Europa League or bust? Arsenal have only themselves to blame after bitter Burnley blow

Alexandre Lacazette Granit Xhaka Arsenal Burnley Premier League 2020-21 GFX
A 1-1 draw at Turf Moor means that the Gunners probably now need to win the Europa League if they are to qualify for next season's Champions League

Burnley 1-1 Arsenal: Match statistics

It was all going so well at Turf Moor.

For 39 minutes, Arsenal were excellent against Burnley, seemingly cruising towards a second successive Premier League away win.

An early goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had given them a deserved 1-0 lead and only poor finishing in the final third had stopped them adding to their advantage.

A second goal still seemed like a matter of time but, instead, Mikel Arteta’s side managed to shoot themselves in the foot in spectacular style.

Not for the first time since he arrived in England, Granit Xhaka was the culprit.

The Switzerland international has been excellent during the past few months, integral to Arsenal's improved performances since Christmas, but any good run of form from Xhaka tends to end in an inexplicable mistake.

And that’s what happened on 39 minutes when, having received the ball from Bernd Leno deep inside his own penalty area, Xhaka tried to bend a pass around Chris Wood, but succeeded only in firing the ball off the Burnley striker’s chest and into the net.

It was his eighth error leading to a goal since the start of the 2016-17 season – more than any other outfield player in the Premier League.

Having been in total control up to that point, the equaliser represented a hammer blow for Arsenal, which they failed to recover from.

They had some gilt-edged chances after the break, even hitting the post in the dying seconds through Dani Ceballos, but the visitors never managed to reclaim full control of the game after Xhaka's mistake.

Indeed, had Leno not made two fine saves to deny Wood and Dwight McNeil, the Gunners could even have ended up empty-handed.

Chris Wood Burnley 2020-21

This was the start of a huge fortnight for Arsenal, one that will see them take on Olympiacos twice in the Europa League and meet Spurs and West Ham in the Premier League.

After beating Leicester City so impressively last weekend, this was a chance to build some momentum at a crucial juncture in the season, but they were betrayed by familiar failings.

There is no doubt Arsenal have been playing much better since the midway point of the season, as underlined by the fact that only Manchester City and West Ham have picked up more points than the Gunners since Christmas.

However, individual mistakes continue to let them down and until they cut them out, or at least reduce them dramatically, they will continue to be blighted by inconsistent results.

Arsenal have now conceded goals from individual errors in four consecutive games, and taken just four points from those games.

They were leading 1-0 at Wolves until David Luiz was sent off after conceding a penalty and went on to lose 2-1. An early mix-up between Gabriel and Cedric Soares then resulted in Ollie Watkins scoring the only goal of the game at Aston Villa.

It was a similar story at Leicester last weekend when Xhaka and Willian got in a mess which allowed Youri Tielemans to score. On that occasion, they came back to get the win but, at Turf Moor, they were unable to turn things around and will now be kicking themselves all the way back to London.

Arteta’s side had 16 shots to Burnley’s nine and saw golden chances go begging through Bukayo Saka (twice) and Nicolas Pepe, who came on for Willian midway through the second half, while the Ivory Coast winger also saw an effort deflected onto the bar by Erik Pieters late on.

Initially, referee Andre Marriner gave a penalty and sent Pieters off, believing the ball had hit his hand, but the decision was overturned by VAR.

Erik Pieters red card VAR Burnley Arsenal 2020-21

And that came just a few minutes after Arsenal were left fuming by another handball incident involving Pieters inside the penalty area, one that saw the ball clearly hit the defender’s outstretched arm – yet neither Marriner nor VAR deemed it worthy of a spot-kick.

But while Arsenal had every right to feel hard done by in that instance, it was a combination of their own sloppiness and profligacy which cost them three points.

The draw means the Gunners could end the weekend 12 points off the top four, and 10 points off the top six. With just 11 games remaining of the league season, it now very much feels like it’s Europa League or bust for the Gunners.

It’s been 25 years since Arsenal have failed to qualify for continental competition, but unless they go on to win the Europa League this season, it's now looking certain they will only have domestic matters to concentrate on during the 2021-22 campaign.

And given the amount of work Arteta needs to do in the summer transfer market, that would be far from ideal in terms of attracting top talent to the Emirates.

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The Spaniard admitted in the build-up to the Burnley game that this Arsenal team is still "very, very far" away from feeling like his own. He knows he needs new players and that he needs money to acquire them.

Arteta has a huge rebuilding job ahead of him anyway, so a season without European football is going to make that task even more difficult.

Still, as this latest outing underlined, should Arsenal miss out, they will only have themselves to blame.