By Declan Taylor
On a freezing-cold evening last December, Arsène Wenger’s flying young guns had their wings clipped by Burnley in the Carling Cup. Now, barely three months later, Arsenal come face-to-face with the Clarets once again.
Of course circumstances are very different this time around. That Gunners XI, brimming with teenage talent, was undone by an experienced and effective Burnley outfit in the hostile surroundings of Turf Moor.
But, judging by Wenger’s FA Cup selection policy so far this term, Arsenal will be nigh-on full strength and, more importantly, in the familiar surroundings of Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
We caught up with Chris Boden of the Burnley Express for an inside line on the Clarets. Read on for his take on that Carling Cup victory, Burnley’s leaky defence and the magic of the FA Cup.
THE STORY SO FAR
“They proved themselves against Arsenal in the Carling Cup. Arsène Wenger may look back on the night and see the six one-on-ones that Brian Jensen had to contend with but Burnley probably created as many chances if not more. Really, Burnley did to Arsenal what Arsenal do to teams up and down the country.
“They’ll take a great deal of confidence from that win and also from the 2-0 defeat at Turf Moor in January last year. I thought they played ever so well on the day and were a bit unfortunate to lose overall. With those two games added up they’ll take a lot of confidence. It seems to me that a lot of teams in the Premier League are quite pragmatic and play five across the midfield and try and stifle teams. Burnley have shown they can take on big teams by playing football, being open and entertaining and I’m sure they’ll follow the same path.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
“They have looked leaky and it’s no secret that Owen Coyle has been trying to tighten up the defence since he joined. He brought in Stan Varga last year but he hasn’t really been able to bring in the players he has wanted to bolster that defensive unit.
“He brought in Christian Kalvenes who scored the winner against Blackpool in midweek at left back and Rhys William is on loan from Middlesbrough until the end of the season but it’s unclear whether he’ll play or not on Sunday. And with Michael Duff suspended it is down to four from five back there and with the fourth leakiest defence in the Championship it’s not good news. A lot of that is down to how they play; they will leave gaps because they are so open.”
REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL
“They’re still very confident of promotion. Burnley have 10 games left, a couple of teams around them have games in hand, but they do well against the better teams, as Arsenal found out. It is against the teams below them that they’ve struggled. They have a lot of those to play but it’s all about doing the ugly things and trying to earn the right to play their football – and that is what they proved they can do in their win against Blackpool on Tuesday.
“The League is 100 per cent the priority. It is all about getting Burnley back to that level, they haven’t been there since 1976 when I was one! So I have never seen Burnley in the top flight. It was distant dream in 1987 when they were only one game from dropping out of the Football League entirely. They’ve been at this level since 200 now and they’re not too far away and they’ve had a couple of near misses. They are gearing towards it now and they’re not too far away.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“Steven Caldwell has been consistent and has looked very solid for the most part. Like everyone in the side he has suffered a little bit of a dip. However, you could put your hat on the captain and he’ll win the headers and the challenges. He’s a leader and a very strong character. I would imagine Clarke Carlisle will come in alongside him, he did ever so well against Carlos Vela at Turf Moor. Burnley do have good players but individual errors have cost them a bit.”
THE ONE TO WATCH
“Martin Paterson is carrying a bit of a knock from the Blackpool game but he has done ever so well, scoring 17 goals in his first season at the club. He looked a bit tired on Saturday but he was bright as a button in midweek. It is touch and go because Steven Thomas, playing alongside him, has got 10 goals this season. Coyle went back to playing Graham Alexander in the holding role, with four in front of him, and only one striker. It is between the two of those I would think. Paterson though is central to the way Burnley want to play.”
“It is not in Coyle’s thinking in any way, shape or form to shut up shop. It’s just not his philosophy on football. Football the world over has started leaning towards the defensive side but clubs like Arsenal and Man United have shown the way in that respect. Burnley have shown that you can play that sort of football without being blessed with buckets of money.”
“For Burnley fans it’s a first travelling to the Emirates and it’s so long since they even played at Highbury so everyone’s thoroughly looking forward to it. As great as the Carling Cup run was, this is what it’s all about. Even at Q.P.R. when there were only 8,000 there to watch a 0-0 draw you could feel the magic is still there. Potentially there will be 60,000 fans there on Sunday with 5,000 hoarse Burnley fans; it has all the makings of a great day.”
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
“From a Northern perspective there has been a lot of criticism of them. But for me they are a refreshing side. I’m thrilled to be seeing Andrey Arshavin in the flesh and there are so many real stars of world football playing. It will be a fantastic occasion and I can’t wait.”