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Xhaka error shows old habits are still haunting Arsenal

Sam Dean
·23-min read
All eyes were on Xhaka following his blunder - REUTERS
All eyes were on Xhaka following his blunder - REUTERS
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Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff spend hour after hour each week on Arsenal’s game-plan, cultivating a strategy and identifying the weak points of their opponents. It is a painstaking process, built around the careful positioning and movement of each member of the team and the deliberate patterns of play they want to create.

Arteta is still new to this management game, still learning about his players and tinkering with his own approach. And if this season has taught him anything, it will be that even the best planning in the world will count for nothing if his players continue to produce moments of baffling, inexplicable mindlessness.

There are few teams as adept as Arsenal at conceding goals out of absolutely nothing. No matter their dominance of the game, or their superiority over the opposition, they can still find a way of sabotaging their own cause. It happens on an almost weekly basis and here it was Granit Xhaka stepping up to the plate, giving Burnley a remarkable goal when Arsenal were cruising to what should have been an easy victory.

Receiving the ball in his own penalty area, Xhaka attempted to curl a pass around Burnley’s Chris Wood. Unfortunately for him, Wood was standing directly in front of Arsenal’s unguarded net. The margin for error was small, and the execution was dreadful. Wood did not even need to move, and quite literally could have scored it with his eyes closed. Xhaka might as well have asked if he wanted it gift-wrapped.

Such charity explains why Arsenal are where they are, flailing around in mid-table. When they do not make silly mistakes, they are a genuinely good side that is capable of beating anyone. But they seemingly cannot cut out those errors, and they will not make any meaningful progress until they do.

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“We are talking about it all the time and just trying to nullify anything we give to the opponent,” said Arteta. “If someone makes a mistake when they want to play, I will always support them. If someone is hiding and doesn’t want to play and then he makes a mistake, that’s when I’m not going to have that.”

Even after Wood’s goal had cancelled out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener, Arsenal could have won this game three or four times over. Nicolas Pepe smashed the ball against the bar in the second half, and missed a wonderful opportunity from Kieran Tierney’s cross, before Dani Ceballos struck the post with almost the final kick of the game.

They also could have had a penalty, when Burnley’s Erik Pieters clearly handled the ball in the box. It seemed obvious enough as a decision but, then again, who really knows what handball is any more? “I think it is clear,” said Arteta. “There is no debate about that. If that is not a penalty then someone will have to explain what a penalty is in this league.”

To make matters even worse for Arsenal, a subsequent penalty and red card was overturned when Pieters was deemed to have used his shoulder to deflect Pepe’s volley rather than his arm.

Burnley’s players celebrated the final whistle, which showed what they thought of how the game had unfolded. Sean Dyche’s side had a few promising moments after the break but they were forced to dig in for long spells here, including almost the entire first half as Arsenal took an early lead and threatened to score more.

 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal scores his team's first goal past Nick Pope of Burnley during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal  - Getty Images
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal scores his team's first goal past Nick Pope of Burnley during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal - Getty Images

There are few sights more terrifying for Premier League defences than Aubameyang receiving the ball in the left channel, running with pace towards goal. It is from this position that the Arsenal captain scores so many of his goals and he could clearly sense the fear in Burnley’s defenders as he cut inside after only six minutes.

The challenges were flimsy, allowing Aubameyang to fire his low shot towards the near post. In front of the watching Gareth Southgate, Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope could not produce a strong enough hand to prevent the ball from trickling into his net. “The top level he is at now, he will question himself,” said Dyche of Pope.

Aubameyang’s strike brought another assist for the rejuvenated Willian, who is finally starting to provide the creativity that Arteta expected when he joined from Chelsea in the summer.

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There were more chances to come for the visitors. Bukayo Saka and Aubameyang both prodded wide from close range before Thomas Partey side-footed an effort over the bar.

Arteta could hardly have asked for more, in terms of his team’s general performance, but the old habits remain for Arsenal and for Xhaka in particular. No outfield player has made more errors leading to goals in the Premier League since the start of the 2016/17 season and his mistake here was almost beyond belief.

