The notion that Arsene Wenger's precociously gifted Carling Cup side might actually be good enough to win the competition was abruptly deflated last night, in a manner with which, even on a chill December evening in industrial Lancashire, the Arsenal manager could have few complaints. If Burnley's victory on penalties at Chelsea in the last round owed something to luck, this one was unquestionably theirs on merit.
Far from being intimidated or roughed up, Wenger's youthful team were for the most part outplayed, or at least matched for technical quality, as Owen Coyle's Championship team gave a platform to a burgeoning talent of their own in the 20-year-old Scot Kevin McDonald, whose two goals, in the sixth and 57th minutes, were underpinned by a team performance of discipline and craft, as well as some fine goalkeeping.
McDonald, an elegant midfielder who had made his senior debut for Dundee at 16, cost Coyle £500,000 last summer, the Burnley manager having persuaded him to move to Turf Moor despite interest from Celtic and Liverpool. "He is still developing physically but I think he will be capable in the near future of playing at Premier League standard," Coyle said.
"But this was a team performance. I believed that if we stayed brave and kept to our game we had a chance. We rode our luck at times but over the piece I felt we were deserving of the result."
Wenger's only grumble was that his players failed to match the finishing that had characterised their earlier efforts in the competition, when they put six goals past Sheffield United and added another three against Wigan. "We had six one-on-ones with their goalkeeper and lost 2-0," Wenger said. "I think that sums up the game."
It was fair comment but did not give due credit to Brian Jensen, Burnley's Danish goalkeeper, who stood tall and presented too big an obstacle to Nicklas Bendtner on four occasions, as well as saving from Carlos Vela and Mark Randall.
Wenger, as expected, had maintained his faith in youth, although with one exception. In among the teenagers, like a teacher on a sixth-form outing, was 31-year-old Mikaël Silvestre. But the introduction of Paul Rodgers, just 19, for his debut alongside Silvestre in central defence kept the average age below 20.
While all eyes were on Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and company, Coyle was true to his promise that his players were not there merely to admire their opponents and it took them less than six minutes to demonstrate their capability.
Robbie Blake combined with Chris Eagles, the former Manchester United player, on the right flank and, when the ball was played into the centre, Rodgers succeeded in denying Martin Paterson with a firm tackle only for the ball to run loose to McDonald, who slid it inside the near post.
Arsenal responded well enough and made chances but Burnley were not limited to one trick. They almost scored again when Blake's shot was spilt by Lukasz Fabianski and retrieved at the feet of Paterson and were as impressive off the ball as on it, consistently squeezing Arsenal's space. Wilshere, so influential in the defeat of Wigan, was rendered such a peripheral figure on this occasion that Wenger took him off just beyond the hour. By then his side were two goals down, McDonald having struck again, running on to an Eagles throw, muscling past Randall in the box and scoring beautifully with the outside of his right foot.
Arsenal had been unable to play with fluency, unable to impose themselves in the face of opponents who clearly believed they could succeed through disciplined organisation and the quality of their play. In fact, Burnley should have added a third goal when the left back Stephen Jordan delivered a superb cross on to the head of Paterson, only for Fabianski to grasp his header.
"It has been a good education for our young players," added Wenger, "we just needed to be more clinical."
Burnley (4-1-4-1): Jensen; Duff, Carlisle, Caldwell, Jordan; Alexander; Eagles, K McDonald (Gudjonsson, 61), McCann, Blake (Elliott, 77); Paterson (Akinbiyi, 74). Substitutes not used: Penny (gk), Mahon, Rodriguez, A MacDonald.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Hoyte, Rodgers (Lansbury, h-t), Silvestre, Gibbs; Wilshere (Simpson, 63), Ramsey, Randall (Bischoff, 72), Merida; Bendtner, Vela. Substitutes not used: Mannone (gk), Coquelin, Steer, Frimpong.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
London falling: Burnley's cup run
Third Round: Fulham (1-0). An 88th-minute goal from local boy Jay Rodriguez sank the west Londoners.
Fourth Round: Chelsea (1-1; Burnley win 5-4 on penalties). Ade Akinbiyi's equaliser set up a famous win.
Fifth Round: Arsenal (2-0). Two from Kevin McDonald beat the Gunners.Reuse content