, but without international football.
    It is not until 16th 4.30pm that we play, so it will feel quite empty. And to start the interlull with a poor draw seems worse.

    And to play the barcodes seems like a sure win, but I am not sure after the draw against Burnley, which we could have lost.

  • Cheers 84, we all have a tendency to expect progress to be linear but it seldom works like that. Of course we could have lost but had both Laca and Auba taken one of their chances we could also have easily won. We started stronger but were just not able to keep it up. A break will do us good.

  • We have not been creating enough chances. Not talking about the Burnley match per se. And I wouldn’t heap the blame on Ozil. That would be too simplistic. I think there is a structural disharmony between our central midfielders and our forward men. This should be Arteta’s immediate task now that he’s gotten the team defending better. I want to put it this way again “Ozil cannot do it alone”.

  • Hey TA, It seems hard to get people commenting here on the blog at the moment. I wouldn’t rule out my own (renewed) presence. Obviously, I tend to write a lot AND I take my own observations seriously, not to mention my philosophies, which tend to caution against too much excitement (and also to prefer actual watching of the football over received opinion from experts/others…)
    Add to that the most recent result (a draw) which is sort of a hold-over (until the next referendum, or match…) and the recipe is for folks not saying much or taking a complete break. Hell, even Arteta has given the players a break…until they meet up again in warmer places…

    So, now might be the time for some “thought” pieces… How the team might try and play and/or how the manager might use his players more effectively… Already up at Arseblog is a post about what to do with Lacazette(?)…

    I’m gonna get busy with pre-travel chores and then moving venues, so I can do a bit of disappearing act (which might help matters)…

    But, speaking of disappearing… What happened to the prediction game? Can you dig up a leaderboard? Could we get back to it?… I see that some of this next round of PL matches actually starts on Saturday, so maybe that’s a way of getting folks at least making a comment or two?…

    Right now, I’ve gotta run, but…

  • Cheers Seventeenho and PE.

    I guess we all could do with a break so no worries re comments etc. Re predictions, it is too much for me but Seventeenho you are free to take it over from me. Just give us a shout! 🙂

    I was actually thinking of writing a ‘What to do with Laca?’ post myself, but if others have already done that I may choose something else.

  • There are lots of topics to discuss about, namely Laca, the attacking stats, the midfield-attacking tactics, the transitioning from defense to attack, more defensive or more attacking?, to name a few.

    I might write something over the next few days.

  • Me too.
    I owe you the Academy career path, and I have some topics in my head; namely the science of substitution and the anti-Arsenal bias.
    I think we’ll have a few posts in the winter break as well.

  • Our (mine and Mrs jw1’s) international break– will end the same time as Arsenal’s.
    Possibly getting to watch it live– touching down that morning.

    ¡Hasta la vista!, baybee.


  • (FA Youth Cup)

    Jeorge Bird
    Ft. Arsenal 4 Brighton 3. After a real battle Arsenal are through to quarter finals where they will play Blackburn or Preston away.
    9:58 PM · 6 févr. 2020·Twitter for Android

    well done, kids
    and thank you, jeorge

  • TA …… expectedly slow traffic this winter break but maybe it’s right time for every kind of stock taking.


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