Burnley hosted UEFA cup finalists Arsenal at Turf Moor this weekend on the final game of the season. After confirming their place in next year’s Premier League, Burnley played their remaining game for pride and for the fans. Similarly, Arsenal had already booked a place in next years Europa League by attaining more points than Manchester United. A place in the Champions League for Arsenal looked nigh on impossible. It would mean Spurs losing at home to Everton and Arsenal winning by more than nine goals.
Sean Dyche set his team out into a 4-4-2 formation. The formation he has used extensively this season. The defensive line remained unchanged from their last game away at Everton. The only changes to the team saw wingers, Brady and Gudmundson were replaced with Hendrick and McNeil.
Arsenal had not won a Premier League game since March against Watford away. Unai Emery since then has chopped and changed formation constantly which has only seen success in Europe. Today they would form up in a 4-2-3-1 changing from a 3-4-1-2 which saw them beat Valencia last week. The game would see a massive rotation of the team. Left-back Monreal would remain with Mavropanos, Mustafi and Lichstiener coming in. Guenouzi, Elneny, Wilcock Mkhitaryan and Iwobi all getting starts with Aubameyang remaining up front after his hat-trick against Valencia last week.
Burnley’s intensive pressing
Burnley started super proactive off the ball and pressed Arsenal with vigour whilst trying to read and anticipate passes. Above we can see that 10. Barnes has pressed the Arsenal centre-back and is forced to make a forward pass to Geundouzi. Before the ball has even reached Geundouzi Burnley’s midfield have already begun to press. This forced Arsenal to play the ball back and reset constantly as Burnley aimed to keep Arsenal in their own half and away from their goal eliminating any potential threat.
Above we can see six Burnley players occupying the Arsenal half. Each player has a man to mark whilst the closest player to the man in possession will close down and press. Circled is Burnley’s Chris Wood who has blocked the passing lane at the back which would usually be the comfortable option playing from the back. Ashley Barnes has left his marker to chase the man in possession Nacho Monreal. Monreal has no option other than to try and switch play across the field with a difficult long ball. Sensing Arsenal are on the back foot with the switch ball, teenager Dwight McNeil (just out of shot) runs in and presses Lichstiener who panics and the ball goes out for a Burnley throw-in inside Arsenal’s half. With this kind of pressure, Arsenal would have to find a better way of playing the ball forward.
Going forward Burnley would play from the back easily beating the Arsenal primary line of defence, striker Aubameyang. Once the ball had progressed to the middle of the pitch Burnley would work hard to get the ball just within the final third of the field. From here Burnley’s attacking tactic seemed to be making sure the last key pass would be a long ball for strikers Wood and Barnes to run onto.
Above we can see how an example of this. Ashley Westwood finds himself in a decent amount of space. Looking up he can see the two Arsenal lines of defence which are fairly compact with no Burnley players in the middle looking for a pass. The two strikers are on the right shoulder of both Arsenal centre backs anticipating a long ball in front. Barnes has spotted Westwood intention and has already begun to make a run behind the defence and beating the offside trap. The saving grace for Arsenal is that goalkeeper Leno has enough time to react to the long ball and beats Barnes to the ball.
Arsenal attack from the halfspaces
There was a distinct pattern which was set when Arsenal Attacked. When in the opponents final third, movement off the ball would occur going into the half spaces where the ball would follow. From the half-space, the team would have two options. An overlap on the outside to try and get around Burnley’s defence to then play a decisive pass into the six-yard box. Conversely, the other option would be to let the overlap happen on the outside at an attempt to drag the wingback and possibly the centre-back with them to create space. Whilst the space has been opened the ball can then be crossed into the box towards the strikers.
Though Arsenal managed to get into this position several times throughout the first half they lacked quality with the final ball as Burnley managed to deal with both the crosses and the overlaps.
The half spaces were also used as passing lanes to split the Burnley defensive lines wide open.
Burnley fight back
Both teams had set about the second half in very much the same manner. It would be a sloppy Burnley pass along the defence that lead to the 1st goal with Aubameyang pouncing on the opportunity. 10 minutes later Aubameyang would increase the lead to 2-0 with a great finish from a cross that was made inside the box.
The first time Arsenal came under intensive pressure at the back saw them conceding. After being pressed from Burnley at the back, Arsenal found it difficult to clear the ball and transition into an attack. Burnley fought harder for the second balls which saw them gain possession and immediately. Instantly, the ball was hit forwards long and direct towards the tall target men Wood and Barnes as mentioned earlier. After a shot on target was saved by Leno Arsenal were left reeling on the back foot and nervously attempted to clear the ball. It resulted in Burnley attempting little crosses several times into the six-yard box which pulled the defence apart and resulted in poor positioning for the final cross which Barnes headed in strongly.
The statistics show that Arsenal dominated possession with 61% though only had a few more shots on goal than Burnley. Burnley similarly managed to miss the same number of big chances and to hit the woodwork along with ‘Gunners’.
Arsenal pass completion was around 86% which is ok but perhaps not quite a ‘gold standard’ for a team with big expectations.
Sean Dyche’s tactic of working the ball methodically upfield to the middle then hitting long balls to target man can sometimes prove effective against teams. It would explain why they signed Peter Crouch later in the season as he fits the kind of target man they would want to be on the end of these direct, probing long balls into the danger areas. Unfortunately, this time Arsenal would prove too good for this tactic, although there were times where Arsenal struggled to effectively defend and transition they proved too good for Burnley once in they entered the final third.
Unai Emery will be fairly pleased with this away result and performance. However, they will have to be more effective with their passing and reduce giving the ball away as much to get any result against Chelsea in the Europa League Final.
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