With Arsenal’s 21-match unbeaten run now in the past, the Gunners are just looking to stay above water through the festive period, with defensive frailties taking a toll. They must piece together a back line to stay afloat as the Gunners host Burnley at the Emirates at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.
Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, and Konstantinos Mavropanos are all out injured, leaving the defensive unit for the Gunners thinner than ever. Thankfully, Sokratis is back from suspension, but he and Laurent Koscielny are the only healthy center-backs on the roster.
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The unbeaten run came to an end last time out, falling to relegation-threatened Southampton 3-2 with Stephen Lichtsteiner and Granit Xhaka joining forces with Koscielny in a three-man back line. Twice Arsenal fought back from a one-goal deficit before Charlie Austin secured all three points for the Saints in the 85th minute.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also out injured for the Gunners, while Sead Kolasinac will be a gametime decision. Mesut Ozil is confirmed to be involved against Burnley after being left out of the squad in recent weeks for “tactical reasons” according to manager Unai Emery.
For Burnley, the Clarets have won just once over their last five matches, and would love to pick up points against the ailing Gunners before a critical run in the relegation battle, with games against Huddersfield Town and Fulham on the horizon. Sean Dyche‘s men will be without Aaron Lennon, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Robbie Brady are working to make a return.
What they’re saying
Arsenal manager Emery on Burnley: “We have big respect for them. They are a good team, with good players. Defensively they are very hard and can play with a lot of long balls, a lot of crosses, to create chances to score.”
Burnley manager Dyche on playing bigger clubs: “If everyone thinks that every team in the Premier League is going to play the beautiful game, at the moment there’s only one winner and that’s Manchester City. We’ve got to find a way and we’ve done that consistently over the six years that I’ve been here. We’ve found a way of being successful. We’ve had to fight, we’ve had to work, we’ve played some good stuff at times, we’ve played some productive stuff, we’ve played some hard stuff, but we’ve found a way and I think that doesn’t change. When you’re playing these big clubs it’s very, very difficult. It’s more reality tactics rather than negative tactics for me.”
Arsenal’s defensive woes will be taxing over the festive period, but at least two central defenders are healthy to play a normal back line. Barring any additional injuries during the match, the Gunners should be able to take down a sliding Burnley with no trouble, with Mesut Ozil back and playing a role. Look for Arsenal to win 2-0 and get back to winning ways.