BEVERLY HILLS, March 06, (THEWILL) – For the umpteenth time Spanish coach Mikel Arteta’s fumbling set of Gunners will have no one else to blame but themselves as they very nearly handed an English Premier League side five places below them on the table the opportunity of doing the double over them in the 2020/2020 season.
Sean Dyche’s Burnley beat Arsenal 1-0 in chaotic circumstances in their first meeting last December as a 58th-minute VAR assisted red card for Granit Xhaka was followed by a 73rd-minute bizarre own-goal by Gunners’ Gabon captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to see the Clarets climb out of the relegation places as Arsenal’s drought in front of goal entered its sixth match.
Although a lot has changed since that Sunday, December 13 game, the common denominator remained the Gunners’ penchant for self-destruction. Again, Xhaka featured prominently in this act but, this time, he was not the only one at fault.
The shining light of Arsenal’s season, Bukayo Saka scuffed several brilliant chances, Nicholas Pepe could not bury his impressive volley, Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos struck the woodwork, substitute Alexandre Lacazette could not find the winner for the visitors while VAR, which helped in sending off Xhaka in the reverse fixture, denied the Gunners a penalty.
After that 85th-minute penalty call was taken away with a VAR review, Arteta’s team head into a crunch spell in their season with this enervating stalemate as their only motivation. Ahead of them is a two-legged Europa League last-16 showdown with table-leading Super League Greece side Olympiacos either side of next Sunday’s expectedly fiery north London derby.
The Gunners failed to capitalise on their early lead when Aubameyang paid for his own-goal in December by putting the visitors ahead after just six minutes. Xhaka will look back at his error, which brought Burnley back into the tie, with regret, especially when he remembers how his exit in the first fixture all but condemned his side to that single goal loss.
He mis-hit his attempted pass inside his own area and the ball struck Burnley forward Chris Wood on the hip and flew into Bernd Leno’s net. It was a draw that Arteta could do without and it was only worsened by the decision reversal of centre referee Andre Marriner, who had initially awarded Arsenal a penalty when Erik Pieters brilliantly kept out Nicolas Pepe’s volley, thinking the defender did so with his hand.
But, a VAR review made Marriner change his mind on the penalty and the sending off of Pieters. It could have turned into a nightmare with Burnley fluffing their opportunities to edge ahead and Leno giving a proper account of himself in goal, though Arsenal continued to enjoy the majority of the chances at the game progressed.
They are not the only side to have dropped points through self-inflicted. However, the high frequency with which it happens with Arsenal only serves to perpetuate a categorisation of Arteta’s side as the most prone to lose a match due largely to unforced errors and self-inflicted mishaps.
It happened against Wolverhampton Wanderers with two red cards against David Luiz and Leno on February 2 and against Aston Villa when a second movie Ollie Watkins goal from defensive sloppiness gave the hosts all three points. It was similarly the case when Manchester City beat them at home with another second minute goal from Raheem Sterling and Leicester almost did the same but for their recovery after going behind early.
The draw at Turf Moor all but ends hopes for any top-four aspirations for Arsenal. What may act as motivation now will be the odd chance of winning the UEFA Europa League and some local bragging rights by getting one back against city rivals Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur.
On Sunday, December 6, Spurs put them to the sword in their first meeting of the season, through two clinical counterattacks from the then deadly pair of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Mourinho will gladly welcome a repeat of that on Sunday to add insult to injury in the bitter London rivalry between the two sides.