Mikel Arteta accepted Granit Xhaka’s bizarre error at Burnley as a price of playing out from the back but admitted Saturday’s 1-1 draw leaves Arsenal facing a “really complicated” route into Europe.
Arsenal looked like easing to a comfortable win as they dominated after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s sixth-minute opener, but seven minutes before the break Xhaka took a short pass from Bernd Leno and inexplicably kicked the ball against Chris Wood, watching in horror as it flew into the net.
It was another dismal moment for Xhaka, sent off in December when Burnley won at the Emirates Stadium, with the Swiss midfielder now guilty of eight errors leading directly to goals since the start of the 2016-17 season – the most of any outfield player in the Premier League.
“It is the way we play and the way we want to play,” Arteta said. “We have to know the risk and the rules for the way we want to play. It is what it is.”
Arsenal, who could have been out of sight by that point, did not recover from the incident until a dramatic finale, in which Burnley substitute Erik Pieters was involved in two Arsenal penalty shouts – one not given and another overturned by VAR – while Dani Ceballos hit the post in stoppage time.
Arteta was left incensed that Arsenal did not get a penalty when the ball hit Pieters on the arm at close range as he challenged Nicolas Pepe, but accepted VAR was right to overturn the red card and penalty awarded by Andre Marriner when the Dutchman blocked a Pepe shot on the line with his shoulder.
“It is absolutely obvious and clear, there is no debate,” the Gunners manager said of the first incident. “If that’s not a penalty someone must explain what a penalty is in this league.”
The draw means Arsenal have taken only eight points from their last seven games in the league, with this a fresh setback just a week after the encouraging 3-1 win at Leicester, leaving them deep in mid-table as the fight for Europe plays out above.
“It is really complicated,” Arteta said when asked if their opportunity of qualifying via the league had gone.
“I have a feeling with the way that we are playing at the moment that we can win any game, but if you are giving something to the opponent anything can happen. This is where we have the biggest margin for improvement.”
It was a fifth successive home league draw for Burnley, who might have turned it into three points themselves as Wood shot straight at Leno when clean through while Pieters – who seemed to be everywhere in his 27-minute cameo – also tested the Arsenal goalkeeper with an opportunistic volley.
While the focus will fall on Xhaka for Wood’s equaliser, Burnley boss Sean Dyche insisted his side earned their luck.
“They started brightly,” Dyche said. “We weren’t miles off but our purpose and conviction showed in the second half. We let in a soft goal but we pressed really well for our goal and that was part of our intention in the team performance.
“Against popular belief we don’t always just wait for our chance. We try and get after teams on the front foot.
“Woody gets his reward for being in the right place at the right time and pressing. It hits him and goes in, and he gets the reward for what the team do.”
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