By Nik Brumsack at Turf Moor
Laurent Koscielny scored with virtually the last kick of the game as Arsenal celebrated Arsène Wenger’s 20th anniversary as manager with a dramatic victory at Burnley.
For large periods it looked as though this would be a frustrating afternoon - but the Gunners kept plugging away and found their reward right at the end of second-half stoppage time, when Koscielny scrambled home from close range.
Sean Dyche’s committed hosts had made it difficult throughout and, after spurning some second-half chances, it looked as though Wenger’s side would travel back to London with just a point.
Cue the late drama, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot somehow turned in by the body of Koscielny. Burnley appealed for handball, and then offside, but the goal stood.
It all means that Arsenal go into the international break having won five league matches on the spin for the first time since October 2015. In all honesty, the Gunners were probably a touch fortunate to come away with three points against a Clarets side who looked good value for a point - and could have had more had Michael Keane’s second-half header not hit the crossbar.
This was a different, more rugged showing from a team that had stylishy swept both Chelsea and Basel aside recently. But the boss has spoken of his side adding maturity to their game, and they demonstrated that here, fighting until the end and getting their reward at the death.
Wenger has taken charge of 1,130 games as Arsenal boss - few will have had such a dramatic ending.
SETTING THE SCENE
Pretty much all the pre-match talk had centred around Wenger’s anniversary. Not usually one for looking back, the boss did reflect that “for me to go through this history has been a privilege”, before stressing the need for his side to prepare well for this trip to Lancashire.
Wenger actually began his Arsenal tenure just 15 miles from Turf Moor, presiding over a 2-0 win at Blackburn Rovers on October 12, 1996.
His side beat Basel by the same scoreline on Wednesday night, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the same outfield players start here. The one change saw Petr Cech come in for David Ospina.
That meant Alexis - compared to Luis Suarez by Wenger pre-match - continued to spearhead the attack.
Arsenal came into this unbeaten in their last 25 games against newly-promoted clubs, but Burnley would pose difficult opposition - they had only lost one of their previous 17 home matches in 2016, and beat Liverpool at Turf Moor in August.
Fast, incisive starts have been a hallmark of Arsenal’s recent good form - and they began on the front foot here too, with Alexis’ fourth-minute shot flicking off the boot of Theo Walcott and spinning just wide of Tom Heaton’s post.
The pair combined again soon after but, after finding a yard of space inside the box, Walcott could only drag his effort off target.
Arsenal were on top but were struggling to make clear-cut chances. And when they did break through the congested midfield, they were let down by uncharacteristically poor touches from Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla.
The hosts had created little throughout but, from nothing, spurned the clearest opportunity of the half just before the break. Matthew Lowton wasn’t closed down and delivered an inviting right-wing cross for Sam Vokes, who inexplicably nodded wide when unmarked in the penalty area.
Wenger’s side - with 64 per cent possession in the first period - went back on the attack but continued to find chances hard to come by against their committed hosts.
Arsenal, led by the lively Alexis, began the second half with fresh impetus and a more incisive edge to their play. Walcott slipped went sent clear by the Chilean, before Alexis drew a superb reflex save from Heaton at the goalkeeper’s near post.
Ozil was next to go close, seeing his goal-bound shot just about blocked to safety after Alexis and Alex Iwobi had combined to tee him up.
Burnley had been penned in their own half for much of the second half’s first 15 minutes - but they gave Arsenal a reminder of their aerial danger when Johann Berg Gudmundson's header forced Cech into a full-length stop.
Alexis responded with a fierce volley that clipped the post on its way wide, but Burnley went closer still soon after, Michael Keane powerfully meeting Berg Gudmundsson's but seeing his header rebound off the crossbar.
The hosts sent plenty of men forward for another set-piece late on - and they were nearly punished for it when Arsenal broke at speed. Alexis eventually worked the ball to Walcott, who bent his effort just wide of the far post.
That looked like being the final chance - but there would be late drama.
It came right at the end of stoppage time. Walcott flicked on Alexis’ cross, Oxlade-Chamberlain knocked it towards goal and the ball just about squirmed underneath the body of Tom Heaton, with Koscielny getting the final touch.
The home side screamed for offside, the away supporters bundled to the front of the David Fishwick Stand to join in the wild celebrations.
Somehow, Arsenal had won it. Happy anniversary, boss.
Referee: Craig Pawson
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