The Battle of Turf Moor

To a man they came with revenge on their minds, players and supporters alike.

The wounds from last season’s clash, when this recently promoted side took the mighty Arsenal all the way only for us to steal victory in the dying seconds, were still blistering. This time Burnley were bent on our annihilation.

From the first whistle they came at us like a squad of jihadis under the command of Mullah Sean Dyche. Their pace was relentless as attack followed attack. The team talk must have been that life on earth was the first half and heaven – full of all those vestal virgins waiting to massage their limbs- was the second, because they threw everything at us.

The thing about this Burnley team is that, though they are very English in their composition and in the energy they bring to their game, they are technically gifted and play attractive football. This is no West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City nor indeed Mourinho’s Manchester United. There was a memorable moment when their Johann Guomundsson roasted our Nacho Montreal (not an easy thing to do) by doing a Kanu-like swivel to bring the ball on to his right foot before unleashing a venomous shot that had Peter Chech well-beaten and left our right-hand goalpost quivering to its roots. But we were determined to show that the victory over Tottenham was not a one-off. We dug deep and threw our bodies on the line led by our own dervish, Shkrodan Mustafi, a one man squadron at the back.

We only managed to bare our attacking teeth once in that first half. That was when Alex like-this-like-that  Lacazette gave his Burnley marker the slip by allowing the ball to run down their left flank before spinning round to meet his package on the other side. Knowing that his marker was in hot pursuit, and that Aaron Rambo Ramsey would be haring into the box, he swept the cross in low, first time. Everything was right including Ramsey’s decision to take it, also first time, with the instep of his right boot. Only his execution was a shade shy of perfection as the ball went over the bar.

Having failed in their plans to crush us in the first half, the second half was all about us. It was a matter of when and how we would score, not if. Granite Xhaka was at the heart of the events.

I had been having misgivings about him, particularly as to his penchant for playing loose cross-field balls and getting us into trouble without any obvious compensating ability as a holding midfielder. His passes were typically square rather than penetrating and his tackling was reckless but most times non-existent. But in this game he showed what he had on both fronts.

When his poorly taken corner fell short and was headed out by the first man, it looked like a Burnley break was on and that we had been put in trouble yet again. However, the granite-one chased back and caught up with the Burnley hopeful just as he entered our half. Picking his moment, Shaka put in a sliding tackle from behind. Had he got it wrong it would have resulted in a booking; but he got it just right relieving the bemused Burnley man off the ball.

His next major contribution was decisive. Finding himself centred just outside the Burnley 18 yard box, he called for Jack Russell Wilshere to lay the ball into him. As it came, he first tamed the ball with the studs on his left boot before flighting a perfect ball on to the head of Sead  Kalashnikov Kolasinac who nodded it on into the path of our always moving predator Ramsey.

The two handed push on Rambo’s back from the Burnley defender by which he was felled would have been enough to jumpstart any car on a wintry morning. It was as clear a penalty as I have ever seen. It was only controversial because this was the 93rd minute of what been a very close contest and there was raw history in this encounter.

Lacazette having been substituted, the responsibility for plunging the knife into the hearts of the Burnley warriors from the penalty spot fell to Alexis Sanchez. He is a natural with many things on the pitch except penalty taking. Where he was going to put it was poorly disguised; only the pace on the ball saved the day as the net bulged signalling a dramatic final score of 1:0 to the Arsenal.

And thus to the victors, in the Battle of Turf Moor, went the spoils of all three points moving us back up where we belong, in fourth place and above Spurs.