Burnley v Arsenal
Burnley breakthrough to the top tier of Premier League after 25 years
Reportedly Burnley can break the ‘Big 6’ and end up in a top spot on the Premier League Table by the end of the season. Burnley is only one point off fourth place and 17 ahead of the bottom-placed Crystal Palace. Only giant club Man City have managed to defeat Burnley in their last 9 league games, a winning run of results that has taken the Clarets to within goal difference of the top six. Currently, in 7th, Burnley are right on the heels of the titan EPL clubs known as the "Big Six”. After Premier League Match-Week 12, Manchester City are in first place (34 points), followed by Manchester United (26 points), Chelsea (25 points), Tottenham Hotspur (23 points), Liverpool (22 points), Arsenal (22 points), Burnley (22 points).
Burnley have now won away against Premier League champions Chelsea and taken a point at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Plucky Burnley recorded their first hat-trick of top-flight wins since 1975 this season and currently level on points with mighty EPL clubs Liverpool and Arsenal who for years ruled at the top four of the Premier League. In Burnley’s last match at home at Turf Moor against Swansea, Jack Cork opened the scoring at 29 minutes and Ashley Barnes scored the second at 40 minutes. in the first match since the opening-day victory at Chelsea that Burnley had scored more than once. They have made comparatively few goals go a long way. An in-form Burnley No 1 goalkeeper Nick Pope gets credit for another clean sheet. Cork was offloaded by the Swans last summer. Clarets keeper Pope beats big names like David De Gea, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ederson to the No spot in the Big Five leagues. Pope has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the game this season, having gone into the season expecting to be warming the Burnley bench. Twenty-five-year-old English stopper Pope was Sean Dyche's back-up to England ace Tom Heaton. However Pope was quickly called into action after Heaton dislocated his shoulder against Crystal Palace and the ex-Charlton stopper came off the bench and has won for Burnley since, with Heaton out for at least four months. To date, Pope is statistically the best goalkeeper in all of Europe's Big Five leagues having saved a stunning 94.4 percent of all 18 shots he faced this season, of which he saved 17 and conceding only one against Liverpool. With Pope on board, the Clarets are concentrating on staying up. Burnley manager Sean Dyche is aiming for 40 points by the end of the winter holiday fixtures on New Year’s Day.
“The reality is still out there, 40 points is a big marker,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche. “We’ve just got to stay grounded and aim for that 40-point mark,” Jack Cork added. “After that, we can set new targets, but that will always be the aim.” “They are bit more assured,” said Clarets boss Dyche about his side. “Even against those superpower clubs, we think, let’s take it on. The challenge we have as managers is we are judged exactly the same but the playing field is not level. But I don’t want to make too much of a big deal because I believe in my players, however much they cost.” Before the season began, Burnley were predicted to be relegated at the end of this season. Currently, Burnley are 7th on the league table, level on points with both Arsenal and Liverpool after 12 games in the season. On Sunday Burnley will host Arsenal, looking to make it 4 wins in a row without Pope and co. conceding a goal. If the Clarets win three points at Turf Moor against Arsenal, they will leapfrog opponents Arsenal and move into the top four on the Premier League Table in the midst of the top six. Minnow Burnley is truly a challenger for the Champions League spots in the richest league of all if they continue to win by maintaining their stunning form. Key to Burnley’s success this season is goalkeeper Pope and club manager Sean Dyche who have taken Burnley from strength to strength.
With Burnley in charge of a solid back four, there are similarities that can be drawn between this Burnley and the Leicester City side that shocked the football world when they soundly won the Premier League in 2015-16. The Leicester side was relatively unknown at the start of the season, by the end of the season Jamie Vardy, N’golo Kante, and Riyad Mahrez were household names. At this point, Manchester City looks like they already have their name on the EPL trophy. But Burnley may make history this season as well with the help of goalie Nick Pope and their rock-solid defense. They have conceded fewer goals this season than every club except Man City and Man Utd. Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have formed a stunning partnership at the back, and Jack Cork’s midfield performances have been so consistent that he got an unexpected international call-up from England.
Matt Lowton gave credit to the international Clarets as several of his teammates turned down opportunities for play their country in recent friendlies to compete against the Swans. Lowton was one of only 5 senior outfield players left to train during the international series, but Burnley made light of the difficulty in preparing for the weekend by beating Swansea City 2-0 to record their 3rd successive Premier League win. Chris Wood was absent after only arriving back on Friday, Burnley's Irish players Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick, and Robbie Brady all started for Burnley rather than the Danish team. "There has only been a few of us left training but we've still been working hard as the manager likes us to do," Lowton said of the training. "With the lads that went away, with the Irish boys and Woodsy, unfortunately, they didn't get the results that they wanted but it shows the mentality of those lads as well to get a knock in the week and then come out and perform. It's just a great set of lads, everyone is in it together, and that showed again on Saturday." The win over the Swans followed victories over Newcastle and Southampton.
