Arsenal 2 Burnley 1
Arsene Wenger’s famed youth project has been put on the backburner in recent years, and Callum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have seen their progression stall concurrently. Recent struggles have led to growing concerns over the prospects of the Southampton academy graduates.
Against a brave but outclassed Burnley, they provided a timely reminder of the talents that had convinced Arsenal to splash out more than £30million combined on them as teenagers.
Wenger had shuffled his pack following a three game run without a victory that left the Gunners third in the Premier League. £5million signing Mohamed Elneny made his debut, the Egyptian showing an attacking instinct but not yet the defensive discipline Arsenal fans have been crying out for. Burnley, in the same league position but a division below, made only two changes to the side that beat promotion rivals Derby County 4-1.
Only four Championship teams have enjoyed less possession than Burnley this season, so it was little surprise to see Arsenal dominating the ball early on. But it was the Clarets; Andre Gray, a £9million summer signing from Brentford, who had the game’s first chance, David Ospina palming away his tame close-range effort.
He would soon rue the miss. Sitting deep, Burnley invited Arsenal to exhibit their trademark intricacy in front of the box. It brought a glorious opener under the sunshine from an unlikely source. The Gunners’ £16million outlet on Callum Chambers in the summer of 2014 had raised eyebrows, and his stop-start 18 months since as a utility player had done little to dispel them. After neat interplay between Alex Iwobi and Alexis Sanchez, Chambers showed his class, striking the ball first-time into the far corner with the outside of his boot.
But the sceptical voices soon returned as Chambers went from hero to villain within minutes. Burnley boast the Championship’s best attack, but were struggling to find their in-form wingmen. When they did, it triggered the equaliser. A cross from the right led to another from the right, Sam Vokes rising above Chambers to head Tendayi Darikwa’s pinpoint ball past Ospina.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered similar inconsistency to that of his fellow Southampton youth product during his fledgling Arsenal career. But it was his cross, turned in by the returning Alexis Sanchez, which put the Gunners back in front after a fluid break.
The subdued Emirates crowd awoke from their slumber to cheer the return of Tomas Rosicky, on in place of the impressive Iwobi for his first appearance of the season. As the clock wound down, both sides seemed satisfied with the result, minds turning quickly to the league standings that will define their seasons.
Burnley fans were in fine voice after the long journey down to north London, and will be confident of paying a repeat visit next year. But today, the difference between two teams in the same spot in England’s top two divisions illustrated the gasping gulf between the two leagues.