Published: 22:14 | 22/3/21

Arteta defends Xhaka after howler


Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta defended midfielder Granit Xhaka after his howler denied Arsenal victory in an entertaining 1-1 draw at Burnley.

The Gunners, who remain tenth, were in front and dominating play when the Swiss international's error five minutes before the break gave the Clarets an unexpected lifeline.

Xhaka failed to pick out David Luiz with a wayward pass across the face of his goal and the ball cannoned off a grateful Chris Wood before bouncing into an empty net.

The Arsenal player put his head in his hands after what was his eighth mistake that directly led to a Premier League goal since the start of 2016-17 season - more than any other player.

Xhaka must hate the sight of the Clarets with Sean Dyche's troops being the opponent's when he was sent off in the reverse fixture in December.

"It is what it is," said Arteta. 

"It's the way we play. It's the way I want to play and we just have to know the risk and the rules that we have in certain areas and the types of balls we have to play.

"We are talking about it all the time he just trying to nullify anything we given to the opponents. In the last few weeks we have done that. We have to improve but individually at the end you have to make the decisions on the pitch.

"It looks easy from the outside but it's not that easy on here.

The Gunners had the perfect start when they went ahead after six minutes. A rasping drive from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sneaked under the stretched fingers of keeper Nick Pope at the near post and rolled over the goal line for his 14th goal of the campaign.

Clarets hadn't looked like scoring until Xhaka's clanger and after that the visitors lost impetus with keeper Bernd Leno coming to their rescue to deny Wood after a neat one-two with Matej Vydra.

The Gunners eventually came alive in a barnstorming closing stages and after sub Nicolas Pepe failed to connect six yards out after a Kieran Tierney cutback, it seemed that the Ivorian had earned his team a penalty when his thunderous shot was adjudged to have struck Erik Pieters on the arm before it reflected on to the bar.

Referee Andre Marriner, who had moments earliest denied a Gunners handball penalty claim, gave the penalty and issued Pieters red card. But VAR came to the Clarets' rescue adjudging the ball hit Pieters' shoulder overturning the penalty and rescinding the red card.

Arsenal almost grabbed the points deep in stoppage time but sub Dani Ceballos hit the post after a goalmouth scramble.

Burnley have one win in nine but the point takes them closer to safety. 

Boss Sean Dyche said: "That is what VAR is there for and it's done its job. It clearly hit him on the shoulder."

By Nick Royle

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