A Massive Point as Gunners Fail To Smash Fortress
Wednesday 16th December 2009 @7:45pm Kick-off
The Clarets put in an impressive performance on Wednesday night and held high-flying Arsenal to a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in front of our highest home crowd of the season. This was a massive point make no mistake about that and the Clarets were simply superb, in the end almost winning the match after Fletcher got the ball in the net before controversially being ruled offside.
You have to put this performance into context to see how good this result was. Arsenal, riding high in third place and keen to keep the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United at the top came to Turf Moor with high-hopes of victory after an impressive 2-1 away win against Liverpool at Anfield in their last match. You could argue they did not put out a full strength team owing to a long injury list that included one of their leading goal-scorers, Robin van Persie but you only have to look at the eighteen selected to see the depth of quality in their squad with virtually every player being an household name. Sagna, Fabregas, Walcott and Arshavin to name but a few were all in the starting eleven with high-quality players like Eduardo and Eboue on the bench.
The Clarets started brightly but it was Arsenal who took the lead though after just seven minutes of play when Fabregas pounced on a defensive blunder by Andre Bikey. That was a sickener and things now looked bleak with Clarets fans fearing the worst. There was that horrible feeling it was going to be a massive slaughter but we need not have feared, the Clarets resilience and determination to get back in this game paid off. Andre Bikey was brought down in the area by Vermaelen after 28 minutes and in typical fashion, Alexander made no mistake from the spot to score his 100th career league goal and his fifth for the Clarets this season. 1-1 it was at half-time with the Clarets back-four holding up with Jordan in particular looking impressive and keeping Walcott at bay.
Chris Eagles was on top form again in this match and in the 62nd minute hit the woodwork after getting in an angled drive from the right. Clarets fans thought the impossible had happened after 69 minutes when Steven Fletcher turned in McDonald's cross but our hearts sank when referee, Mike Dean ruled he was offside after a linesman raised his flag. It was clearly shown on Match of the Day afterwards that the goal should have stood so you could say 'we woz robbed`
The Clarets played some delightful football for long spells of this game particularly in the second-half and you be forgiven for thinking we were one of the Top 4 sides not Arsenal but the Gunners always looked dangerous on the break, so all credit to our back four who held firm to give the Clarets a well-earned point.
The result kept the Clarets in 13th spot on 19 points, crucially now three points ahead of third from bottom club, Wolves, the team we play next this Sunday at Molineux so what a six-pointer that will be. Wolves` gaffer Mick McCarthy was in the Bob Lord stand on Wednesday night and must have been impressed if not scared by our performance. He had to run the gauntlet of boos from the Bob Lord contingent for his controversial decision to rest ten of his out-players for their game the previous night at Old Trafford. They lost that game 3-0, which couldn`t have been much fun for the Wolves fans who would have had to fork out £50 or so for a ticket plus travel costs to watch a reserve team 'throw one in`! I guess it`s a compliment that McCarthy wanted to rest his players ahead of the clash with us on Sunday but I do so much hope it backfires and we get our first away win of the season. It is not right football should be played with such blatant politics on show, it has been pointed out to me it goes against FA rules not to field your strongest side but I doubt Wolves will be fined and in my opinion they should be.
The Clarets Team Sheet
Owen Coyle was somewhat predictable in his selection for this match but he did give a start to Kevin McDonald with Robbie Blake having to be content with a place on the bench. This got the approval of most Clarets fans who have been impressed with McDonald`s recent performances. It is also true to say that Blake has been under par recently and it might do him some good to be on the bench for the next few games with a view to using him as an impact sub. The inclusion of McDonald could also have had the desired psychological effect bearing in mind how well he played the last time these two sides met at Turf Moor almost exactly a year ago. Kevin McDonald was the hero that night, scoring a brace of goals as the Clarets dumped the Young Guns of Arsenal out of the Carling Cup.
As expected there was no place for Martin Paterson or Jay Rodriguez, two players who are understood to have recovered from their long-term injuries and are now pressing for a return.
Fletcher found that he was alone up front again with Coyle resisting the temptation to give Nugent a start in a 4-4-2 formation so the eighteen had a familiar feel to it as we lined up as follows:
Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Eagles, Bikey, McDonald, Elliott, Fletcher
Subs: Penny, Kalvenes, Gudjonsson, Blake, Guerrero, Nugent, Thompson
The Full Match Report
Wirral referee, Mike Dean got the game underway on a relatively mild night in front of an atmospheric crowd and the Clarets were nearly ahead as early as the second minute.
Clarke Carlisle got in a header from an Eagles free-kick and the ball took a wicked deflection off the head of Arsenal defender, Thomas Vermaelen threatening to go over Almunia with the Gunners keeper diving backwards. The keeper got just enough of a touch though to see the ball hit the top of the bar and fly away to safety.
