There is a certain amount of class one expects from an attacking midfielder who was signed for £30 million from Real Madrid. Such a fee, paid to such a club, is the equivalent of a footballing kitemark of quality, and Martin Odegaard showed why he was deemed worthy of the investment when he produced the sort of dipping, curling free-kick that can only be scored by players of supreme technical skill.
The Arsenal playmaker’s first-half effort was the difference between the two teams on a gripping and intense afternoon at Turf Moor. Burnley might feel their periods of sustained pressure were deserving of more, and it would be hard to argue, but Sean Dyche’s side ultimately lacked the attacking precision required to break down their opponents.
Back-to-back victories for Arsenal, with back-to-back clean sheets, further helps the shifting mood in north London. They are still not playing their most fluent attacking football but they stood up to Burnley’s physical challenge here and, in Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel Magalhaes, they had the game’s two outstanding players.
Takehiro Tomiyasu also impressed on his first away performance for his new club, providing all the aerial support and muscular strength that Arsenal would have wanted from their Japanese international.
“It builds confidence, trust and a belief that you can go through difficult moments in matches and still win,” said Mikel Arteta. “You have to be ready for a fight. We have players who are not at their strength playing in this type of game, but they did their best and we got the win.”
It was a battle on the pitch and, briefly, there was also a battle in the stands. At the final whistle the two sets of supporters confronted each other, throwing plastic bottles and trying to clamber over the barriers. An unseemly sight, but not one as concerning to Burnley as the latest home defeat on their record.
Dyche’s side remain without a victory this season, and it is now 13 home games without a win. They had long spells of dominance here but they simply did not have a player capable of producing a game-changing moment similar to Odegaard’s free-kick.
“We are not a million miles away,” said Dyche, who signed a new four-year deal this week. “I am pleased with the way we reacted and took it on in the second half. We have got to turn these performances into wins.”
A week on from a much-needed win over Norwich City, Arteta had earlier sent a message of attacking intent with his team selection. A Manchester City-esque 4-3-3 shape has been in the works for some time in north London, with the Spaniard forced to wait for the right players to arrive before he could finally press the button on the masterplan.
It meant that Emile Smith Rowe and Odegaard, traditional advanced playmakers, both featured in central midfield. Between them was Thomas Partey, tasked with holding the whole team together when the attackers charged forward.
On paper, it was as exciting a team as Arteta could have selected. In reality, they were stodgy for much of the game. Burnley looked dangerous from long balls, as ever, with Ashley Barnes twice firing off target in the first few moments.
Arsenal’s reputation for struggling against more physically robust teams has been well-earned over the years, although their record against Burnley is better than many might assume: they have not lost in the league here since 1973.
For that reason alone, there was a sense of inevitability when Arsenal took the lead. Bukayo Saka was cynically tripped on the edge of the box, around 22 yards from goal, and Odegaard did the rest from the resulting free-kick. Not even the lengthy arms of Nick Pope could reach Odegaard’s effort, which arced beautifully into the top corner.
The nature of Burnley’s riposte was predictable, but they caused Arsenal no shortage of problems. The visitors were reliant on Gabriel on more than one occasion, not least when he acrobatically cleared the ball as Barnes was about to pounce.
“We know he is a player with an incredible future,” said Arteta of the Brazilian. “He has adapted really well to the league, that’s why we signed him. He understands what we want. It does not get much harder than playing here in the Premier League. He was terrific."
The second half brought much of the same, with Burnley pinning Arsenal back and the home crowd growing increasingly excited. Arsenal were forced to weather a storm and they did not always make life easy for themselves.
Ben White was enduring a testing afternoon under the high ball but it was on the floor where he produced his biggest heart-stopping moment: his back-pass to Ramsdale was short, allowing Matej Vydra in behind. Ramsdale came out, Vydra went down and the penalty was given. Replays showed that the Arsenal goalkeeper clearly won the ball, though, and the decision was swiftly overturned.
Burnley continued to push, but Arsenal held firm. At the end the defenders celebrated as one, battered and bruised but with three points under their belts.