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Premier League Preview: Burnley - Arsenal

By Graham Lister

Wednesday, 16 December 2009, Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Turf Moor, Burnley, Lancashire

Clarets hoping to derail Arsenal's quest for consistency

Winning the Premier League is all about consistency, as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger knows better than mos. The Frenchman has stressed that, after getting themselves right back in the title race with their come-from-behind win at Anfield, the Gunners cannot toss away that lifeline: they must secure another
victory on Wednesday. The venue is a potentially daunting Turf Moor; the opponents a Burnley side who so far in their debut Premier League season have been beaten only once at home, where their victims include Manchester United.

The Clarets, in 13th place, preserved that proud home record on Saturday when Wade Elliott cancelled out a Bobby Zamora opener for Fulham. The following day Arsenal reclaimed third spot by inflicting more woe on Liverpool, silencing the Kop with Andrey Arshavin's match-winning stunner after having trailed 1-0 at the
break. The victory took the Gunners to within six points of leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, but the good work they put in for the second 45 minutes at Anfield will be undone if they don't maintain the pressure by beating Burnley - especially as Chelsea, at home to bottom-club Portsmouth, and Manchester United, hosting
Wolverhampton Wanderers, are unlikely to slip up again this midweek.

The crucial issue of consistency was thrown into sharp focus on Sunday: Liverpool had outplayed a poor Arsenal side in the first half; but the roles were emphatically reversed after the interval. Wenger is well aware that his team must start well and maintain that level for the duration if they are to continue edging closer to the teams above them.

But if Burnley, enjoying their first top-flight season since 1975-76, are novices at this level, they will certainly pose a stern test to Arsenal's fluent passers and movers. Indeed, the Clarets should have no qualms about welcoming the Gunners to their Lancashire home, having beaten them 2-0 there in the quarter-finals of
last season's League Cup while still a Championship side striving for promotion.

Kevin McDonald was the match-winner on that night in December 2008, scoring early in either half to earn Burnley their third Premier League scalp of an exciting Carling Cup adventure which took them into the semi-finals. True to form, Wenger had selected a young, inexperienced side, but although they created chances they weren't as clinical as their hosts, for whom goalkeeper Brian Jensen excelled.

The two sides did, though, meet again last season - at Ashburton Grove in an FA Cup fifth round tie, when Arsenal triumphed 3-0 thanks to goals from Carlos Vela, Eduardo and Emmanuel Eboue. The Gunners had also ended Burnley's involvement in the FA Cup the previous season, winning a third round tie 2-0 at Turf Moor when Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner did the damage.

Prior to that, the last time the Clarets entertained Arsenal was on the opening day of the 1975-76 season, when a 17-year-old David O'Leary made the first of his club record 722 appearances for the Gunners. A goalless draw meant the points were shared.

On Wednesday it will be about league points once again, with Burnley seeking their first win since they beat Hull City 2-0 at home on 31 October. Arsenal will be gunning for a third straight Premier League win to help banish the memory of two successive defeats - at Sunderland and at home to Chelsea. Their task is to emulate what only Wigan Athletic have been able to achieve so far this season, and leave Turf Moor with three vital points added to their tally.
 
FORM GUIDE

Burnley


12 Dec (Premier League) v Fulham (H) DREW 1-1
05 Dec (Premier League) v Portsmouth (A) LOST 0-2
28 Nov (Premier League) v West Ham Utd (A) LOST 3-5
21 Nov (Premier League) v Aston Villa (H) DREW 1-1
07 Nov (Premier League) v Man City (A) DREW 3-3
31 Oct (Premier League) v Hull City (H) WON 2-0

Arsenal


13 Dec (Premier League) v Liverpool (A) WON 2-1
09 Dec (Champions League) v Olympiakos (A) LOST 0-1
05 Dec (Premier League) v Stoke City (H) WON 2-0
02 Dec (League Cup) v Manchester City (A) LOST 0-3
29 Nov (Premier League) v Chelsea (H) LOST 0-3
24 Nov (Champions League) v Standard Liege (H) WON 2-0

TEAM NEWS

Burnley


Owen Coyle is tipped to name an unchanged squad from the one that drew with Fulham, but winger Martin Paterson could return after having been given the all-clear following a knee injury. Local striker Jay Rodriguez is recovering well from an ankle injury and could also make a surprise early return to the squad, but midfielder Chris McCann remains sidelined.