It wasn`t long though before the Gunners pounced and it was the unfortunate Bikey who paid the price. He looked uncertain in trying to clear the ball before Fabregas took it off him and directed a shot low into the bottom corner of the net to put the Gunners 1-0 up.
The Clarets heads seemed to drop now with their confidence obviously dented and a buoyant Arsenal threatened to run riot. Jensen had to dive at the feet of Nasri to snuff out the danger and then it was Arsenal`s turn to hit woodwork when an Arshavin left-footed shot rattled the base of the post
With Clarets fans fearing the worst somehow we gradually came back into the match with the Gunners unable to capitalise on their early lead. Chris Eagles, Steven Fletcher and Kevin McDonald all became more involved in the game and it was suddenly Burnley who were doing the pressing with Arsenal on the back-foot
On 27 minutes, Stephen Jordan, who was having a solid game in defence and keeping Walcott remarkably quiet, was now involved in a build-up that led to him passing the ball to Bikey. The Cameroon international was waiting for the ball to drop and was about to shoot when he was challenged unfairly by Vermaelen with Mike Dean pointing to the spot.
Graham Alexander in his usual cool manner made no mistake with the penalty thumping it past Almunia to equalise and send the Clarets faithful into raptures.
Arsenal clearly rattled by the penalty and no doubt thinking about the half-time dressing down that Wenger gave them in their previous match against Liverpool at Anfield, now began to instantly respond in an effort to retain the lead but the Clarets held firm
Fabregas laid off a ball to Arshavin who was bearing down on goal but Jensen saved well.
With half-time approaching, Jensen same to the rescue again in stoppage time, saving a header from Vermaelen at full stretch by tipping the ball over the bar. In the end a very encouraging half for the Clarets who were holding their own against a side who always looked threatening on the break. Arsenal with the score 1-1 at half-time certainly knew they were a game and were not going to find it that easy despite threatening to run away with it earlier in the match.
The Clarets stormed out of the blocks in the second half too playing some delightful football by taking the game to Arsenal with some sweet passing. Coyle stated before the match that his intention was to play 'toe-to-toe` with the Gunners and we were certainly doing that. The pace was electric.
A poor clearance by Almunia gave Bikey a chance to make amends for his earlier mistake that led to Arsenal`s opener. He couldn`t quite get the purchase on the shot he needed though and the grateful keeper mopped up the danger.
With 62 minutes on the clock, Chris Eagles came within a whisker of putting the Clarets ahead. He had been causing Arsenal problems all night and this time he got the better of both Alexandre Song and Mikael Silvestre to let rip with a shot which had the Gunners keeper beaten. The ball though struck the post and bounced back to safety.
Most of the chances now remarkably were falling to the Clarets. The hard-working Fletcher came close after turning to shoot on the volley from a Bikey pass and on 69 minutes he looked to have scored after getting the ball in the net. A cross by McDonald found Fletcher who tapped into the back of the net only for the linesman to flag for an offside. He was clearly onside proved by watching the play-back and commentary later on Match of the Day.
Eagles by now was playing a blinder and he nearly scored twice before being substituted. Gallas got in the way of one shot and then he tried a thunderous attempt which flew just over the bar.
Gudjonsson had come on for Bikey after 70 minutes and with seven minutes to go, Coyle made a double substitute with Nugent and Blake coming on to replace Eagles and Fletcher who had both run their socks off all night. The fresh legs were enough to see the game out and earn the Clarets a superb point.
Burnley: Jensen, Mears, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan, Alexander, Bikey (Gudjonsson 70), Elliott, McDonald, Fletcher (Nugent 83), Eagles (Blake 83).
Subs Not Used: Penny, Kalvenes, Thompson, Guerrero.
Booked: Yellow Cards for Caldwell and Eagles
Goal: Alexander (28 pen)
Arsenal: Almunia, Diaby, Sagna, Fabregas (Ramsey 43), Vermaelen, Nasri, Gallas, Walcott (Eduardo 64), Song, Silvestre, Arshavin.
Subs Not Used: Vela, Wilshere, Fabianski, Eboue, Thomas.
Goal: Fabregas (7)
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
We do however have to give credit to our back-four who were at the top of their game snuffing out most of the Arsenal attacks and none more so than Stephen Jordan. He has had continual stick and criticism by many Clarets fans this season which I think is totally uncalled for. I have only seen him have one 'stinker` this season and that was against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground. It turns out also that in that match he was under the weather suffering from some bug or other so in my opinion should not have played. I think Jordan deserves far more credit than he gets. I think sometimes he has to work harder on the left with not enough support provided by the left midfielders on occasion. Blake sometimes lacks the pace to get back quick enough in my opinion which often leads Jordan exposed.
You watch Jordan carefully he gets in some crucial tackles and did so again last night keeping Walcott subdued for most of the game with Wenger eventually bringing the England international off after about an hour. Jordan therefore gets our Star Player award after having played probably his best game for the Clarets this season against one of the top sides in this league.