Sunday, 12 April 2015

Burnley 0-1 Arsenal: That'll do

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped for something more stylish, but then again, a good, solid 1-0 win in an away Premier League is not the worst thing in the world. It means we stay ahead of pace of the two Manchester clubs and keep Chelsea on their toes. Or one toe, at least.

I won't sugarcoat it when I say the team sheet disappointed me. While I agree that the likes of Ospina, Ozil, Giroud or even the Mertescielny axis at a stretch needed to be there to keep the spine of the team (and most of them were in undroppable form), this really should have been a game where we rested our big guns.

As I said in the preview, while it's apparent that someone like Theo Walcott is not rated by the manager (and for valid reasons), I refuse to believe that he would have produced a substandard performance against a team like Burnley. Surely, going into the second half, his pace would have been an asset?

Strength in depth is not only to make the bench look pretty, it's also to act as backup while the main men are out getting massages. With all respect to Sean Dyche's men (who put up a good fight), it's against inferior oppositions like these where a manager can afford to play squad players. This is a problem Wenger has been guilty of for ages, and also a contributing factor in why our star players tend to get injured more frequently. If you make the same players play all the games, the probability of them getting crocked gets higher, that's basic mathematics.

I know it sounds petty, but it's an important issue nonetheless. The matter has been swept under the rug because we've gotten away unscathed, but imagine if one of our players had turned victim to one of oh-so-many Burnley fouls. The effects it would have had on an upcoming FA Cup semi final could perhaps have been decisive.

Right, anyway. The football.

As expected we dominated the hold of the ball and created a couple of early chances. Heaton made an elementary save to a Sanchez free kick, minutes after which the Chilean could have gotten an early goal but instead blazed it over. The two chances were sandwiched with a decent save from Ospina after a Vokes shot, where Mertesacker's lack of pace was apparent.

Aaron Ramsey got the opener after what seemed like a trillion of deflections. It started when Alexis decided to take matters in his own hands. His shot was deflected onto Ozil, Mesut forced a good save from Heaton, but Aaron pounced on the parry to strike a fine one in the roof of the net.

Amidst all the shower of praises over Ozil, Coquelin, Giroud and the lot, it's easy for Ramsey's resurrection to go under the radar. I reckon that'd suit him, though. He seems like a confidence player - I wouldn't want to burden him with expectations.

Having said that, though, I found Wenger's decision to play him on the right a bit curious. On that, the Welshman said:

"I’m doing a job out there. I like to be involved in the game a lot more in the middle but I’ve had to do a job there. I’ve had a couple of assists and a goal in the last couple of games, so I’m having an impact out there, but I’d like to be more involved in the game!"

Clearly the last few matches would suggest that it hasn't diminished his output, but it's still intriguing why Wenger has shunted him there. It's not as if there's a severe dearth of options  - Walcott and Danny Welbeck can both do "a job" there. Heck, to me, Tomas Rosicky seems a better fit to that role than Ramsey!

I always presumed in the last couple of games that Mesut Ozil would play on the left flank with Alexis on the right, but the manager's apparent alternative is odd. It appears that Coquelin and Cazorla are playing deeper with Ozil in the center and Ramsey on the right. I know that Wenger had played Ramsey on the right flank back in 2012 in an attempt to resurrect his form, but I feel it's unnecessary to stick him out there now. Is this just a mishmash of fitting the most in-form players in eleven slots, or are there bigger tactical balls at play here?

Ramsey's obviously doing a good job out there, but I can't help but feel that we could bring more out of him by playing him in a more favourable position.

Anyway, the rest of the first half trudged on through rare highlights involving an Ospina save from a Trippier free kick and a Cazorla free kick whizzing past the post. Was I the only one to feel that Mike Dean blowing his whistle on a load of fouls disrupted the momentum of the game? Perhaps the game would have been more eventful had he been more ruthless.

Ozil was probably the only highlight of the second half as he lit up Turf Moor with two brilliant pieces of play. The first - a backheel to Sanchez - forced a good save, while the second was a lob to Ramsey who couldn't get his shot away due to a truly brilliant block. If there's one microcosm of how hard Burnley toiled around the pitch, that was it.

Danny Ings tried to create trouble when he hit a cycle kick - again, terrific save from Ospina there - and Mee put in a delicious cross at the death to which no one got their heads to, but other than that I don't remember a moment where Burnley genuinely threatened to equalize.

Indeed, it was us who could have doubled our tally during a four minute spell. Ozil could have played a better pass to Welbeck on 85, four minutes after which a cross from Bellerin was too loopy for Sanchez to get much power on.

Wenger's late substitutions merely compounded the aforementioned lack-of-rotation problem, but apart from that we had enough stomach to see them through. Every point in the Premier League is important, so it's great to see us nabbing all of them. It also makes the Manchester derby a lot more relaxing to watch.

There was the usual post-match gaffle from Wenger and the players about the fighting spirit, but what caught my eye was a show of sense from Per, when he said:

"It [the title] is not in our hands anymore. They [Chelsea, who else?] have a decent lead so it’s very difficult for us. At the moment, we’re just focusing on ourselves and that has made us very strong in recent weeks."

He, and every other rational person, is spot on. I agree that second wasn't the objective at the start of the season, but it's still a goal that deserves merit. It could have been much worse back in January, so while I'm not at all suggesting that second should remain the be-all and end-all of our ambitions, it's nice to see an Arsenal trying for something higher than the absolute minimum i.e. fourth.

What's realistic and gains greater credence than 2nd starts next week. The FA Cup may not be a major trophy in itself, but coupling that with a runners-up finish in the Premier League amounts to progress most clubs would kill for. It shouldn't be where our aspirations halt (although I fear it is) but it's a good starting point.

Saturday would go a long way into satiating that.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]