Burnley travel to title-chasing Arsenal on Sunday, with the search for a remedy for their travel sickness this season still enduring. With the second half of this Premier League campaign underway, the Clarets remain the division’s perennial away day strugglers but will not be short of confidence ahead of their visit to the Emirates Stadium.
Pay close attention to Olivier Giroud
While it would be remiss of Sean Dyche to ignore the sorcery of Mesut Ozil or the directness of Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal’s form player must be kept in check on Sunday. Olivier Giroud, lauded in some quarters and derided in others, is in a rich vein of form and Burnley’s rearguard must be unrelenting in their approach to stifle the prolific France international.
Giroud is currently averaging a goal every 71 minutes in the league, which is comfortably the best ratio in the league. The diversity of his goals is also astonishing: a scorpion kick one week, a stabbed close-range effort the next. The Gunners’ hotshot exudes an infectious confidence, which bodes well for his teammates, and therefore Michael Keane and Ben Mee must ensure they strike a balance between being dominant in the air – another area of Giroud’s expertise – and on the deck.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s fitness could be key
While Burnley can expect to spend the majority of the game entrenched in their own half, they must be prepared to offer something on the counter-attack. Johann Berg Gudmundsson is undoubtedly the Clarets’ best equipped player for such an approach, with his quick turn of pace on the ball and his smart decision-making suited to a fast transition from defence to attack.
The Iceland international has not featured for the club after sustaining a hamstring injury in a 0-0 stalemate with Sunderland in the FA Cup earlier this month, but is supposedly touch-and-go for Sunday’s clash. Gudmundsson was arguably Burnley’s best attacking player in the reverse fixture at Turf Moor in October, and his effectiveness on the ball – on such a large pitch, too – could prove vital for Dyche’s men in north London.
The new midfield axis deserves time
While it could be easy for Dyche to change system and personnel for the trip to Arsenal in light of his side’s poor away record, the regular crop of players have earned their manager’s faith with six wins from seven games at home, and the Burnley boss must not neglect that fact come Sunday.
Things have not worked on the road so far this season, but the re-introduction of Joey Barton into the fold has helped things in midfield and for all the concerns that, at 34 years of age, he may be off the pace in the Premier League, he still has the composure and level-headedness in possession make him a valuable asset in midfield.
The Clarets will not see much of the ball on Sunday and must therefore be diligent when using it, which also means the equally competent Steven Defour is likely to partner Barton. In the three matches in which the pair have featured together, Burnley have kept three clean sheets. That’s no coincidence.