2006: Bolton away (location: North-West)
2007: Blackburn away (location: North-West)
Would another team beginning with the letter ‘B’ from the North-West add to our recent FA Cup woes by knocking us out on their turf? Well in the end they didn’t, but without a few moments of class on our behalf they would have come mighty close.
With the Spuds game around the corner, Le Boss decided not to field a complete "reserve" side. Amazing, we must be the only club in the history of the universe to rest our second string. It was a mix and match eleven with the youthful likes of Traore, Denilson and Bendtner being supplemented by Jens (in his swansong?), Kolo and Gilberto. Eduardo retained his place up-front and looked to continue his recent goalscoring run. Interestingly enough, there was no place whatsoever in the sixteen for Lassana Diarra which indicates that his future may lie away from Arsenal. This would be a shame as in the medium-term I could see him giving the Flamster (assuming he himself stays) a good run for his money to see who partners Cesc. Even in the short-term I’d prefer him to Gilberto, another man who has been linked away from the Club.
Burnley were not a team to be taken lightly with established names such as Gabor Kiraly, Jon Harley, Stanislav Varga and Steven Caldwell – all of whom have top-flight experience. And so it proved only five minutes in when Andy Gray (who scored against us in the cup a few years ago for Sheffield United) put in a cross from the right which was met by Kyle Lafferty, whose powerful header cannoned off the bar. A lucky escape in two senses: firstly because the header did not go in, and secondly because Gray was clattered by Senderos just after he got his cross in – the ref could have easily given a pen. Then just four minutes later we went ahead. Kolo advanced from the back, Eduardo came short and then spun in behind his marker. Kolo’s chipped ball fell perfectly into the Crozilian’s path, who controlled it and with the merest of touches sent it into the bottom corner past the hapless, clown-looking Kiraly. As he went through there was no doubt he’d score, and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about an Arsenal striker bearing down on goal. That was his sixth goal in four games, and his eleventh overall. He is now our second top scorer in all competitions, an astounding fact considering that only now has he really had his first run of games.
Those expecting the floodgates to open following that were to be proved wrong. Burnley came right back at us and fair play to them. Their manager said before the game that they would try and play football and they stuck to their guns, causing a fair few hairy moments at the back for us. For the remainder of the half we offered little going forward, although the state of the pitch did not help at all. From playing on the green baize that is The Emirates (and the majority of Premiership pitches), the boys had arrived on a minefield. However the home team coped quite well with it, so we can’t use it as too much of an excuse. Ten minutes after the goal they forged a chance borne out of some very decent football – a nice exchange of passes in the midfield eventually saw the ball played up to Gray who didn’t get full purchase on the shot which made for a comfortable save for Jens, despite it going through Bacary’s legs.
Against the run of play we could have extended our lead. Denilson’s corner was headed goalwards by Gilberto. It ricocheted off a man on the line and onto another Burnley player on the post – somehow it stayed out. We created a further chance a few minutes later when Eboue went to reach a cross at the back post but was flagged for a foul. The home side were looking to swing some crosses in from the flanks and caused a moment of havoc in our box. After his namesake Djimi gifted Burnley a famous cup win over Liverpool with a kamikaze own goal a couple of years ago, young Armand nearly did the same. A deep cross came in from the Burnley left and ran all the way through to the back post where it bobbled up and hit Armand. Instead of clearing the ball ASAP, he decided to shield it and was eventually mugged by a Burnley player. The ball was then rolled back to a free man and thankfully he lifted his shot over the bar. Had it gone in, Jens would have gone mental at Armand, and rightly so. On a day like this with the pitch as bobbly as a woolly hat, he really needed to play the percentages in that situation. The last offensive moment of the half came from us as Super Nick, who had been quiet up until then, attempted a spectacular overhead kick which was on target but comfortable for Kiraly.