Last starting XI (v Fulham):
Jensen, Alexander, Carlisle, Caldwell, Mears, Bikey (McDonald 77), Jordan, Elliott, Eagles (Guerrero 86), Fletcher, Blake (Nugent 56).
Subs not used: Penny, Kalvenes, Gudjonsson, Thompson.

Arsenal


Arsene Wenger revealed that Brazilian midfielder Denilson has been ruled out, along with left-back Armand Traore; but full-back/midfielder Emmanuel Eboue has recovered from a hamstring problem and is in the squad. Kieran Gibbs is likely to be missing for around three months after surgery on a broken metatarsal, and top striker Robin van Persie, whose damaged ankle ligaments also needed remedial surgery,  is not expected to be back until April.

Tomas Rosicky and Nicklas Bendtner (both groin) and Johan Djourou (knee) will miss out again, and the Gunners remain without Gael Clichy (back). But while Cesc Fabregas (back), Andrey Arshavin (foot), William Gallas (thigh), Theo Walcott (ankle), Eduardo (thigh) and Abou Diaby (calf) have all been receiving treatment, they are expected to travel north with the squad.

Last starting XI (v Liverpool): Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Gallas, Traore (Silvestre 87), Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott (Diaby 70), Denilson, Song, Arshavin (Ramsey 90+2).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Wilshere, Eduardo, Vela.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Burnley

Kevin McDonald
struck twice last season to dump the young Gunners out of the League Cup, and the 21-year-old Scot is relishing the chance to dish out more of the same medicine. He has been among the substitutes lately for the Clarets, but came off the bench to earn a point with a dramatic late equaliser at Manchester City recently, and he'll be hoping to be involved on Wednesday. Meanwhile top scorer Steven Fletcher, with eight goals this season, veteran defender Graham Alexander (four goals) and midfielder Wade Elliott, who scored a stunning equaliser against Fulham at the weekend, can all pose Arsenal problems.  

Arsenal

Andrey Arshavin
is in fine form at the moment, despite nursing a sore foot, and has recently shouldered the striking burden alone in the absence of Van Persie, Bendtner and Eduardo. His exceptional technique was evident with his goal on Sunday, and Wenger claims the Russian can play effectively in any of the forward
positions. How Arsenal fare on Wednesday could depend in large part on Arshavin's playmaking and striking instincts. But the ball-winning of Alex Song in midfield, and the passing of skipper Cesc Fabregas, will also be key factors if the Gunners are to succeed.

PREDICTION

This will be the 97th meeting between the two clubs; Arsenal have won 43 of the previous matches and Burnley 33, with 20 being drawn. Burnley's impressive home form will be on the line against Arsene Wenger's ambitious outfit. Owen Coyle's side have collected just three points from the last 15 available, winning only once in their last eight Premier League fixtures, but Coyle has promised that Burnley will "go toe-to-toe" with Wenger's men.

Arsenal's form has been patchy recently, underlining their need to build on Sunday's key victory at Liverpool. That win should have boosted their confidence, and they will certainly not lack motivation, especially if they want to avoid provoking an uncharacteristic Wenger outburst of the sort that lit the fuse at half-time at Anfield.

Arsenal will start as favourites, and if they can emerge with three more points it will clearly boost their title challenge. With home games against Hull City and Aston Villa on the horizon, plus an away trip to Portsmouth before the turn of the year, they could be embarking on a new unbeaten run - provided they can maintain that elusive consistency.

Burnley 1-2 Arsenal