Wood looked as surprised as anyone to have found the net without having to do anything at all, and Burnley could certainly consider themselves fortunate to be level at the break. Dyche’s side had offered so little before then, struggling to get through the Arsenal midfield, but after half-time there was far more of an even balance to the game.

Pieters almost struck a second for Burnley with a dipping volley from range, before Wood forced Leno into action after being played through on goal. Then it became one-way traffic again, with Arsenal peppering the goal and the woodwork in search of a goal that never came. Three points had become one and, once again, they had only themselves to blame.

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02:34 PM

Some stats

  • Burnley have enjoyed just one win in their last 10 games in all competitions (D5 L4), after winning three in a row directly before that.

  • Arsenal have kept only one clean sheet in their last 11 games in all competitions (0-0 v Man Utd in January), after keeping five in a row directly before that.

  • Burnley have drawn five consecutive home league games for the third time in their history, after a run of six games ending in April 1936 and a run of five ending in October 1997.

  • Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley (8) than against any other club, whilst only against Hamburger SV (9) has he netted more often in the top five European leagues.

  • Willian has provided an assist in each of his last three games for Arsenal in all competitions (3 in total), as many as he registered in his previous 25 for the club, while he is the Gunners’ top assister in the Premier League this season (5).

  • Since the start of 2016-17, Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has made more errors leading to goals than any other outfield player in the Premier League (8).

02:32 PM

One penalty that was given and overturned...

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And one penalty that wasn't....

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02:30 PM

Arsenal's late flurry

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02:24 PM

FT: Burnley 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal should not not have been level at half time but Burnley deserve that point for the second half showing. It was a far more even game and both teams missed big chances close to the end.

02:23 PM

94 minutes

Unbelievable scenes in the Burnley area in the last minute! Pinball in there and the ball dropped for Ceballos who smacked the ball against the post. Arsenal have come to life late on.

02:19 PM

92 minutes

I think this is Arsenal's poorest half of football for a good few months, bar those two moves that led to Pepe's chances. Burnley looking solid.

02:18 PM

90 minutes

There will be four minutes off added time. Luiz produced a great block for Arsenal from that Pope free-kick.

02:16 PM

89 minutes

Lacazette takes too long to pick his pass then blocks the ball with his arms. Burnley can shift up the pitch with a long kick from Pope.

02:14 PM

87 minutes

Pepe could not have done much more with that chance, he caught it sweetly and it was great defending by Pieters. So much action in the game now - Rodriguez shoots wide from the edge of the box.

02:13 PM

VAR CHECK: No penalty or red card

The ball actually struck the top of Pieters' shoulder. The Burnley players were insistent and they proved right by the replays. No doubt that is the right decision.

02:12 PM

PENALTY ARSENAL!

Pepe popping up in the area again and meeting it on the volley and Pieters is penalised for handball on the line. The referee hits points to the penalty spot and sends Pieters off. But hold on....

02:10 PM

82 minutes

Now Arsenal miss a sitter! Tierney with a great low cross pulled back behind the Burnley defence and Pepe completely missed his kick from seven yards out. He looked certain to sweep it into the corner.

02:08 PM

81 minutes

Another chance for Burnley! Brilliant play between Wood and Vydra, combining like Yorke and Cole with a one-two, but Leno comes off his line to save with his feet from Wood. Ceballos on for Partey.

02:06 PM

79 minutes

What an outrageous strike from Peiters, a dipping volley from about 30 yards that had Leno scrambling back towards his line to tip it over. Vydra then glances a header over from the corner.

02:05 PM

77 minutes

Can either side produce that magic moment? Arsenal will still be aggrieved that was not given as a penalty, but I think most fans will be happy if that type of incident is no longer considered handball.

02:03 PM

74 minutes

The game has turned into a right scrap in this half, not much quality. Arsenal come forward again through Pepe and he screams for handball against Pieters! His arm was raised but he had no reaction time. No penalty. Have seen those given this season.

01:59 PM

72 minutes

Lacazette with a ridiculous, blood-curdling scream after Pieters caught him. Made sure he got the free-kick. Pepe is going to put it into the mixer - surely Burnley won't mid that - and it is woefully underhit.

