Arsenal travel to Burnley tomorrow to take on Sean Dyche’s side at Turf Moor. Following our two most impressive performances of the season last weekend against Chelsea and midweek in the Champions League against Basel we should be going into this match with some real confidence. It’ll be important that confidence is channeled properly- Burnley away is the type of fixture bigger teams may underestimate and come into with a lack of focus. If you do that in the Premier League you’re likely to lose. Just ask Liverpool. After ripping us to shreds in the season opener they were beaten 2-0 at Turf Moor the following weekend despite having 80% possession.
James Richardson noted on the Guardian Football Weekly Extra podcast Thursday that the Clarets have conceded just 5 goals in their last 12 league matches at Turf Moor, stretching back to last season in their Championship title campaign. They’ve conceded just twice in four home league matches this season, in a 1-0 opening day defeat to Swansea and a 1-1 draw with Hull City. They’ve collected 7 points from the 12 available at home, with wins against Liverpool and last weekend against Watford where they also picked up clean sheets.
Lineup in last week’s win over Watford
Under Dyche Burnley will try to make up for the gap in quality they have with most sides with excellent organization and work rate. In defense they’ll drop off into their own half with a midfield bank of five in front of the back four and look to frustrate the opposition into unlocking them. We’ll need keep up the tremendous pace we’ve moved the ball over the last two matches to pull them out of their defensive shape.
Because they defend with the midfield five, Vokes is left as the highest man up the pitch on his own. When they win the ball back rather than building play forward through the midfield they’ll often look to go long into Vokes early and rely on him to hold play up long enough to allow time for midfield runners to get forward. The Welsh striker is incredibly strong and capable in the air. Only Christian Benteke is averaging more aerial duel wins per game (8.4) than Vokes (6.8). As a team Burnley have won the most aerial duels in the league.
They are more concerned with controlling space and territory than possession. They’ve been outpossessed in every match this season and have the third lowest average possession in the Premier League (41.3%) behind West Brom (40.8%) and Sunderland (39.7%). It’s worth noting they’ve played Swansea, Leicester, Hull and Watford, four sides in the bottom seven in average possession so you’d expect Burnley’s average possession totals to continue dropping as they play more sides that like to keep the ball.
Remarkably, in their two wins this season Burnley averaged below 50% pass success rate in the final third against Liverpool and just 54% against Watford. Many of those passing attempts in the final third came from long balls towards Vokes from deep in their own half. The right side of the graphic shows their final third passing against Liverpool, the right side shows their final third passing against Watford.
Against Watford they looked to get the ball wide into the channels, get midfield runners into the box to join Vokes and cross early and often. The weak side winger will tuck into the box to join Vokes and usually one of the three center midfielders will also burst forward to attack crosses, most often Hendrick. The screen shot below shows an example. Here, Gudmundsson gets the ball on the right channel. Boyd tucks all the way inside to the front post from his position on the left channel, Hendrick goes back post, Vokes is in the middle to attack the cross.
It’ll be important for us therefore to try to get tight to the wingers and full backs to stop the supply of crosses into the box. Our wide midfielders will need to protect the fullbacks so they don’t get isolated and have to defend the channels 1 v. 2. Mustafi and Koscielny will also need to be up for a physical battle with a lot of high balls coming into the box.
Burnley will also pose a threat from set pieces. Both goals against Watford were headers that came from corners.
This match could tell us a lot about the focus and consistency of our squad. It’s easy to get up for a home match against a rival like Chelsea. This will be a different type of test. With games against Burnley, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the month of October we have a real opportunity to climb the table and stay on pace with other potential title contenders. Those sides are currently 14th, 17th, 16th and 19th in the league respectively. The danger is we become too confident and complacent and lose matches we should win. If we’re focused and up for this one tomorrow the gap in talent should be too big and we should see a fifth consecutive league win.