Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette Is Off Target As Resilient Burnley Hold Out

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Age cancels out beauty. No goals, and an opportunity missed for Arsenal. No goals, and a precious away point for Burnley. The top flight’s oldest and youngest squads by average age cancelling each other out.

On a weekend where relegation rivals Newcastle and Norwich picked up wins, Sean Dyche’s side return north content despite remaining bottom. Arsenal fans will wander toward Finsbury Park bemoaning their side’s inability to, temporarily at least, lift themselves into the top four. Their damp squib of a January ends winless, and they are now goalless in almost seven hours. Mikel Arteta was not unduly concerned: “Today was not about the situation you create but the quality of the execution you need to win against teams like Burnley. We have that quality and need to put games to bed. You need a spark, someone has to win you the game, if you want to be in the Champions League.”
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Owing to Covid outbreaks (of varying degrees) this was the first Premier League game since 2022’s opening weekend for either team. Both have surrendered their cup hopes in the meantime.

While Burnley were after anything they could get, Arsenal sought the type of routine home victory that this youthful iteration wants to be known for. What they lacked to start with, though, was urgency.

It was forgivable given that, bar Rob Holding, Arteta named the same starters who had huffed, puffed but lacked a little bite in Thursday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final defeat against Liverpool.

Whereas the Emirates of old might have grown frustrated, though, there is a newfound buzz in the stands, an energy and togetherness absent in seasons past. The home support’s patience was both required and tested. “I didn’t see that desire from the beginning,” admitted Arteta, admonishing his side for being slow out of the blocks.

As the first half grew, so did Arsenal. Alexandre Lacazette – their elder statesman as the only man in the match-day squad to have passed 30 – miscued a strike harmlessly wide, before Nick Pope’s feet denied Martin Ødegaard. Ben Mee threw himself at Lacazette’s follow-up.

Bukayo Saka was finding joy down the right against Erik Pieters, on one occasion teeing up Kieran Tierney via Lacazette. Caught between placement and power, the left-back lifted over. Shortly before the break, Saka went close having been put in by Ødegaard.

A slightly deeper role for Ødegaard has been one unexpected plus from the hosts’ midfield crisis; a player enjoying the most fruitful spell of his career. As was the case 72 hours previously, most of Arsenal’s ventures forward came through him and his left foot.

In the second half, Saka continued to discombobulate on the flank. Connor Roberts did superbly to prevent Gabriel Martinelli from reaching a stood-up back-post cross, before Ødegaard found the roof of the net from a free kick earned by Saka.

Momentum was building. Ødegaard found Emile Smith Rowe on the penalty spot with a clever worked corner, but the strike was not clean. Still, Pope did well to parry. “Completely different,” said Arteta of the second 45 minutes. “We were much more dynamic.”

Smith Rowe raced down the left and squared for Lacazette. Only a goalbound effort was needed for a would-be winner. It was poked wide. A resignation to frustration filtered through the ground.

To their credit, Burnley drew the sting out of the remainder of the contest. With eight men aged 29 or more in the starting XI (plus seven more on the bench) they needed to, otherwise they risked being overrun by youth.

A “building block” was Dyche’s description. “The mentality was the biggest thing to me. It’s an awkward moment and we’ve had some real challenges. There were two or three out there who wouldn’t have been in normal circumstances. We spoke to them about doing the basics well – both the physical and tactical side – and I thought they did that today.”

Solid, then, if a little toothless. While Dyche handed a first Premier League start in claret to amateur carpentry enthusiast Roberts at right-back, what he pines for is a striker following Chris Wood’s departure. Worryingly, his team sheet had mustered just five league goals this season between them.

Their high line was commendably brave, though, Josh Brownhill frequently stepping up from central midfield to join Matej Vydra and Jay Rodriguez in pressing from the front. At times they were a tad overenthusiastic; Kieran Westwood’s first-half challenge on Tierney was arguably amber.

Tellingly, the two times Aaron Ramsdale was called into action were cross-cum-shots. The first came early and required an alert Ramsdale to spring backward and get a steely hand to Dwight McNeil’s viciously swerving attempted centre. Just after the break, Ramsdale got down low to his right to prevent the same man sneaking one in at his near post.

That aside, Ramsdale rarely looked under threat as he lodged a 10th clean sheet in 18 top-flight starts since many mocked his acquisition. He did provide an uncharacteristic heart-in-mouth moment when missing a punch from an early corner. It would have been cruel had McNeil’s injury-time drive on the break not flown over. Do it the same, but do it better.

GUARDIAN UK

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