Another day, another Arsenal red card – this time to a player who had barely become accustomed to life back in England again before being made to take the walk of shame, as Thomas Partey’s sending off rounded off a miserable Thursday evening for Mikel Arteta’s side. Despite welcoming many big-hitters back to the fold from injury and coronavirus, the Gunners’ EFL Cup dreams came to an end in the final four, as Diogo Jota struck either side of the break for Liverpool to propel the Reds into February’s final with Chelsea.
It is now top four or bust for Arsenal – whose request to postpone last weekend’s North London derby was granted amid widespread condemnation from rival fans and pundits – and they have now been leapfrogged by their bitter rivals following their dramatic late comeback versus Leicester City. January has been a truly forgettable month for the Gunners with three defeats and a draw from four games in all competitions – failing to score in each of their last three – but Premier League games at the Emirates is where Arteta’s men have typically excelled. Indeed, Arsenal’s tally of 22 points from 10 home games this term is the third best in the league, and they even gave Manchester City a good run for their money on New Year’s Day, so the Premier League’s basement side have their work cut out to make one of their several games in hand count for something.
Many Arsenal fans were quick to point out that Burnley’s wave of postponed matches did not lead to similar uproar which we saw for the North London derby cancellation, as Dyche’s side saw their relegation six-pointer with Watford called off due to a long list of absentees. Amid calls for rule changes from the under-fire Premier League regarding the criteria for postponements, Burnley – who have now played six games fewer than Chelsea, the busiest team in the league with 23 – travel to the Emirates with a glimmer of hope of clambering to safety.
The Clarets have not taken to the pitch since being dumped out of the FA Cup by Huddersfield Town on January 8 – their third loss on the bounce in all tournaments – but they are only three points adrift of 17th-placed Watford with two games in hand on the Hornets. Many eyes will be on how Burnley plan to replace Chris Wood after somewhat inexplicably allowing their top Premier League goalscorer to leave for a direct relegation rival, but it is also desperate times on the turf for this week’s visitors, who are one of only two teams – along with Newcastle United – still winless away from home in the 2021-22 top-flight season.
A Martin Odegaard stunner propelled Arsenal to a 1-0 win at Turf Moor earlier in the season, although that represents their only defeat from their last four versus the Gunners, who succumbed to a 1-0 defeat in this fixture last term via Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s own goal.
Arteta’s midfield crisis is just not letting up, with Partey and Granit Xhaka – who has been sent off two times before against Burnley – absent due to suspension, while Mohamed Elneny remains on Africa Cup of Nations duty alongside Nicolas Pepe. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may not be risked just yet, despite heart exams showing that he is “completely healthy”, and Arteta also has injuries to Calum Chambers, Cedric Soares and Bernd Leno to work around.
Martin Odegaard will likely be required in a deeper role once more alongside Albert Sambi Lokonga, with Arteta reluctant to throw 18-year-old Charlie Patino into the deep end. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how Burnley’s COVID-19 cluster will impact their lineup this weekend, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Nathan Collins, Dwight McNeil, Charlie Taylor, Erik Pieters and Matej Vydra are believed to be among the players affected.
Some of the affected crop will certainly expect to be involved this weekend, but Connor Roberts and Ashley Barnes are both set to miss out through injury, and Maxwel Cornet remains on AFCON duty. Jay Rodriguez will shoulder the goalscoring burden following Wood’s departure, and Aaron Lennon could join the 32-year-old in the final third if Vydra is not ready to return just yet.
NAME: Arsenal – Burnley
DATE: 23 Jan 2022
TIME: 14:00 UTC
VENUE: Emirates Stadium, London, England