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Sleepy Arsenal awaken to overwhelm toothless Burnley with aerial prowess

Crisis averted. Or perhaps Arsenal were simply trying to keep themselves awake. While they briefly flirted with trouble after shipping a sloppy equaliser and even contrived to end a tepid game with 10 men, Mikel Arteta’s side returned to winning ways in the league after finding Burnley unable to handle nothing more fearsome than high balls into the box.

With James Trafford flapping at corners and Burnley’s defenders even losing out in aerial duels with Bukayo Saka, it was rather sedate after last weekend’s rumble with Newcastle. Even Arteta, who raged at the officials after that defeat, could afford to be playful while discussing Fábio Vieira seeing red for a nasty foul on Josh Brownhill. “VAR was right,” Arsenal’s manager said with more than a hint of sarcasm. “The referee was right. Really positive from Mikel to speak about that. Good decision.”

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Arteta, who was without seven injured players, was happier analysing a win that moved his side level with Manchester City at the top of the table. Ignoring another bland showing from Kai Havertz, Arsenal could dwell on a selfless display by Leandro Trossard, their threat at set pieces and a refusal to panic after Burnley levelled through Brownhill.

The frustration for Vincent Kompany was that Burnley, who remain 19th, were not blown away by scintillating passing. They could have built momentum after cancelling out Trossard’s opener but they remain far too callow at the back. Arsenal restored their lead when meek goalkeeping from Trafford allowed William Saliba to head in Trossard’s corner and the points were secure when another delivery from the Belgian ended with Oleksandr Zinchenko punishing more wretched defending.

“The narrative on this game will be on set pieces,” Kompany said. “For us it is to see if we had moments and momentum. It was a very disciplined and mature performance. But the disappointment and timing of the goals will make us even sharper.”

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It took Arsenal a while to hit their stride against opponents whose spirit could not mask a lack of quality in both boxes. Arteta’s side were muted at first and it could have cost them in the eighth minute. Fortunately David Raya was alert, flying to his left to save Zeki Amdouni’s effort.

Leandro Trossard scores Arsenal’s opening goal against Burnley.Leandro Trossard scores Arsenal’s opening goal against Burnley. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

Arsenal were sleepy. They missed Martin Ødegaard’s insistent passing, while Burnley succeeded in restricting Saka’s influence at first. Saka, who had been passed fit after limping off during the midweek win over Sevilla, could not get on the ball at first.

Unimpressed with all the inoffensive passing, Saka unleashed some of his frustration when he tested Trafford with Arsenal’s first shot on target. Havertz, who was short of conviction again, looked pained after fluffing a decent headed chance.

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It is still not happening for the German, who later slowed a promising counterattack with a poor pass. Trossard got his shot away but Arsenal were not making it easy for themselves. They could have trailed after Johann Berg Gudmundsson pounced on Saliba’s error, only for Raya to make a fine save.

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Arsenal began to pin Burnley back. The pressure told when Saka nodded Zinchenko’s cross across goal and Trossard, playing as a false 9 with Gabriel Jesus missing and Eddie Nketiah on the bench, beat Trafford with a brave header. Burnley could only wonder how they had lost out in the air to two of the smallest players on the pitch. It was a weakness that Arsenal repeatedly looked to exploit, with Trafford strangely reluctant to come off his line and claim crosses.

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The ploy was so effective that it brought Arsenal another goal after Burnley’s equaliser. It was a simple way to avoid a drama. Arsenal had threatened to bring it on themselves by inviting Burnley on at the start of the second half. Luca Koleosho’s challenge on Takehiro Tomiyasu went unpunished after a VAR review and Brownhill’s shot went in off Gabriel Magalhães.

Time for a meltdown? Not quite. Gabriel Martinelli immediately broke down the left and tested Trafford. From Trossard’s corner Trafford flapped and Saliba scored from a yard out. Arsenal would tighten their grip when another corner from Trossard led to Zinchenko guiding a measured shot past Trafford. Vieira’s late red card barely heightened the tension.