Arsenal 2 – 1 Burnley
Just when it seemed that the good fortune of the weekend would be wasted, Arsenal contrived a winner to take three points and third place. Alexis Sanchez put his last-minute penalty straight down the middle of the goal in keeping with his own style: low and quick. Tom Heaton had already dived to his right as the ball fizzed into the net; unexpectedly, Arsenal had the lead, and Jon Moss barely had time left to restart the game.
In keeping with the second half, it was a winner shrouded in controversy. Burnley claimed with good cause that Laurent Koscielny was offside and active when his head received the full impact of Ben Mee’s boot. Arsenal took it to be rough justice with Moss missing a blatant penalty earlier in the half when Andre Gray tripped Shkodran Mustafi.
Sean Dyche hoped that the decisions would even out over the course of the season; they evened out in the course of the second half. Both sides received dubious decisions in their favour, with Burnley’s penalty a shocking decision as Francis Coquelin didn’t touch Giles Barnes. Petr Cech almost stopped Gray’s penalty which was similar in style to the one Alexis later scored.
Capping off the madcap game, Granit Xhaka received a straight red and four-match ban, for a scissor tackle. Moss sent the Swiss off against Swansea for dangerous play, repeated the trick again with few protests.
The lunacy got to the normally reserved Arsène Wenger who received his marching orders for calling the referee a “cheat” and appearing to shove fourth official Anthony Taylor for good measure. Alan Pardew served a two-match ban and found his pay-packet £20k light for a similar offence last season. That’s the least Wenger can expect. If it is the punishment handed out, it means he is back in the dugout for the Chelsea game so appealing any decision won’t be advisable.
Arsenal dominated possession, even after going down to ten men. In the first half, they peppered the visitor’s penalty area but created few genuine opportunities. Heaton saved well from Alexis’ low shot but for the most part, Burnley’s dogged defending was enough to keep shots and headers off target. Cech at the other end had three smart saves to make; at Barnes’ feet and two from Gray shots. Perhaps the number sticks in my mind because of their rarity.
Come the second half, and Arsenal left Burnley with fewer chances before Mustafi broke the deadlock with a well-guided header which was steered beyond Heaton’s reach, and into the corner of the net. One-nil was all that the Gunners deserved. Chances went begging with the Burnley goalkeeper the busier of the two. However, Cech tipped over Barnes’ free-kick to ensure Arsenal’s advantage was maintained.
When Moss intervened in the second half, the mayhem began. Wenger’s temper frayed at the award of Burnley’s penalty three minutes into the seven added minutes. Arsenal’s manager excused himself afterwards from a minor altercation with the fourth official in the tunnel, claiming he was unaware that he couldn’t watch the game from the tunnel. A man with his experience knows where the line is drawn by officials and it will no doubt count against him when push comes to shove at FA headquarters.
At the end of the game, three points were Arsenal’s and it made a pleasant change to be the ones benefitting from late decisions by the officials. No wonder Alexis’ celebrations were an explosion of joy and relief. And to make the day perfect for him, he got to celebrate in front of his shiny new banner. How sweet.