It’s been a rather low-key build up to this week’s Premier League clash between Arsenal and Burnley, almost unusually so.
Whether that’s because we are still firmly in the grip of a collective summer holiday torpor, or whether a lack of narrative for either of the two sides means there isn’t much to hang this match on, is unclear but I can’t say I like it.
It almost feels like there is an air of expectancy around this clash, as if everyone expects that we will cruise through the match with minimal fuss, while Sean Dyche’s trolls simply roll over for a belly-tickling.
Years of bitter experience has taught me to sense acute danger in situations exactly like these.
You only have to look back to ‘dead rubbers’ against Crystal Palace and Brighton at the back end of last season to see how damaging an effect complacency can have on this team.
Throw an early Saturday kick-off and a flat crowd into the mix and we have ourselves a recipe for an upset.
On paper (yes, I know), Unai Emery’s side should simply have too much for the visitors, particularly at the Emirates, and you’d like to think focus among the squad is high given a certain measure of competition that has emerged over the summer.
There shouldn’t really be any fatigue in the legs at this early stage so, all things being equal, this should be a good opportunity to take the three points and to get some momentum into the campaign early on.
Don’t forget (as if any of us could) that after the opening two games of last season, we had no points to show for our efforts. This time around, we could find ourselves with six. But, as confident as we’re all feeling at the moment, I won’t be counting my chickens until my egg is laid, cooked, and safely digested.
On their day, Burnley have a truculent, combative quality to them that upsets rhythms and can work as a great equaliser between themselves and teams who are technically far superior to them. They took points aplenty off bigger teams in the second half of last season, and kicked players to bits in the process.
While fitness and mobility will be an issue for them in these early weeks of the season, they will undoubtedly approach this game with physicality and directness high on the agenda. It’s no frills, it’s ghastly to watch, but it’s what has kept them in the Premier League in defiance of logic and expectation for this long so it is difficult to argue with it.
If we’re to overcome it, Emery is likely going to need bodies at the back and that may mean the return of three centre backs, in an effort to out-muscle the Burnley forward line. If you accept that Callum Chambers has done enough to warrant a second start at the back (and I do) then Sokratis and David Luiz would seem the logical choice to accompany him.
It’s a defence that’s unlikely to win awards but it is robust and experienced and, hopefully, can be error free, as it was at Newcastle.
For all our misgivings about the back line, one thing we can be certain of is an attacking lineup packed with pace, skill, and power. We are blessed in the final third with some top quality talent and I expect us to be able to cause the visitors real problems with the players we have at our disposal.
At this early stage of the season, I wonder whether Emery will continue to be cautious with Alexandre Lacazette’s ankle injury and Nicolas Pepe’s lack of match fitness. Given that we’ll have much bigger tests ahead this month and into the next, it may be wise to bank on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to do the business in these first few weeks while everyone else gets up to speed.
While it may make things a little tighter than we might like now, it could be a move that pays dividends as things start to pick up in the autumn.
Before we look too far ahead, though, we must focus on the job in front of us and that means taking Dyche and his orc horde seriously and with due respect. Whatever they might be, they are seldom bottlers so I expect things to be a little closer tomorrow than others might have you believe. When all is said and done, though, we should really be collecting all three points.