"We're on a good run at the minute, we've won the last three with three clean sheets. We're in high spirits at the minute but we know as well as anyone that it can turn so it's up to us to keep it going,” said former Aston Villa right-back Lowton. “We probably didn't dominate the ball but we didn't give up any clear-cut opportunities. I can't remember conceding a shot on target until late on with the Bony header. I think we controlled the key areas of the pitch." Burnley are keeping pace with Liverpool and Arsenal and are just one point behind Tottenham Hotspur in fourth. After just 12 games the Clarets are already more than halfway to the total of 40 points they accumulated all last season. This year's total of 22 has them averaging 2 points a game - a significant sign of progress. "It shows how far we've come," added Lowton. "The lads we brought in in the summer have added to the group again and fitted in fantastically. Barnesy was a different class, he's not played much in the last few weeks but with the way the team is he doesn't get down and he keeps working hard. That shows on matchday."
In 1960 Burnley were English champions. Twenty-five years later they nearly went out of business, but now are at the top table, under boss Sean Dyche. Bottom of the EPL Table clubs Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Swansea are struggling, while the ‘Top Six’ are up top. The Claret’s 2-0 win over the Swans on Saturday ensured that Burnley stayed level on points with both Arsenal and Liverpool, and maintained a 4-point gap over Watford in 8th. Prior to the 2017-18 season, Burnley had spent only 3 of the last 41 campaigns in the English top flight. Burnley FC has a storied history in English football. One of the 12 member clubs which took part in the inaugural Football League, they’ve won the top division twice, most recently in 1960. Burnley won the 1914 FA Cup final between Burnley and Liverpool at Crystal Palace 1-0.
“There is still a feeling that Burnley are in a false position,” wrote Tim Quelch, author of ‘From Orient to the Emirates: The Plucky Rise of Burnley FC’. “A Cinderella situation and the clock is going to strike midnight anytime soon and the whole thing is going to fall away. For me, this is a standout story. It’s just incredible that a club with so little and – no exaggeration – were on the brink of extinction, could recover so dramatically and so triumphantly. When we won the championship in 1960 the population was only 78,000, which makes it the smallest town or city to host a top division winning side. I don’t think that record will ever be beaten,” says Quelch. “It was only sustained by the artificially level playing field that they had in those days, before the abolition of the maximum wage. They were a really leading edge club. That was the irony, that you had a decaying mill town and then you had one of the brightest exponents of modern football, not only in the country but on the continent.”
By the mid-Sixties, the Clarets were losing. Between 1971 and 1985 there were five relegations and two promotions across four divisions and the club struggled to hold on to their top football players. Turf Moor became Burnley’s home ground in 1883. They had been shrewd in developing talent, including the players who won the FA Youth Cup in 1968. “The economic status of the town faltered,” said Quelch. “Two major industries were lost, which meant that more people went into exile elsewhere to find jobs. Burnley had survived very well by recruiting young talent, particularity from the north east and Ireland, turning them into top grade performers which enabled them to compete with some of the better funded clubs. John Bond is vilified in the town for having almost destroyed the club, but quite frankly that is totally unfair to him. They were no longer attracting the calibre of young talent that they once did. And they found it difficult to afford some of the better players on the revenue they had available to them.” By the early 1980s Burnley were languishing in the fourth tier, losing £10,000 a week with “barely two or three thousand” turning out to watch them.
“The crucial thing which almost finished them off was a well-intentioned attempt to try and return to the glory days, appointing John Bond as manager,” added Quelch. “He thought he could spend his way to triumph and the board of directors at the time simply weren’t together enough to prevent him from doing that. He’s vilified in the town for having almost destroyed the club, but quite frankly that is totally unfair to him. Although he made wrong decisions, the directors really have to bear the responsibility, they are in charge of the purse strings. One director disagrees with this, everyone else is very clear that had they not beaten Leyton Orient in May 1987 the club would not have been able to sustain itself in that lower division because the debts were so high. It was do or die that afternoon.” That afternoon, goals either side of half-time gave Burnley a 2-1 win and, coupled with results elsewhere going their way, the club avoided dropping into the Conference, and possible extinction. Attendance and media interest encouraged the bank to extend credit, which allowed them to build a better side for the following season, where they reached the final of the EFL Trophy, losing 2-0 to Wolves. “It may sound like a tinpot cup but that afternoon in May 1988, 81,000 turned up for it, 30,000 more than England and Scotland got in their Home International a few days before. The money derived from that was enough to keep the club going for a number of years.”
