Sean Dyche has spoken previously of fine margins in the Premier League, and there will be few more harrowing examples than Laurent Koscielny’s dramatic winner against Burnley for Arsenal on Sunday.
Controversy continues to engulf the goal itself – talk of video technology has flared up again after Koscielny had, to many, handled the ball while bundling home a crushing blow to the Clarets at Turf Moor – but in the aftermath of the game, Dyche admitted to the BBC that his side had got their ‘defensive position wrong.’
Regrettably, it was the only time Burnley had switched off for the entire game. They had kept their opponents at arm’s length until the final few seconds of the match, repelling numerous attacks from the Gunners while looking threatening on the break and from set pieces.
Dean Marney’s flexibility was pivotal
Burnley have recently lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and have been flexible within that. Steven Defour and Dean Marney have been entrusted primarily with defensive responsibilities in deeper roles, but the latter often dropped even deeper at times against Arsenal.
In certain situations, Marney retreated and acted as a third centre-back on occasion, nestling in between Michael Keane and Ben Mee. The 32-year-old’s positional versatility proved a huge bonus: nobody on the pitch attempted more tackles (eight) and of those, only Stephen Ward (six) won more than Marney’s five.
The midfielder also made five interceptions, the most on the pitch, with three of those coming in his own area. It suggests that, against a team who like to pass through defences, Marney has the astuteness to read the game and sense the danger. He also made the most passes out of anyone in claret and blue, completing 34 of 40 he attempted.
Sam Vokes was starved of support
Andre Gray’s enforced absence from Burnley’s starting line-up has perhaps been one of the contributors to the change in formation, and the responsibility for leading the line has fallen on the shoulders of Sam Vokes.
It proved to be a difficult afternoon for the Welshman, who toiled for little reward. Shackled by Arsenal’s defensive partnership of Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, Vokes attempted 25 passes and completed just 13 of them.
15 of those attempted passes were either square or backwards, which suggests he was playing with his back to goal, and that runs in behind were sparse. Of course, the more men Burnley committed to attack the more vulnerable it would leave them on the counter, but those passing stats demonstrate just how difficult it can be to strike a balance between the two.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson proved to be Vokes’ closest attacking ally, receiving five of the striker’s completed passes. The Icelandic midfielder, although chosen to play wide, often drifted inside to offer support as a supplementary forward, and showed the most endeavour to offer a consistent outlet for Vokes to use.
The goal was controversial, but also preventable
Burnley had held firm for the entirety of the game, but one last push was required when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot was deflected over the bar, and referee Craig Pawson gestured for a corner.
Mesut Ozil played the ball short to Alexis Sanchez, with both Gudmundsson and George Boyd closing in. The former kept tabs on Ozil; the latter on Sanchez. The Burnley pair had worked tirelessly all game, and it showed as Boyd gave the Chilean six yards to turn and swing in a cross.
Theo Walcott rose in between the impressive Marney and Matt Lowton and flicked on a header. Among the melee of bodies, both Oxlade-Chamberlain and Koscielny had escaped the attentions of their markers Keane and Jeff Hendrick at the back post, and they watched on as the French defender crashed home the winner.
To bemoan the defensive efforts of Burnley would seem extremely pedantic, but ultimately it is what played a big part in the winning goal. The Clarets had perhaps expected Pawson to blow his whistle for full-time, but it was not forthcoming and that, combined with an exertion of energy, is what may have conceivably cost Dyche and his men a point.