By Richard Clarke
Arsenal started a massive week with a near-perfect victory against Burnley on Sunday.
Arsène Wenger’s side cruised into the FA Cup Quarter-Finals with exquisite goals from Carlos Vela and Eduardo plus a confidence-boosting strike from Emmanuel Eboue six minutes from full time.
Arsenal have now gone 17 games without defeat and it showed quite clearly this afternoon. Burnley are one of the best sides in the Championship but they were utterly outclassed in this entertaining tie.
A goal of genius by Eduardo suggested that the Croatian has lost nothing of his poaching precision. Wenger was also boosted by the return of Theo Walcott after four months out with a shoulder injury.
It was wonderful preparation for the crucial Champions League tie at Roma on Wednesday.
Arsenal now face Hull in the last eight of the FA Cup on March 17/18.
Wenger retained only five players from the midweek win at West Brom – Bacary Sagna, Alex Song, Johan Djourou, Andrey Arshavin and Emmanuel Eboue.
Eduardo returned as captain for only his second game in over a year. He had hurt his hamstring making that remarkable goal-scoring comeback in the last round against Cardiff on February 16. Vela was brought in to partner the 25-year-old this afternoon with Arshavin stationed wide on the left.
The other four recruits into the side were a mixture of experience and the youth Wenger has consistently fielded in the FA Cup this year – Lukas Fabianski, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and William Gallas. The last of those was returning after an ankle injury.
However Walcott was forced to wait a little longer for his comeback after a shoulder problem. The England midfielder was on the bench.
The 19-year-old’s last appearance for Arsenal had been the 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on November 15. That had been a low point of the season. But you felt that the return of Eduardo and Walcott, plus the impending comebacks of Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor and Tomas Rosicky, would make Arsenal a stronger proposition as the end of the season approached.
Not that Wenger could look that far ahead this afternoon. Roared on by 5,000 ebullient fans, Burnley were always going to be a difficult proposition at the start of this game.
They had form on Arsenal of course. Owen Coyle’s doughty side had seen off Wenger’s youngsters in the Carling Cup Quarter-Finals.
But, in the end, it was the home side who would make the most of the opening 15 minutes. Eboue had a glimpse of an opening on the left of the area before being dispossessed by a thunderous challenge from Steven Caldwell. Then a cross-cum-shot by Sagna had Jensen scrambling back only to see the ball drift over the bar. And finally Gibbs hammered a low shot just wide.
However Burnley were far from overawed and, in Chris Eagles, they had a tricky dribbler capable of causing problems down either flank.
But you sensed Arsenal were biding their time and waiting for opportunity to knock.
They got the call in the 25th minute.
Arshavin won the ball on the left and tapped an angled pass to Vela just inside the Burnley half. The Mexican allowed the ball to run across his body, nutmegged Clarke Carlisle and, despite Joey Gudjonsson tugging at his shirt, managed to sprint clear before clipping the ball over Jensen.
It was a class finish – a mixture of vision, tenacity, speed and skill. It was also his fifth goal of the season – already a decent return for a rookie striker who has been in and out of the side.
The goal – and a deluge of rain – dampened Burnley’s spirits. Arsenal were now in their pomp, playing with the self-assurance of a side who seemed to be putting some of their troubles behind them.
They peppered the Burnley area with demanding crosses as half time approached. However it was the visitors who nearly profited from a ball into the box when Diaby diverted Robbie Blake’s corner away from the leaping Fabianski.
Seconds later, Eduardo’s backheel put Eboue clear but the Ivorian’s low shot was turned aside by Jensen.
If Arsenal had been cruising before half time their second goal in the 51st minute merely plumped their cushion of confidence.
And, while Vela’s goal had been excellent, the effort summoned up by Eduardo managed to eclipse it. Gibbs fed Song on the left and he floated a cross towards the Croatian at the far post. The 25-year-old ghosted away from his marker effectively but the ball was slightly behind him. However, with brilliant improvisation, he flicked the ball into the top corner with the outside of his foot.
It was the work of a master craftsman.
Wenger clearly thought the goal had beaten Burnley. Immediately, Vela made way for Robin van Persie. Soon afterwards, Aaron Ramsey and Walcott come on for Diaby and Eduardo.
In between those substitutions, Blake nearly put in substitute Wade Elliot. It was Burnley’s last throw of the dice.
Walcott almost squeezed a shot past Jensen with 13 minutes left as the home started to profit on the break. The 19-year-old then crossed high for Van Persie but the Dutchman miscued his volley.
The pair did combine to put the ball in the net with eight minutes left but were pulled back for offside. Wrongly replays suggested.
The respite was brief.
In the 84th minute, Song’s backheel sent Eboue through in the right-hand channel and he smashed home a low shot into the far corner. The pair celebrated with an impromptu dance next to the nearest corner flag.
Yes, Caldwell hit the bar at the death and Burnley had claims for a penalty.
But, after performance like this, most of the Arsenal fans will have left Emirates this afternoon with a similar spring in their step.
- Diaby 71
- Eboue Goal!
- Vela 60 Goal!
- Eduardo (C) 71 Goal!
- Ramsey 71
- van Persie 60
- Walcott 71
- Caldwell (C)
- Eagles 54
- McDonald 75 Yellow Card
- Gudjonsson 59
- Thompson 59
- Elliott 54
- MacDonald 75