01:57 PM

69 minutes

Burnley posing some problems. Vyrdra twisting and turning in the area and he went down under the challenge of Saka but he kicked his standing leg. Appeals or a penalty but nothing doing. Arsenal change: Pepe on for Willian.

01:55 PM

67 minutes

Gudmundsson coming off to be replaced by Brady. This game is finely poised. Arsenal have not created enough danger in the second period, Burnley far more comfortable than they were in the first half.

01:54 PM

65 minutes

Lacazette looks like he is going to play in the hole behind Aubameyang. Willian has been sound but Pepe offers much more goal threat, you have to think Arteta will be looking at that change. Brady is about to come on for Burnley. Saka makes another foul and he has to be careful on a booking.

01:51 PM

63 minutes

Lacazette coming on for Odegaard. The playmaker showed some nice touches in the first half but has faded since half time. Burnley also making a change - Pieters replaces Taylor at left-back.

01:49 PM

61 minutes

Burnley win a free-kick after a slight push in the back from Luiz. Gives them a chance to load bodies into the box. Leno rushes off his line and does really well to claim. Lacazette is getting read to come on.

01:47 PM

59 minutes

Arsenal moving the ball far too slowly in the Burnley half, with David Luiz stepping forward and taking an age to decide what he was going to do with it. Arsenal just need to take fewer touches and let the ball do the work.

01:45 PM

57 minutes

Partey dallies on the ball and loses out to Vydra in midfield. The game is a little more scrappy now which suits the home team. Arteta will start to think of changes soon.

01:43 PM

55 minutes

Chambers gets forward well and picks out Saka in the area but Burnley get another block in. Then the Arsenal winger catches Taylor and picks up a yellow card.

01:41 PM

53 minutes

Burnley dropped the corner right on Leno but the Arsenal goalkeeper did really well to claim. The Arsenal subs including Ceballos, Bellerin and Pepe are out and warming up.

01:40 PM

51 minutes

Saka receives the ball on the right and cuts inside, shot blocked. Then Arsenal work the ball to Odegaard around the edge of the D and his snap shot is dealt with by Pope. He caught it sweetly.

Then Burnley get forward through Taylor and Saka pokes behind for a corner.

01:38 PM

49 minutes

Arsenal with good work between Willian and Saka down the left but Odegaard gives the ball away. Arsenal starting to control possession and set up camp in the Burnley half.

01:35 PM

47 minutes

Partey hammers the ball out of play when trying to whip a pass around the corner. Burnley keep trying to press Arsenal and keep them penned in.

01:34 PM

We're back under way

Arsenal need a strong response after frittering away their early advantage.

01:33 PM

That Burnley goal

Xhaka's one-footedness was a problem there. The pass to David Luiz was on but he did not want to play the pass first-time with his right peg.

01:27 PM

Errors leading to goals

Arsenal's last three goals conceded in all competitions are that disaster today, a giveaway early on against Leicester and Dani Ceballos undercooking a header back to Leno against Benfica. Too many unforced errors.

01:18 PM

HT: Burnley 1 Arsenal 1

Burnley will be delighted with that scoreline. They were struggling to create any danger but fortunately for them Arsenal created their own. Arteta will also rue that fact they did not score a second goal when the chances presented themselves.

01:16 PM

45 minutes

Arsenal have a corner after Tarkowski gets a block in up against Willian. Burnley deal with it but Arsenal keep the pressure on down in the left corner. Tierney is then pulled up for handball.

01:15 PM

The gift for Burnley

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01:14 PM

43 minutes

Good movement from Vydra to get behind Luiz and McNeil unleashed a drive that Leno does well to hold.

01:12 PM

41 minutes

What were we saying about Arsenal finding a way to self-destruct. That was a terrible goal to concede having missed two or three good chances to back it 0-2.

01:11 PM

GOOOOOOAAALLL! Burnley equalise in comical fashion

A nightmare from Arsenal and Xhaka, trying to pass the ball short in their box. The midfielder receives a ball off his goalkeeper on the six-yard line and tried to play a pass with his right foot and it bounced off Wood straight into the net.

