Unai Emery has fared better than many expected in the Arsenal hotseat so far having been charged with leading the club into a new era, but the past week has shown that there is still a lot of work to do.
Anyone lulled into a false sense of confidence by a 22-match unbeaten streak across all competitions has been sharply brought down to earth, with the Gunners suffering back-to-back defeats heading into this match.
It is difficult to know which one will have disappointed Emery more – a 3-2 loss to struggling Southampton or their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur in midweek which not only gave away the North London bragging rights, but also saw Arsenal eliminated from the EFL Cup.
The Gunners had the chances to have at least drawn that game, and the history books will show that they hit the woodwork three times too, but the stark reality of it was that they were second-best to Spurs for the most part, and on their own turf too.
However, it should not all suddenly be doom and gloom for Arsenal; they are two places better off than at the same stage of last season, and while their 22-match unbeaten run wasn’t quite as dominant as the numbers might suggest, they did pick up decent results against Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham in that time.
The signs look promising for this game too, with Arsenal having won each of their last 27 home Premier League matches against teams beginning the day in the relegation zone, stretching back to their thrilling 4-4 draw with Spurs in another North London derby in October 2008.
Saturday will be Arsenal’s final home outing of 2018 and Manchester City are the only team to have beaten them at the Emirates in the Premier League this calendar year, with the Gunners winning 13 of their 18 such outings so far.
However, Wednesday’s derby defeat means that Arsenal could also lose back-to-back home games in all competitions for the first time since March, which is also the last time that they were beaten three times on the bounce home or away.
Emery also suffered back-to-back losses in his first two games in charge of Arsenal, and on that occasion his side bounced back with their 22-match undefeated streak, so the Spaniard will no doubt be demanding a similar response in their last outing before Christmas.
A victory would see them temporarily move level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea – at least until the Blues host Leicester City later in the day – but it would take an Arsenal win, Chelsea defeat and a seven-goal swing for Emery’s side to spend Christmas Day in the Champions League spots
After 17 games of the 2017-18 campaign, Burnley sat above Arsenal in the table and were only denied a place in the top four by goal difference having won nine and lost just four of their Premier League games.
Fast forward 12 months and Burnley find themselves 12 places and 19 points worse off, now with just three wins, 11 defeats and their goal difference leaving them in the relegation zone.
There is no doubt that the Clarets overachieved last season, but it is still a dramatic decline over the course of a year and it is one Sean Dyche appears powerless to prevent at the moment.
Game number 18 of last season was the first of an 11-match winless streak in the league, and Burnley simply cannot afford a repeat of those winter blues this time around having not built up a stockpile of points to rely upon.
Dyche’s side have only won one of their last 10 outings and have suffered seven defeats in that time too – including four losses in their last five.
The Clarets can count themselves unfortunate to have seen their resistance broken in stoppage time at Wembley last time out, though, as Christian Eriksen climbed off the bench to earn Tottenham Hotspur a narrow 1-0 win at the death.
A second successive trip to North London awaits Burnley on Saturday, but only three teams have picked up fewer points on the road than this weekend’s visitors so far this season.
Indeed, only Cardiff City have scored fewer goals on their travels too, and including the end of last season Burnley have now failed to score in seven of their last 10 Premier League away games – including each of their last three in a drought which stretches back to the beginning of November.
Cardiff just so happen to be the only team Burnley have beaten on the road across all competitions this term, in fact, with nine defeats to go with that solitary win from their last 15 outings away from home.
There is plenty for Dyche to ponder, then, and while 2018 proved to be a memorable year with Burnley’s highest finish since 1974 and a European jaunt, 2019 is shaping up to be a much tougher one for the club
Mesut Ozil was left out of the midweek derby defeat for “tactical reasons”, casting further doubt over his future at Arsenal and suggesting that he may stay out of favour for this match.
Arsenal are still struggling with defensive injury problems as Hector Bellerin, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Rob Holding remain sidelined, while Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac are doubtful for this match.
The Spaniard did not make wholesale changes for the EFL Cup contest in midweek, but Alexandre Lacazette could come back into the starting lineup, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also likely to start having been directly involved in 17 goals from his 16 home games in the Premier League.
Burnley, meanwhile, could be without Aaron Lennon for the foreseeable future after he underwent surgery for a knee injury sustained against former club Spurs last weekend.
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Sokratis, Koscielny, Xhaka; Lichtsteiner, Torreira, Guendouzi, Monreal; Iwobi, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Burnley possible starting lineup:
Hart; Bardsley, Long, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Gudmundsson, Westwood, Cork, Hendrick; Vokes