It’s April, Arsenal are second in the Premier League table and have won seven games in a row. Before we begin, it’s probably worth taking a second to let that sink in. After a pretty dreadful start to the campaign, they have somehow managed to string together an impressive amount of victories and, for the most part, performances to match. However, all things must pass.
There’s a reason why a big team away at plucky newly-promoted minnows from Up North is on TV – there’s the hope of an upset. Of course, your dual narrative kills two birds with one stone pretty effectively, but this game is a 5.30 kick-off rather than a lunchtime one for a reason; the floodlights, the chill in the air, the slightly more intoxicated and subsequently louder home crowd – the whole thing is set up rather nicely for a Burnley result.
Burnley win 19/4
Arsenal win 53/100
(All odds provided by AllYouBet.ag are accurate as of today and subject to change)
This isn’t to say there is some conspiracy against Arsenal of course – this isn’t that type of website. Both Chelsea and Manchester City already found themselves in similar situations at Turf Moor, with the results rather conveniently reflecting both sides’ respective seasons. Chelsea were exciting to begin with, Diego Costa scored without playing particularly well, then Mourinho went and Mourinho-ed – making his side see out the victory in a more professional, yet unspectacular fashion. Manchester City, meanwhile, were underwhelming and failed to match the standards they set last season.
So what kind of game would be representative of Arsenal’s season? Definitely not a handsome win – certainly not as good as Chelsea’s. Probably a 3-2 win or a 2-2 draw, with the Gunners falling a couple of goals behind early on before roaring back in the second half rather surprisingly.
And Arsenal have unquestionably been playing well. With 10 wins in their last 11 league outings, Arsene Wenger’s team have finally played themselves into form and last Saturday was probably the first time that their three best players – Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez – all played well in the same game at the same time. However, they’ve also been playing opponents at the right time over the last couple of months.
Liverpool were in good form before Manchester United visited Anfield and put a hole in their boat, which enabled Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard to nobly go down with the ship – both earning themselves three-game suspensions for violent conduct. All this, added to Daniel Sturridge’s injury, allowed Arsenal to steamroller a much weaker Liverpool team than one that would have shown up at The Emirates, say, four weeks earlier.
Everton and QPR were also playing pretty badly prior to their respective fixtures with the Gunners last month. And since Newcastle and West Ham both achieved all their goals (getting enough points to avoid relegation) in the first half of the season, they saw no need for a second, and both allowed Arsenal to stroll away with three points.
After spending what felt like the entire Easter weekend trying to bore Tottenham into submission, it’s pretty safe to acknowledge that, comparatively, Burnley aren’t so out-of-form. This isn’t to say they are actually good, mind – they are still second bottom – but as a relatively well-drilled, two-banks-of-four team who have something to play for and aren’t as desperately low on confidence, they may well prove to be Arsenal’s toughest opponents since the North London Derby.
Sean Dyche’s side have unexpectedly tried to fill the spot vacated by Middlesbrough and, more recently, Wigan Athletic, of that side who only seem to take points off big teams. Their record of 10 points against teams in the top seven this season is at least twice the total of anyone else the wrong side of 15th. Despite Sean Dyche having the constant expression of a bouncer of nightclub that’s reached full-capacity before midnight, it’s almost as if Burnley are, in fact, just happy to be here.
There aren’t many things more dangerous to a title challenge than a team who seemingly cares more about treasuring their time in the top flight, rather than extending it. Playing Crystal Palace or Hull is meaningless to Burnley – it’ll probably end up being a Championship play-off semi-final in a few seasons anyway – so hosting Arsenal is far more mouth-watering.
Being Arsenal, however, especially in April, is probably one of those few things more dangerous to a title challenge. It was all going so well too. While the rather unrealistic nature of this particular pursuit of the league leaders may be a useful dry-run for next spring, Wenger’s side seem to have developed a bad habit of wetting themselves every time they get within a moderate distance of silverware. This late-season charge from the Gunners really does seem to mirror much of Liverpool’s form at the end of last term, and while the “This Does Not Slip” episode really did set a new bar for hilarious title-bottling, if anyone can better it, Arsenal can.
Betting Instinct tip – The score draw is 7.38 with Intertops.eu