Saturday 24 February 2018

Chilean spot-on in injury time as Gunners keep title hopes alive in breathless finish

Alexis Sanchez dinks the ball down the middle of the goal to score past Burnley’s Tom Heaton and win the game for Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Alexis Sanchez dinks the ball down the middle of the goal to score past Burnley’s Tom Heaton and win the game for Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez

Jason Burt

Arsene Wenger admitted he should have just shut up. But this was a breathless encounter, nonetheless, not least in eight extraordinary minutes of added time in which penalties were traded and controversy was everywhere.

Arsenal 2 Burnley 1

There was so much chatter it was impossible to say nothing, so many talking points that everyone had an opinion.

Burnley's Dean Marney (left) and Arsenal's Mesut Ozil (right) battle for the ball. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Burnley's Dean Marney (left) and Arsenal's Mesut Ozil (right) battle for the ball. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The Arsenal manager was sent to the stands for his enraged reaction as referee Jon Moss awarded Burnley's spot-kick but foolishly ended up positioning himself in the tunnel and then petulantly pushing fourth official Anthony Taylor as he tried to make him leave - which he eventually did.

Wenger's sheepish post-match reaction said it all, not least because he now deserves further punishment from the Football Association, but also because he knows - quite frankly - that he actually had nothing to complain about in the first place.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche, however, did, and he was right as he punctuated each answer with a reminder that Laurent Koscielny was offside in the incident that ultimately led to Alexis Sanchez's decisive penalty which earned the precious victory and raised Arsenal up to second in the Premier League.

It means Burnley have now lost twice following incidents with Koscielny in added time this season - the defender also elbowed the ball into the net in the 93rd minute at Turf Moor for the only goal.

Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is fouled by Burnley's Ben Mee in the area resulting in a penalty to Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is fouled by Burnley's Ben Mee in the area resulting in a penalty to Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez

"Bizarre," Dyche said. Bizarre, indeed. This was the hurly-burly world of the Premier League encapsulated in one match, once the fourth official raised that board to show the added minutes and all hell broke out over the pitch.

Before that it had looked like a routine enough win for Arsenal, albeit one punctuated by the dismissal of Granit Xhaka, which meant that they played out the final 30 minutes with 10 men.

A second red card of the season - a third when a dismissal playing for Switzerland is included - means that Xhaka will be banned for four matches. With Santi Cazorla still injured, Mohamed Elneny away at the African Cup of Nations, and Jack Wilshere on loan, it will stretch Arsenal in the centre of midfield - although, on this form, Xhaka will be no great loss.

Lunged

The £30million signing was ordered off - after Moss had consulted his assistant, Andy Halliday, who went on to miss the Koscielny offside - as he passed the ball straight to Steven Defour and then stupidly lunged two-footed at the Burnley midfielder.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) scores a penalty. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) scores a penalty. Photo credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

The contact was minimal but the red card deserved, and it means Xhaka will have missed 16 matches through being sent off in the past two seasons. He earned yet another rebuke from Wenger.

The Frenchman ended up rebuking himself as well, as Arsenal appeared set to throw away two points. They had laboured in the first half, and while Tom Heaton saved well from Mesut Ozil, so did Petr Cech from Ashley Barnes. Burnley did not look like a team who had collected just one away point this campaign.

They played two up front and Andre Gray clearly had the run of Shkodran Mustafi - although the struggling defender then opened the scoring in the second half with his first goal for Arsenal. It came from a corner by Ozil, whose fellow German international evaded his marker, Stephen Ward, and angled a deft header across Heaton and into the net.

Up until that point it felt like this could be one of those Arsenal games in which they create half-chance after half-chance, dominate possession but ultimately come up short as the crowd grow more and more frustrated.

The goal changed that - but then the sending-off shifted the momentum further, and Dyche, smartly, ran through his substitutions as he began to crank up the pressure and sensed something.

Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is fouled by Burnley's Ben Mee in the area resulting in a penalty to Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny is fouled by Burnley's Ben Mee in the area resulting in a penalty to Arsenal. Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez

Still the clock ran down. It appeared over, but Barnes took the ball inside the Arsenal area and substitute Francis Coquelin caught him. Wenger later said the midfielder denied there was any contact, but Moss pointed to the spot. Wenger was apoplectic, although that probably betrayed his fear that his team had thrown the game away. Cech got a hand to Gray's kick but could not stop it.

To Arsenal's credit, the 10 men poured forward. "We are a team who keeps going," Wenger said. Deep into injury time there was still time, and when a free-kick was won, Koscielny made his move to stoop and try to head the ball back across goal as Ben Mee acrobatically attempted to beat him to it. Mee's boot was high and Moss, after deliberating, pointed to the penalty spot.

This time it was Dyche and Burnley who were furious. "We don't have to worry about that," Dyche said as to whether or not Mee was guilty of dangerous play. "It's offside. As simple as that. Not an inch; two-thirds of a body's width."

To cap it all, Sanchez took the penalty - designated taker Olivier Giroud had already been substituted - and elected to go for a panenka-style chip to beat Heaton. Sanchez kept his head and scored.

"Too cool," Wenger later said of the penalty - and once he had caught his breath he also admitted that he regretted his own behaviour. Arsenal, eventually, had the points, even if their manager was again guilty of tunnel vision.

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