By Richard Clarke
Snow is forecast in Burnley this evening. Let’s hope Arsenal don’t lose their newly-acquired Premier League footing when they visit Turf Moor.
Arsène Wenger’s side put themselves back within touching distance of the top two with a 2-1 win at Liverpool on Sunday. Now their task is to follow-up that potentially season-turning comeback.
The two truisms of a title-winning campaign is to win enough games against your direct rivals and beat almost everyone below you in the table. Arsenal started doing the former on Sunday, tonight will test the latter more than one might think.
Burnley’s home record is better than that of Liverpool and Owen Coyle’s organised outfit announced their arrival in the top flight by picking up the scalp of Manchester United back on August 19.
At his pre-match press conference before Sunday’s game, Wenger studiously played down the importance of the Anfield trip. On Tuesday, he was pretty much doing the opposite about tonight’s encounter.
“If you want to win the League we must go there and win,” he said candidly. “I always say on a Wednesday night you go to a place like Sheffield United or Sheffield Wednesday or Burnley and must ask yourself can you win the game? That’s what it is about in the Premier League.
“I have been impressed by Burnley’s home form this season so of course this is another big game for us. We knew that Liverpool was a big one and Burnley will be a big game too. You look at their home results and you can see that. But I am convinced that with a great performance we will come back with the three points.”
As ever, injuries have bitten a chunk out of Wenger’s pre-game planning. Emmanuel Eboue returns after a hamstring injury kept him out against Liverpool. However, Arsenal have since lost Denilson to a back problem meanwhile the absence of Armand Traore (hamstring) means the manager will be calling on his fourth-choice left back this evening. Step forward Mikael Silvestre.
Nicklas Bendtner (groin) Tomas Rosicky (groin), Robin van Persie (ankle), Kieran Gibbs (foot), Gael Clichy (back) and Johan Djourou (knee) complete the injury list.
Burnley won promotion via the Play-Offs last season. Automatically that puts them among the favourites to go straight back down but, despite not winning since October, a bright start means they remain a healthy 13th in the table.
All but one of their 18 points have been gained at Turf Moor and only Wigan have managed to win there. That said, at least Arsenal have experience of the atmosphere at the ground with the most localised support in the top-flight. In the last two seasons they have played there in both the FA Cup and Carling Cup.
There are a stack of football clichés about toughing out a title triumph on bleak northern grounds in poor weather. You can insert your favourite at this point in the preview.
Certainly Wenger believes his side are ready to build on Sunday’s step change. With four home games and a trip to rock bottom Portsmouth filling their Premier League fixture list before mid-January, you could argue Arsenal’s hopes of their first title since 2004 will snowball in the bleak mid-winter if they can squeeze out a win this evening.
“Sometimes you develop your strength if you convince yourself that you have it,” said Wenger. “A big win helps you to think that you are strong and, if you lose, you can think you are weak.
“That's what is so good about this game for us, we know that we can be 1-0 down and come back to win against, for me, a Liverpool team who has quality.
“All this makes me confident about the Burnley game,” he went on. “The team just needed that big win at weekend.
"Anything can happen of course but I don’t believe we will go up there and not be highly focussed. We will be determined and highly concentrated.”
Despite everything that happened on Sunday, they will need to be.
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