01:09 PM

38 minutes

Brilliant play from Aubameyang to spin in the middle of the mark and run at Burnley's defence and Arsenal had three against two. The striker fed the pass to Saka on his right, but the ball just ran under his foot when a good first touch would have led to a shot.

01:07 PM

36 minutes

Burnley's crossing has been really poor so far, too many straight at the first man or into Leno's gloves. Burnley enjoying another short spell of territory, but Xhaka very nearly sent Aubameyang clean through on the break but Pope rushed out and just about got there to head out for a throw.

01:04 PM

33 minutes

Arsenal looking comfortable again, knocking the ball around between the centre-backs and the central midfielders. Starting to feel like the kind of game they can only lose by self-destructing or beating themselves. Just need to keep doing the basics well.

01:00 PM

30 minutes

This has been better from Burnley, they have Arsenal pushed further back but have not produced that telling pass or cross. Then Arsenal get the chance to break through Saka and Odegaard, and the January signing picks out Partey at the edge of the area who shoots over. It was a trick one with the ball bouncing just in front of him.

12:58 PM

27 minutes

A little bit sloppy from Arsenal in midfield and the referee plays on after a late tackle by Mari. Burnley come forward but the move ends with Westwood taking on an ambitious shot from distance that was always rising.

12:56 PM

25 minutes

Push in midfield by Xhaka gives Burnley the chance to send some big bodies forward. Good flick-on from Tarkowski but Luiz leans on Wood and does enough to see the ball through to Leno. Arsenal back in possession again.

12:54 PM

23 minutes

What a miss from Saka and Arsenal! Good one-two between the winger and Aubameyang at the edge of the box, Burnley got a foot in but the ball ricocheted off a defender and ran for Saka, but he stabbed it just wide with his right foot from just a few yards out. Arsenal should be further ahead.

12:52 PM

21 minutes

Burnley pin Xhaka into the corner as Arsenal try and pass their way out of defence and they win some territory. Arsenal have not dominated possession as much you might think, they almost look happy to let Burnley step forward and wait for a mistake.

12:50 PM

18 minutes

Burnley attack down the left again, but they have not produced any quality with their delivery from wide areas. Leno collects easily. Then Arsenal flood forward after Odegaard picks up space in midfield. Partey picks out Aubameyang with a chip over the top, Lowton made a good intervention but it dropped to Aubameyang who poked just wide with his left foot.

12:47 PM

16 minutes

Aubameyang with another good dart in behind, found by a Xhaka pass. This time Burnley get the block in. Tierney gets forward well down the left again and Arsenal enjoy some time knocking the ball around high up the pitch. Arteta's team just need to make sure they keep the tempo up.

12:46 PM

Aubameyang's goal

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12:45 PM

14 minutes

Good diagonal from Tarkowski over Chambers' head to Taylor but his cross bends behind for a goal kick. Saka wins an aerial challenge with Ben Mee and turns and drives to the byline - more good play from the youngster. Arsenal play the corner short but Burnley clear.

12:42 PM

12 minutes

McNeil with some good defending and wins the chance to lead a Burnley break but Partey gets across well to close him down and put the ball out for a throw in. The Arsenal midfielder has started this game well.

12:41 PM

9 minutes

Arsenal working hard to hassle Burnley in midfield but they do well to switch the play to the right and keep the ball. Aimless punt forward from Luiz goes straight to Mee but Arsenal recover the ball quickly.

12:38 PM

7 minutes

Pope could have done better having got a hand to it. Lovely Arsenal move but the finish felt a little soft from a Burnley perspective. The home team just need to settle down.

12:37 PM

GOOOOAAALLL! Arsenal lead

Aubameyang cuts inside from the left and sneaks a shot past Pope at the near post. Dyche will be unhappy that the Arsenal striker was able to shift the ball to his stronger foot.

It was a nice move to begin with - Partey poked the ball between the lines and Willian turned and ran at the Burnley back four.

12:35 PM

4 minutes

Saka was pulled up harshly for a high foot then Wood goes down cheaply wanting a free-kick. Down the other end, a Tierney cross is charged down and Arsenal have a corner. Cleared at the near post then Aubameyang is penalised for pushing Taylor in the back.

