Arsenal lacked quality, admits Mikel Arteta as goal drought goes on in drab draw with Burnley

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Arsenal lacked quality, admits Mikel Arteta as goal drought goes on in drab draw with Burnley - GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal lacked quality, admits Mikel Arteta as goal drought goes on in drab draw with Burnley - GETTY IMAGES

The next two weeks will bring some sunshine and respite for Arsenal, who look like a team in desperate need of a change of scene. The new calendar year has not been kind to them, with this goalless draw providing more angst and frustration for Mikel Arteta’s young side, so their upcoming mid-season break in Dubai will no doubt be welcomed by all associated with the club.

On a grey day in north London, Burnley arrived with the ambition of draining all colour and life from this match. Starting the afternoon at the foot of the table, but with six games in hand on some teams, they clenched their jaws and claimed the point they wanted thanks to an enormous rearguard effort. James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Connor Roberts delivered defensive shifts of the highest order.

The Burnley wall was too sturdy for Arsenal to break down, too solid in its structure. Two rows of four, big lads in the middle, every player committing their all in every moment. Burnley may have a series of underlying issues, and at one point they will have to start winning matches again, but there is no questioning whether this was a step forward for Sean Dyche’s side.

“We spoke to the players in the week about getting back to doing the basics really well,” said Dyche. “I thought they showed that.”

As for Arsenal, they looked tired. Their bench contained five academy players and there was an absence of attacking class for long spells.

They had their chances, but not enough of them. It is now four consecutive matches without a goal.

“We tried in every different way but lacked the quality in the final third,” said Arteta. “You need spark and creativity to win football matches and today we didn’t do that."

Would Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, still excluded from the squad despite his return from the Africa Cup of Nations, have made a difference? More attacking options certainly would not have hurt. Arteta is not one to sacrifice his principles, though, and the long-term project clearly comes before any short-term need.

Perhaps the problem will be addressed in the transfer market. “We are certainly trying,” said Arteta, who wants to strengthen his midfield and attack. “Let’s see.”

This was only Burnley’s third league match in the past six weeks and they were in no mood to leave themselves exposed against a side who love nothing more than space to run into. From the first minute, the pattern was set, with Burnley holding their shape and Arsenal circulating the ball at the back.

In matches like this, it requires a moment of quality, an opposition error or a stroke of luck for the breakthrough to be made. Arsenal had none of those in a flat first half, which was lit up only by the occasional efforts of Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard.

The absence of luck with refereeing decisions was a particular source of frustration for the home side. The controversy centred around Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood, who lunged into Kieran Tierney – studs on shin – and then caught Gabriel Maghalaes with a swinging elbow. One yellow card was the total of Westwood’s punishment.

The absence of the suspended Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey was, as expected, a significant issue for Arteta. Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe played either side of Sambi Lokonga in midfield, as was the case in Thursday’s League Cup semi-final against Liverpool. Once again, the balance did not feel quite right.

Despite this, Arsenal’s steady pressure gradually became a full onslaught in the second half. Saka and Smith Rowe both tested Nick Pope, while Odegaard went close with a dipping free-kick.

The best chance soon fell to Alexandre Lacazette. It was created almost single-handedly by Smith Rowe, who charged down the left flank and found his team-mate just a few yards from goal. The prodded finish, on the run, squirmed beyond the far post.

It proved to be the clearest opportunity of the afternoon. Arsenal continued to push afterwards, winning a series of dangerous free-kicks, but none were converted against this resolute Burnley back line. Tarkowski and Mee met every cross and blocked every shot, earning their team an impressive point.

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