Date: 1st November 2014 at 11:30pm
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Though seemingly tedious to some there’s something mildly reassuring about finding ourselves back in the top four given the mood earlier this month. Many supporters claim to be bored with 4th spot but it seems a desirable enough place to be – a base camp from which loftier summits look just a little more accessible even if still a way off. Of course we’re by no means comfortably in place. The guy ropes need to be secured and our territorial claims reinforced but despite a shaky start we’re on familiar ground. We’ve become so accustomed to life around base camp that anxieties and panic attacks affect us when we’re away from it. Calls for the manager’s head become a little more audible and regrets about the plethora of players missed in the last transfer window voiced increasingly.

Such is the pressure of the minimum demand we stay in that range it sometimes makes it difficult to appreciate performances in real time. Every misplaced pass is an almost unforgivable failing and a shot off target criminally incompetent. Every long hopeful ball into our area is a potential goal conceded. When toiling for the goal that might not come and fretting about conceding a goal that could happen at any moment we tend to judge our players most harshly. Injustices such as the missed handball which ought to have given us an early penalty weigh more heavily. Go a couple of goals up though and seemingly all our attacks look threatening and our defenders barely need to break sweat to swat away the efforts of the opposition.

In fact, before Alexis notched his 9th goal of the season we played well, though not so easy to appreciate it at the time, against a well organised side that defended in numbers and with determination. We still managed 6 good attempts on target that need saving from 19 overall, in an impressive match total of 32 attempts, before gaining the all important breakthrough.

We’ve tried a few permutations of play this season some enforced and others in an endeavour to find that consistently fluent form of play which has proved a little elusive at times. I guess our performance against Sunderland struck enough of a balance between defensive security and attacking competence to warrant persisting with it. Still the attacking line up comprising Welbeck, Alexis, Cazorla and Ox looked at first a little under resourced, unambitious even, and indeed may well have been were it not for Alexis playing like two men – and both of them mightily impressive. But our early season results meant we needed the points and the confidence of a clean sheet more and so pragmatism was the order of the day.

Many of our players have been singing Sanchez’s praises this week. So much so that I wondered if some might be a little too much in awe of him even to a degree over shadowed, not wanting to get in his way, expecting him to produce the killer moment. It’s important that players like Chamberlain and Welbeck retain confidence in their own ability to have an impact on the game. Whether Walcott and Podolski have more self belief or not would be hard to determine when we’re two goals to the good and Burnley less able to sit back but they certainly appeared to relish the opportunity to show that they can have an impact when substituted for Ox and Danny.

Still there’s no denying that the Chilean dynamo made the difference though I’m not sure whether Chambers cross was meant for Welbeck or he was just hitting an area, but it was Sanchez who read the flight of the ball perfectly and bravely got his head to it to lift the tension before Chambers himself eased it further with an all too rare goal from a corner shortly after. In fact Calum may owe some thanks to the Burnley defender who when tugging on his shirt only succeeded in keeping the full back where he needed to be to take advantage of the rebound from Welbeck’s saved effort.

Whether Ramsey’s introduction in place of Arteta seven minutes before the goal made the difference that brought about the goal is hard to say. We were creating chances before then but he did play further forward and did add to the numbers the Burnley defence had to contend with. After two goals in two minutes and the introduction of Walcott and Podolski shortly after, we played as though goals were there for the taking but Burnley had to take some risks to get anything out of the game so we weren’t facing quite the same commitment to keep us out. Even so Walcott showed enough to suggest that his injury hasn’t affected his acceleration over short distances nor his movement. Similarly Podolski’s efforts, one great volley saved well and another attempt hitting the wood work reminded us of his lethal potential.

The game though ended with Sanchez making a diagonal run across the box as though he could read the path that Gibbs’ hopeful ball across the penalty area would have to take before intercepting it perfectly to score his 10th goal in 15 starts. Alexis is the star shining brightest at the moment but Cazorla, Welbeck, Walcott, Ozil and others could and should take advantage of that in the same way that Pires, Vieira, Bergkamp and others could comfortably stand company with Henry when he was equally irrepressible.

I doubt that this is a team composition of choice that will persist through the season. Indeed I’m rather curious about how we might fit players like Walcott into a team that surely must also include Ozil when he’s fit again. Maybe at least until Koscielny and perhaps Debuchy are back we’ll see the pragmatic approach persist for a while longer but there’s a lot of excitement within this squad just waiting for the right pieces to fit together. Quite how they do I’m not at all sure.