Arsenal frustrated by Xhaka’s blunder
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta declined to condemn Granit Xhaka after the midfielder’s embarrassing mistake gave Burnley a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Arsenal the lead early on at Turf Moor, but Xhaka’s ridiculous howl got Chris Wood to equalize before half-time.
Xhaka foolishly tried to pass the ball out of his own six-yard box instead of clearing it and his untoward effort bounced off Wood in Arsenal’s net.
Arteta’s side couldn’t fix Xhaka’s blunder and 10th-placed Arsenal are now nine points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
“It’s the way we play and the way we want to play,” said Arteta. “We have to know the risk and the rules of how we want to play. That’s what it is.”
Arteta had warned Arsenal players this week that their position in the league was unacceptable for a club with such a rich history.
But, with their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via a tattered top four, Arsenal will need to prioritize their trip to Greece to face Olympiacos in the Europa League round of 16 first leg on Thursday.
“It’s really complicated. I have a feeling with the way we’re playing right now that we can win any game,” said Arteta.
“But if you give the opponent something, anything can happen. This is where we have the most room for improvement.”
Aubameyang opened the scoring in the sixth minute, cutting through the left flank and using an agile stride to pass Matt Lowton into Burnley’s area.
With six Burnley players too slow to react to danger, Aubameyang had room to break through a 12-yard low drive that beat Nick Pope’s weak save attempt at his nearby post.
It was Aubameyang’s 14th goal of the season in all competitions and his eighth against Burnley in his Arsenal career.
– Comic equalizer –
Arsenal were well in the lead but Xhaka handed Burnley his comedic equalizer in the 39th minute.
Pablo Mari returned to Bernd Leno and the Arsenal keeper opted to find Xhaka in his own zone rather than start.
Xhaka had to get rid of the ball quickly as Matej Vydra pressed, but the dismal pass from the midfielder hit Wood in the hip and was gunned into the net.
It was Burnley’s last nightmare for Xhaka, who was sent off for catching Clarets midfielder Ashley Westwood by the throat in December.
Since the start of 2016-17, Xhaka has made more Premier League scoring errors (8) than any other outfield.
He returned for the second half with a ripped shirt, sparking malicious suggestions on social media from a row of locker rooms with teammates.
Martin Odegaard forced a sprawling save from Pope early in the second half, but with Arsenal missing a sharp edge, the Real Madrid midfielder on loan was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette.
Nicolas Pepe was also presented by Arteta and the Ivorian saw a penalty appeal controversially dismissed after Erik Pieters reached out to block his shot.
“It’s absolutely obvious and clear, there is no debate. If it’s not a penalty, someone has to explain what a penalty is in this league,” said Arteta.
Pieters almost added to Arsenal’s frustration when he forced Leno to reverse his record before the German saved Wood well.
In a thrilling final, Pepe’s volley was blocked on the line by Pieters.
A penalty and a red card were initially awarded by Andre Marriner, but the decision was overturned as VAR showed the ball hit Pieters’ shoulder and not his arm.
There was still time for more drama when Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos hit the post in stoppage time.
smg / dmc