From a defensive perspective, Arsenal’s performance at Turf Moor on Saturday was titanic.
The Gunners’ backline was resolute, determined and unbending in the face of a 90-minute assault from a Burnley side primed for battle.
There was lots to like about the bodes-on-the-line, ultra disciplined defensive effort from a team that has faced so much scrutiny this season and it was that, as much as Martin Odegaard’s free-kick brilliance, that secured victory on the day.
Goals win games, of course, but on Saturday it was the defence who took all the plaudits – and rightly so.
Particular mentions go to Gabriel for his sheer physicality and Aaron Ramsdale for standing tall under an aerial barrage. Both rose to the task with aplomb on a difficult afternoon and both will have set down markers in the manager’s mind with their performances. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Takehiro Tomiyasu also battled manfully in what he can consider a real (and bruising) introduction to Premier League football.
At the attacking end of the pitch, meanwhile, it was a difficult and badly off-colour performance from a group of players who veered between complacent and wasteful. In the end, of course, all that matters is the victory but even against the likes of Everton, West Ham, or Leeds, a performance like that simply won’t do.
Burnley’s own struggles in the attacking third went a long way to masking the failures of our front men but the pressure placed on our defence was in no small part because of the profligacy of those in front of them.
Bukayo Saka had one of his worst games in Arsenal colours and he was by no means alone. His passing was awry, he was dispossessed on numerous occasions in bad areas, his movement was laboured and he was slack in key moments.
For the above, also read Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe. Just as with the Norwich game a week earlier, the match could have been wrapped up much earlier but for the quality of finish or weight of pass. As I mentioned before, they can get away with it against sides as bad as those we have played recently, but it just won’t do in the weeks ahead.
Having had a week to rest, refocus and prepare since the Norwich match, it was surprising that so many were so poor on the day but let’s just hope it is early-season fitness issues they are working through. If they click, this attacking unit could do something truly exceptional but, as we have seen, if just one or two of them are out of kilter, it leaves us blunted.
In an attacking sense, it was only really Odegaard who emerged with credit. His free-kick was a beauty and, hopefully, the first of many, while his passing, movement, and work off the ball was head and shoulders above those around him. But for the efforts of those in defence, he would have been a clear man of the match.
Between now and the north London derby next weekend, Mikel Arteta will have to think about how he addresses this current attacking malaise and whether some time out of the team for one of the young players might be necessary in order for minds to be refocussed.
In the end, though, it was another victory and another clean sheet for a side that is slowly looking to find its feet again after a lousy start to the season. There are much bigger tests to come in the weeks ahead but in terms of momentum, we can chalk both matches down as steps in the right direction. This side is by no means the finished product but it is starting to show that it has the resilience and quality to put points on the board.
There will almost be bumps in the road ahead but this group has shown at least that it has the stomach for it.