Gunners progress stalled at Burnley
A penalty from Graham Alexander for Burnley was enough to cancel out Cesc Fabregas's early strike in a 1-1 stalemate on Wednesday which hammers a huge dent in Arsenal's Premier League title hopes.
Alexander somehow managed to haul Burnley level and earn them a deserved point from this compelling contest, which Arsenal had threatened to dominate and could have run away with before half-time. Fabregas scored his 10th goal of the season to put Arsenal in firm control as Arsene Wenger's side went in search of their third straight victory in the Premier League.
The Spanish maestro rewarded some sublime play from the visitors with a clinical strike in the seventh minute to leave Burnley on the back foot and in danger of getting a drubbing. Yet Owen Coyle's team have more character than most and managed to level the scores in the 27th minute when Thomas Vermaelen conceded a penalty for a crude challenge on Andre Bikey, which Alexander duly converted to make it 14 from 14 successful spot kicks during his Burnley career.
Coyle made just one change to the side which earned a hard-fought point at home to Fulham last weekend, dropping Robbie Blake in favour of Kevin McDonald. Wenger, meanwhile, was forced into two changes himself with injuries to Denilson and Armand Traore resulting in him recalling Abou Diaby and Mikael Silvestre for his first Premier League start of the season as Arsenal looked to secure the victory that would maintain the pressure on those at the top.
Gunners fire early
Home supporters still had last season's famous League Cup quarter final victory over Arsenal fresh in their minds, yet it soon became apparent this was a much more focused and determined side than the one humbled on the same ground earlier this year. It is no exaggeration to suggest Arsenal could have been three goals up inside the opening 10 minutes, such was the ferocity of the way they ripped into Coyle's men.
They were helped by some woeful defending, though, from the home side. Tyrone Mears almost gifted Fabregas the opening goal inside two minutes and it needed the impressive intervention of Clarke Carlisle to avert the danger.
Just five minutes later, however, a combination of three Burnley defenders failed to clear their lines and somehow Fabregas was able to squeeze beyond Mears, Steven Caldwell and Carlise before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner to put Arsenal ahead. Moments later Fabregas broke free again but could only find the side-netting with just a startled Brian Jensen to beat, yet the onslaught was relentless as Andrey Arshavin latched on William Gallas's pass but saw his left-footed drive come back off the post.
There seemed no hope for Burnley until Vermaelen gave them some just before the half hour mark and Alexander duly took advantage. It was inevitable chances would come and go for both sides to claim victory, such was the nature of the game. Jensen produced a fine save to deny Arshavin while the giant Dane also did well to tip over Vermaelen's header from Samir Nasri's cross.
At the opposite end Chris Eagles drifted beyond two defenders only to see his rasping drive come back off the post before Steven Fletcher wasted a great opening by blazing over the crossbar from close range after the ball had fallen kindly to him in the Arsenal penalty area.