Özil in mi­cro­cosm as Gun­ners bounce back

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - DAVID HYTNER

Ar­se­nal Burn­ley

IT was dif­fi­cult to ig­nore the Me­sut Özil re­turn. Ar­se­nal’s sup­posed star player was back — given his first start since Novem­ber 11 af­ter a back prob­lem and his high-pro­file omis­sion for tac­ti­cal rea­sons against Tottenham in the League Cup last Wed­nes­day — and he was cen­tral to two of Ar­se­nal’s goals, even if he was pe­riph­eral for long spells.

This was Özil in mi­cro­cosm. Given the cap­tain’s arm­band by Unai Emery, he was fre­quently buf­feted by a stron­garm Burn­ley team and largely un­able to im­pose his pass­ing rhythms. But he popped up early with a glo­ri­ous pass that helped to make Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang’s first goal of the day and late on, too, with an as­sist for sub­sti­tute Alex Iwobi.

It was a strangely dis­jointed game, with Aubameyang putting Ar­se­nal in charge with his sec­ond at the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond half. He now has 12 league goals this sea­son, 14 in all com­pe­ti­tions.

Burn­ley made life dif­fi­cult for Ar­se­nal. Ash­ley Barnes pulled a goal back and when the board went up to show five min­utes of stop­page-time, there was chunter­ing from the home sup­port. En­ter Özil. He drove into the area, jinked in­side and caught a break when his pass de­flected and broke for Iwobi. The fin­ish was true. Ar­se­nal had lost last Sun­day at Southamp­ton and again to Spurs in mid­week. This was more like it.

The Özil soap opera was the most prom­i­nent sub-plot and it was a trade­mark flash of vi­sion and tech­nique from him that sent the ball spin­ning in­side the de­fender on the far side for the open­ing goal. The ma­raud­ing Sead Ko­lasinac dinked it back and the chance was there for Aubameyang. The striker took it first-time on the vol­ley and although the con­tract was not clean, the di­rec­tion in­side the bot­tom cor­ner was per­fect. It was his first goal in five ap­pear­ances.

It is im­pos­si­ble to sec­ond guess Emery’s line-ups and sys­tems and he started here with a back four and Özil at the tip of a mid­field di­a­mond. The man­ager ap­pears de­ter­mined to use Aubameyang and Alexan­dre La­cazette as a cen­tral strike part­ner­ship. But he switched to 3-4-1-2 on 37 min­utes when Na­cho Mon­real had to go off, with Granit Xhaka moved to the left of the back three.

De­fen­sively, Emery has had to mix and match be­cause of in­juries and his team did not look se­cure, par­tic­u­larly to high balls over the top. They got away with an early Mon­real aber­ra­tion when he com­mit­ted to a header and missed it, which al­lowed Ash­ley Barnes to play in Ash­ley West­wood. One-on-one with Bernd Leno, the mid­fielder was off tar­get.

Ar­se­nal had flick­ered at the out­set but the game was nig­gly, with the al­ways an­gry Barnes cen­tral to much of it. He had a bat­tle with Sokratis Pa­pas­tathopou­los, the pair tus­sling on the ground in the first half af­ter they chased a loose ball into touch; Barnes was rather harshly booked. Sokratis would pick up a yel­low card for pulling back his ri­val. Barnes plays on the edge; Burn­ley’s phys­i­cal­ity, in gen­eral, was a prob­lem for their hosts.

Ar­se­nal’s sec­ond came af­ter it looked as though Özil had put his team in trou­ble with a loose ball on the edge of his area. Mo­hamed El­neny won it back, with help from Özil, and the counter-at­tack was on. Mat­teo Guen­douzi found Ko­lasinac, who moved it in­side to La­cazette and on it went to Aubameyang. The fin­ish flicked off Ben Mee and flew past Hart at the near post.

Burn­ley re­fused to lie down. They knew Ar­se­nal were vul­ner­a­ble. Sokratis needed to make a sav­ing tackle on Chris Wood af­ter a de­fen­sive break­down on a Burn­ley free-kick, and the visi­tors scored shortly af­ter­wards. The Gun­ners failed to clear their lines and when the ball broke af­ter good work from Kevin Long, Barnes lashed home.

Jack Cork fluffed a half-chance with a wild shot but Burn­ley did not man­age to cre­ate any­thing clear-cut for the equaliser and the last word would go to Iwobi.

Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang cel­e­brates one of his two goals for Ar­se­nal against Burn­ley

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