12:33 PM

2 minutes

Straight away that slightly different Arsenal backline is taking shape, with Tierney going high and Chambers covering round from right-back - it might look like a back three at times.

Wood wins an early flick on unchallenged, but Mari sweeps up and clears for a throw. Arsenal enjoy their first spell of possession but the pitch looks slightly dry.

12:31 PM

KICK OFF!

Andre Marriner blows his whistle and the away team get us started.

12:29 PM

The players are on their way out

Out of separate tunnels as usual. Arsenal in their blue-ish third kit today.

12:16 PM

Mikel Arteta speaks

We have to rotate. I want to maintain everyone in top form and we have four games in nine days. Emile had some discomfort still during the week, hopefully it isn't too much.

12:10 PM

Partey is back in the Arsenal side

Arsenal's Thomas Partey, center, warms up before the English Premier League soccer match  - EPA
Arsenal's Thomas Partey, center, warms up before the English Premier League soccer match - EPA
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12:03 PM

Sean Dyche speaks

We've had a lot of games, a lot of football with a very stretched squad. We bounced back well against Leicester, an energetic performance and we had an edge to our play. We're getting some players back and the bench looks a lot stronger.

11:56 AM

Martin Odegaard speaking before the game

The club is in a process now where things have changed a little bit, but what I’ve seen & experienced here makes me sure the club will be back at the top very soon.

11:44 AM

The teams the old fashioned way

Burnley: Pope, Lowton, Taylor, Tarkowski, Mee, Gudmundsson, Brownhill, McNeil, Westwood, Wood, Vydra

Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Luiz, Mari, Tierney, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Odegaard, Willian, Aubameyang

11:40 AM

Four changes from Arteta

Saka, Aubamayeng and Partey come back into the team from the win at Leicester. Arteta could have chosen to rest them altogether again before two big games in four days but clearly he wants to keep them ticking over.

Chambers at right-back is an interesting one. His first Arsenal start in the Premier League for more than a year. Perhaps Cedric and Bellerin are heavy-legged, or it could be an attempt to make Arsenal stronger on crosses. Dwight McNeil will fancy his chances of dribbling at him though.

11:33 AM

Arsenal team and subs: A surprise start for Calum Chambers

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11:31 AM

Burnley team and subs: Gudmundsson back but Cork misses out

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11:16 AM

Our man in position

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11:08 AM

Can Arsenal begin an important week with victory?

A home defeat against Burnley in December - courtesy of Granit Xhaka's brainless sending off and a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang own goal - was the low point of Arsenal's season and raised the spectre of a relegation battle. That was always a fanciful prospect, but things have improved considerably for Mikel Arteta's team since Christmas.

Only the two Manchester clubs and West Ham have won more Premier League points than Arsenal since Boxing Day, with the presence of Emile Smith Rowe, January signing Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka's switch to the right offering them much needed creativity and technical presence between the lines. There has still been the odd slip-up, but in truth Arsenal deserved more than zero points from away trips to Aston Villa and Wolves. Despite losing to runaway leaders Manchester City a fortnight ago, the last few weeks have been positive: wins over Leeds United and Leicester City and progression beyond Benfica in the Europa League. They face Olympiacos in the next round on Thursday before a north London derby against Spurs.

Arsenal also have a fully fit squad, or as near as dammit with Smith Rowe facing a fitness test for some minor hip discomfort. That could prove telling against a stretched Burnley squad who were much more like their old selves against Leicester on Wednesday night. Sean Dyche could welcome back Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady but Jack Cork may miss out with a hamstring problem. The win at the Emirates in December was Burnley's first over Arsenal in the Premier League but they are yet to beat them at Turf Moor despite some close run things. They will need a repeat of their Leicester performance rather than dreadful showings against 10-man West Brom and Tottenham.

Arsenal had a free week, and could welcome back Aubameyang, Saka, Thomas Partey, Hector Bellerin or Gabriel to the starting XI. Whichever team Arteta picks, Arsenal will have a very strong bench. Team news on the way shortly.