The collapse of ITV Digital in 2002 hit Burnley hard. “The money they lost in that amounted to over 30 per cent of their income,” continued Quelch. “Only by the skin of their teeth did they avoid administration. Once that hit, the whole momentum pushing towards the Premier League ended immediately. Stan’s last act was to keep them up in 2003 - 2004 and he reckons it was his most notable achievement in football, surviving on loans and people who weren’t entirely fit. Dyche has out-thought a lot of vaunted Premier League managers with some of his tactical innovations.” Back at the top table Owen Coyle, who followed Cotterill, “inspired such self-belief and confidence” when he took over, according to Quelch. Burnley reached the semi-finals of the League Cup in 2009, beating Premier League clubs Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal on the way. The momentum carried into the following season as Burnley reached the Premier League for the first time, but Burnley were relegated. They came back twice since then and are now one of the division’s most winning teams under Sean Dyche.
“He has out-thought a lot of vaunted Premier League managers with some of his tactical innovations,” says Quelch. “He puts a great stall on defense, it is so well organized. Stephen Ward says he has never been at a club where so much detail is given to positioning. It may be a yard one way or another but that yard is crucial. It is part of the reason why they are so skillful at dispossessing better teams. I don’t think there is a real belief that they are capable of sustaining this, and I think that’s what’s affected Dyche’s credentials. ‘It’s not all hoofball – there is skill there’ Perhaps due to their location, the make-up of their squad and perhaps Dyche’s gruff demeanor, it is fair to say that Burnley are still overlooked and unheralded. More was made of last season’s poor away form than their excellent home form. An opening day away win at Chelsea set the club up for positive results at both Spurs and Liverpool this season, dispelling the myth that they don’t travel well. They are now putting in performances and results at the top table not seen since the 1960s. They’ve not been fazed by anybody. The mentality has changed, they really believe it is possible to go away and get points. It is not all bump and grind and hoofball, there are some deft touches as well. I think there is a sense that Burnley have been lucky. You don’t have that degree of success against some of the best clubs in the country by luck. There is skill there; tactical skill as well as technical skill. It does feel a bit like dreamland, a club used to grubbing around the lower divisions playing with such sophistication.”
Next for Burnley
Burnley is heading into a tough run of fixtures. However, they have already faced Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, and Manchester City this season and only lost once - to Manchester City away at the Etihad where almost every team has been or will be beaten this season. If they can keep their form, pace, and focus during the busy winter season, there is no reason they can’t come out the other side with a real chance of finishing in the top six. Ashley Barnes has urged his Clarets side to set their sights high this season after breaking new ground in the Premier League. Barnes netted his first of the campaign on Saturday to help Burnley to a 2-0 victory against Swansea City, a third successive top-flight win for the first time in nearly 43 years. The win over the Swans maintained the Clarets’ hold on 7th place as they have lost only 2 of their opening 12 EPL fixtures. Dyche’s side have an eight-point cushion on the bottom half going into their 13th game. Twenty-eight-year-old Barnes believes Burnley is in the fight for a top 10 finish this season. While Barnes knows that their luck may change, he is delighted to see the Clarets build up a cushion n the top flight fight, Burnley are 13 points clear of the bottom three. Burnley are averaging just under two points a game so far, with 22 from 12 games. “I don’t see why not. We have to strive for being the best we can,” said Barnes. “I think we have to set our sights high. It’s one game at a time from the gaffer and our main aim is to be better than last season.”
“It’s been amazing,” Barnes added about the start to the campaign. “Last season we couldn’t win away from home and all the noise around that, but we cut that out and we just need to concentrate game by game and we’re flying at the minute. At some stage, there is a chance we might have a bad patch but we need to be prepared for that and keep going as we do. We’ve built up a buffer for that. For seeing out games and to know when we need to press and when we don’t and the game management is coming along. When you look at it like that it’s unheard of for a small club like us. We’re doing so well and we need to keep it going.” The win over Swansea was also a 3rd successive clean sheet for the Clarets goalie Nick Pope, and a 6th shutout in 9 matches. Burnley may have played with much greater control this season and Barnes believes they have learnt from last season’s experiences. “We’re growing as a squad, every time we stay up and every game we’re growing as individuals as well, we know how to see out games and the circumstances of a game and when it’s going a bit dead,” continued Barnes. “It’s not always going to be the prettiest of games at times, but we’ve dug deep and we’ve got the three points.”
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