Alexis Sanchez picked up right where he left off assisting for Arsenal’s first and scoring the winner but with Sanchez already a known quantity it was new signing Mohamed Elneny who really caught the eye.
Arsenal’s recent struggles with offense and defense have been well documented and Burnley has been in great form lately so Arsenal supporters had good reason to worry. That worry must have been compounded when the team sheets were released and only two of Arsenal’s first XI were starters on the day, Giroud and Koscielny. With the latter captaining the side.
Before I start on the stats, I need to say that Burnley are a very Leicester side: they are 1st in their league in goals scored, 5th best in goals allowed, and 3rd in the Championship on points. Typically a team like that dominates possession and shots; but Burnley are 22nd in shots taken (3rd worst) and defensively they also allow the 3rd most shots per game. They also don’t control possession, they are dead last in tackles, they are 16th in interceptions, dead last in fouls per game, 23rd in getting fouled per game, and 20th in dribbles per game.
What they are doing is converting shots, they are scoring 14% of their total shot volume. Very much like Leicester, another team that converts 14%. Average conversion is about 9.5%. These teams like Leicester and Burnley live or die by their conversion rates. They aren’t big tacklers, they aren’t big passers, but they have a quick, dangerous player up front who fights for every possession. If they get chances they have to convert them or they lose the game. In that case, Ospina’s save off Andre Gray was absolutely crucial.
Burnley are also set play and cross specialists. 12 of their goals have come from set plays this season (leads the Championship) and 4 more from penalties. Burnley also have 9 assists this season from crosses. It should be little surprise that Burnley scored their only goal of the game from a cross.
As for Elneny, he paired amazingly effectively with Coquelin after a few bumps at the start. Elneny led Arsenal in total volume of passes and completed 95.2% of his 84 passes, 80/84. Of his 4 unsuccessful passes just 2 were in a bad area, the other two were attempts to create shots for teammates and both were in the 18 yard box.
Coquelin also had 4 missed passes and like Elneny 2 were attacking passes while the other two were giveaways in a dangerous area. All totaled, Coquelin and Elneny had 3 dangerous bad passes in the first half, leading to the perception that they were off to a bumpy start.
In fact, in the second half, they had just one missed pass total.
As for defensive stats, like I said, Burnley doesn’t give the opposition much defending in terms of volume: they aren’t winning the ball back constantly and running at defenders. So, it’s no surprise that they combined for 4/5 tackles and 1 interception each. In these low opportunity games it’s more important that they get the 1 or 2 tackles they face right.
Offensively Elneny clearly didn’t get the memo from Arsene titled “Walking the ball in: a history of shot selection at Arsenal Football Club.” He took 5 shots, all from outside or on the edge of the 18 yard box. He also created two shots for teammates, again, both for shots outside the box. That’s not for lack of trying, like I detailed above, 2 of his 4 failed passes were in the 18 yard box.
Based on their season stats you would expect an open, easy game for Arsenal but Sean Dyche sprung a surprise on Arsenal and played a pressing game. Burnley won 81% of their 27 tackles and had 30 interceptions. They won all 9 of their tackles in the center circle and were perfect in the first half in terms of tackles. This led to the perception that Elneny was easily brushed off the ball, which he was more than once (I don’t have the actual numbers because FA Cup games don’t show dispossessed and bad touch stats).
Elneny had a textbook box-to-box midfield debut: he was always available for the pass, passed the ball exceptionally well, and supported the forwards in the attack. He also tracked back and made timely tackles and interceptions when needed. He will need to gain some confidence (I don’t think he needs to bulk up) and learn how English teams use their body in midfield, but that is something that will come with time. Apart from that an excellent debut from the new signing.