The Clarets are having a torrid time at the moment. Second from bottom in the Premier League they go to the Emirates this Saturday facing an Arsenal team in 3rd place gunning for the title. The difference in form could not be starker in contrast. Brian Laws Claret & Blue Army are just a bunch of foot soldiers compared to the artillery the Gunners have at their disposal and the chances of getting anything from this game are about as remote as Alan Hansen saying we have one of the best defences in the league!
All Clarets fans will be praying for a miracle, for that Jimmy Greaves ‘Funny Old Game` moment, for anything that would finally see the Clarets win away from home in the top flight this season.
Brian Laws though will have a job on his hands after a terrible performance at home in our last match against Pompey last Saturday. That 2-1 defeat to the bottom club playing just for pride after going into administration was a shocking blow in our fight against relegation and really must have knocked their confidence. The team has won just once under Laws since he arrived in January. Just one win against West Ham but seven defeats is clearly not good enough and our form will drastically have to change for the better and quickly if we are to avoid returning to the Championship after just one season in the top flight. We can pray for a miracle against Arsenal but realistically most Clarets fans are hoping for damage limitation with one eye on goal difference. Who knows though, the football world could be about to be shocked!
Predicted Team Sheet
On loan striker, David Nugent returns after being ineligible to play last week against his parent club, Portsmouth. Will he though be given a starting eleven place bearing in mind the form of Martin Paterson? Paterson made his first start since returning from a long-injury against Portsmouth last Saturday. Pato was easily the Man of the Match looking keen and eager as well as getting a stunning goal to add to the one he scored in the previous game after coming on from the bench at Villa Park.
Surely Laws will not make the same mistake again of dropping a previous Man of the Match? Clarets fans were shocked to see Jack Cork dropped back to the bench last Saturday after a stunning performance in the previous game against Aston Villa.
Nugent`s opportunity to start could be dependent on Steven Fletcher who broke a bone in his hand during training whilst on Scottish international duty last Monday. He had to withdraw from their friendly game against the Czech Republic but Laws sounds confident he could still be in contention for the Gunners match despite probably having to wear a cast or light protection. It strikes me that perhaps Fletcher if he could play should be on the bench as a precaution, giving Nugent and Paterson the chance to play together up front.
One player we clearly seem to have missed is Graham Alexander, his calmness, drive and leadership in particular. He had been sidelined with a calf injury since the Bolton match at the Reebok last January but now looks close to a return after playing in a Reserves game against Manchester City at Turf Moor on Monday night. He is believed to be in contention for the Gunners game.
Chris McCann (knee) had also been thought to be close to a return but he has not played in the last two reserves games and appears to have suffered a set-back but there has been no official news on his progress. He will not be available for the Arsenal game though and neither will Steven Caldwell who continues to recover from a persistent groin strain.
By common consent Clarke Carlisle had an absolute stinker against Portsmouth conceding two needless penalties in bizarre fashion (one of which Jensen saved). he was also culpable for Pompey`s opening goal. He just was not at the races and it will be interesting to see if Laws keeps faith with him against the Gunners. I do think if Alexander plays a better bet would be to drop Carlisle and move Bikey back from midfield to the back-four where he looks far more comfortable and doesn`t have to think about chasing back so much.
This would be my team sheet although it`s more a hope than a prediction:
Jensen, Mears, Bikey, Cort, Fox, Alexander, Cork, McDonald, Eagles, Paterson, Nugent (or Fletcher)
Subs: Weaver, Carlisle, Duff, Blake, Fletcher (or Nugent), Elliott, Thompson
Arsenal Team News:
Aaron Ramsey will of course be out for the rest of the season now following the strong challenge by Ryan Shawcross in the Gunners game against Stoke City last Sunday. The challenge led to Shawcross being red-carded, some think unfairly, but the effect of the tackle was a broken tibia and fibula for the unfortunate Gunners midfielder.
Denilson (calf) and Andrey Arshavin (hamstring) though are expected to return.
Abou Diaby (knee) could also be available and his chances are rated 50:50. Alex Song however will be sidelined after starting a two-game suspension.
William Gallas (calf) is still out and Sol Campbell with a groin problem looks doubtful.
Carlos Vela will also not be considered for Saturday because he has just returned from international duty.
Player to watch: Anybody got a dart?
Andrey Arshavin is believed to be available after recovering from a hamstring injury! He`ll do!!
Burnley Team News:
David Nugent returns after being ineligible to play against his parent club, Portsmouth last Saturday.
It is hoped fellow Scots, Steven Fletcher (broken hand) and Graham Alexander (calf injury) will have recovered enough to be in contention for a starting eleven place.
Chris McCann (knee) and Caldwell (groin) though remain sidelined
Player to watch: Brian Jensen
Let`s hope the Beast can keep enough of Arsenal`s attempts out and we can come away with a respectable result, win, lose or draw. One thing is certain; I don`t think it will be a quiet time for our Brian!
Back to the Future
The Clarets got a well-earned point against Arsenal at Turf Moor earlier in the season. The 1-1 draw last December was a little bit of an injustice considering Fletcher got a perfectly good goal but was ruled offside despite the cameras showing clearly that he wasn`t!
Graham Alexander got our goal that day from a penalty on the half-hour mark after Fabregas had put Arsenal ahead after 15 minutes.
We covered our games against Arsenal in the 1975-76 season, the last time we were in the top flight in some detail in our regular ‘Back to the Future` series on Vital Burnley. (Back to the Future Part One-1975-76, Arsenal & All That!)
That season of course we were relegated never to return for another 33 years but the first game we played in 1975-6 was against Arsenal at Turf Moor on the Saturday 16th August 1975 in front of a crowd of 18,831 fans and we got a point in a 0-0 draw. We lost the return game at Highbury 1-0 on the 20th December that year and were then destined to never to play Arsenal again in a league game for the next 34 years.
The Clarets did not even play them in a Cup competition until an FA Cup clash at Turf Moor on the 6th January 2008 just two months into the reign of new manager, Owen Coyle. We went down 2-0 in the end in a match remembered more for the antics of former Clarets striker and winger, Kyle Lafferty. Lafferty came close to opening the scoring after his header hit the bar early in the game before Eduardo put Arsenal ahead after 6 minutes. On the hour mark though Lafferty was dubiously sent off for a challenge on Gilberto and the game was beyond our reach when Bendtner scored Arsenal`s second on 75 minutes.
Having not played Arsenal in 33 years until that game we then played them twice again in just over a year. We have already mentioned the Carling Cup quarter final match at Turf Moor when we defeated the Young Gunners 2-0 thanks to a brace of goals from Kevin McDonald after 6 and 57 minutes back in December 2008. We only then drew them again in the FA Cup a few months later. This time though the clash was at the Emirates and we were simply outclassed and outplayed by a strong Arsenal team and went down 3-0 in March this year.
Staffordshire referee, Alan Wiley is in charge of this match. This is the first league match this season he will have been the referee for a game involving the Clarets.
A 2-0 defeat would be some achievement considering who we are playing and our current form. I have religiously refused to predict a defeat all season on the road and we haven`t won one yet so what the hell 3-0 Arsenal! I said 6-0 to the Gunners in the Vital Burnley Prediction League but that was just after the Pompey Horror Show and I was depressed and angry!
It is time for Stoke City at Turf Moor. This is the rearranged match that was postponed due to snow and ice last January and just as well since we were in the middle of a managerial upheaval at the time.
Don`t forget the match has also been put back a further day due to Stoke`s progress in the FA Cup and will now be played on Wednesday 10th March (Kick-Off 7:45pm)