Arsenal leave it late as disputed winner marks Wenger anniversary
Published 03/10/2016 | 02:30
Arsene Wenger will not have seen many scruffier goals during his 20 years at Arsenal, but when you are celebrating a notable anniversary, timing is everything.
Burnley0 Arsenal 1
With the last kick - or to be more accurate, hand - of the game, Laurent Koscielny ended Burnley's resistance and perpetuated the idea this is a more spirited, determined and title-ready Arsenal.
They left Lancashire having returned to the top three, yet were only a matter of seconds from facing more awkward questions about their credentials.
Wherever you stand on whether this was evidence of a more streetwise Arsenal or simply a luckier one, the controversial nature of the victory was indisputable.
In the second minute of injury-time, Theo Walcott flicked a cross to the back post and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's strike struck his captain's hand, trickling over the line.
As Arsenal's players celebrated, the Burnley players and supporters launched an impassioned plea to the officials - first for offside, then for handball and then for anything that could save them the point they would have deserved.
"I have not seen it, but I have been told that we were fortunate," admitted Wenger.
"The impact of the other results today could have been negative if we had not won."
Sean Dyche, Burnley's manager, naturally lingered on the final six seconds, which he argued should not have been played.
"You have to question the added time, the corner and the handball," said Dyche. "It's a poor way to end."
At such times managers need to be masters of diplomacy as well as motivators.
For the second time this week Burnley demonstrated they will not be relegation fodder this season. However, they will not wish to tolerate too many of these afternoons, where they get more plaudits than points.
Wenger, by contrast, will embrace more of these messy wins to accompany the footballing masterclasses we have become accustomed to.
Those seeking a grand gesture to mark his milestone were disappointed, but during the course of a season it is these results that deliver most satisfaction. There is no win so gratifying as that which seemed unlikely as the referee considered putting the whistle to his lips.
As expected, the visitors had gone about making Turf Moor their own, dominating territory and monopolising possession. However, it was a false sense of superiority, as they failed to overemploy Burnley's goalkeeper Tom Heaton.
Dyche's concession of the ball, however, was strategic. There was a simplicity to their approach as they played it long to Sam Vokes and sent Arsenal's midfield scurrying backwards.
Vokes's physical fight with Shkodran Mustafi was the focal point of most the contest, with frequent exchanging of shirt tugs and grappling. Mustafi felt suitably wronged when penalised, but Arsenal's concern was Vokes enabled advancing midfielders to win second balls.
The visitors had to do more, but it was not until the latter stages that the siege began.
Mesut Ozil was operating on the periphery too long, Walcott only occasionally giving his hamstrings a stretch, and Alexis Sanchez was discovering why Michael Keane is tipped for international recognition.
Vokes had the best chance of the first-half, heading Matthew Lowton's cross wide with one of those opportunities that made him retrospectively eager for the linesman's flag.
Arsenal had more opportunities after the break, Sanchez forcing Heaton into a save and also volleying inches wide from close range.
Yet it would be inaccurate to suggest this was solely about Burnley repelling Arsenal as Dyche's side carried a threat.
Petr Cech had to push aside Johann Berg Gudmundsson's header on 59 minutes and Keane headed the Icelandic midfielder's corner against the crossbar.
Only as full-time approached did the Burnley blockade came under greater pressure.
Walcott saw a late swerving effort whistle past the post and as the hosts sank deeper and craved the final whistle, Koscielny intervened.
Wenger was serenaded by the visiting fans before and after the game - maybe those supporters felt the presentation by the club's chairman Chips Keswick did not quite encapsulate the depth of their gratitude to the manager.
With the greatest respect to that ceremonial glass vase, these three points were the gift Wenger really craved.