As the teams reappeared for the second-half, it dawned on me as to why it was such a shit pitch. The players’ tunnel is stationed behind the goal at Turf Moor, so not only do 22 players have to traipse across the ground to get to their positions, but so do both teams’ subs and managers and coaching staff. So that means twice a game the pitch gets subjected to an extra twenty set of feet trodding across it. Five minutes into the second-half and a real shock – Eduardo missed a one-on-one! In the first real vintage Arsenal move of the game Eduardo and Super Nick played a neat one-two that saw Eduardo clean through on goal. He gave Kiraly the eyes and sidefooted it at the near post. I was 100% confident he’d score and so was left agape when it flashed wide of the post. He is human after all. In hindsight he would have been better of it hitting it across the keeper, but who am I to advise him on how to finish?
Then on the hour came the decision that you thought would extinguish Burnley’s hopes as Lafferty got a straight red for a lunge on Gilberto. It was reckless rather than malicious, but dangerous nonetheless. Just like with the goal though, those of you who expected that to signal the beginning of the end for Burnley were once again mistaken. They refused to lie down and kept on the offensive. However they did not manufacture many clear-cut chances, for which much credit should go to the defence, especially Big Phil who made his fair share of blocks and headed clearances in the second 45. With Kolo now gone he will be vital, especially in games where we suffer an aerial bombardment. On the floor, Djourou may be a better option though. All the defence looked solid except Traore, who was replaced by Justin with twenty minutes remaining. A harrowing experience like this will stand him in good stead for the future.
With a quarter of an hour remaining the game was put to bed. Eduardo, whose general link-up play was the best I have seen from him thus far in an Arsenal shirt, received the ball in between midfield and attack and slid it through the Burnley backline. His mate Bendtner curved his run in behind the defence and scored following two touches: the first to evade the onrushing keeper and the second to slot it home. He made that look easy – he was running away from the goal at considerable speed and did well to control his finish instead of blasting it. From thereon the floodgates really could have opened, most notably through Eduardo who seized on a loose ball and attempted to round the keeper instead of striking it goalwards, and then in injury time he had a goalbound shot blocked. At the end of the day, he was the difference between the two sides.
So in the end we managed to negotiate a very tricky cup tie. As is always the case, the underdogs raised their games and gave the favourites quite a fright, as evidenced in all of the day’s results. However unlike the Scousers, Newcastle, Derby and Fulham, we were able to conjure up that little extra which now sees us avoid a gruelling replay.
Jens was solid when called upon in what may be his last game for us, a clean sheet a fitting send off for the Mad One. Like I’ve already said, Traore was given a torrid time and nearly capped it off by gifting Burnley an equaliser by trying to be too clever when he should have just cleared it instead. Sagna was his usual solid self at right-back whilst Senderos grew as the game went on. Kolo was quite simply awesome as skipper, how we’ll miss him.
The midfield as a whole was average at best. Gilberto looks out of place these days which is an unfortunate indictment to make as he has given so much to the cause over the years. However we should definitely keep him as he can offer a reassuring presence from the bench when we need to close games out, especially as he offers extra height at defending set-pieces. Alongside him, his Brazilian compatriot Denilson seems to be suffering from second season syndrome as he fails to live up to his breakthrough performances from last year, but he is very young indeed and did his best to keep play ticking over. Diaby was hit-and-miss which is often the case with him these days. Often he’ll overcomplicate matters by trying dribble out of trouble instead of keeping it simple, and then when his dribbling is successful he is liable to misplace his pass. When talking about his performances feel like I am hitting my head against a brick wall as I say the same things every time. Maybe I am doing him a disservice though as he is being played at of his natural position. On the opposite flank Eboue had one of his more wasteful games, he gets into such great positions but then either lashes his shots wide/over or his crosses fail to find their target. If his end product was better then he would be rivalling Cristiano as best winger in the league.
The attack was anonymous for the most part but when they sprung into life they were deadly. Eduardo especially impressed me as his general play looked sharper. His finish for the goal was simplicity at its finest, and although he failed to capitalise on a few opportunities in the second period he made up for it with a killer assist for Bendtner’s goal. The Dane didn’t have the greatest of games and looks to have lost a bit of the momentum he was gaining following his winner against the Spuds, but hopefully the goal will bring it all flooding back as we prepare to meet our neighbours next. Top Gun goes to Eduardo as his quality in the final third was telling and probably the decisive factor in this tie not going to replay.