There is a certain amount of quality one expects from an attacking midfielder who was signed for £30 million from Real Madrid. Such a fee, paid to such a club, is the equivalent of a footballing kitemark of class, and Martin Odegaard showed why he was deemed worthy of the investment when he produced the sort of dipping, curling free-kick that can only be scored by players of supreme technical skill.
The Arsenal playmaker’s first-half effort was the difference between the two teams on a gripping and intense afternoon at Turf Moor. Burnley might feel their periods of sustained pressure were deserving of more, and it would be hard to argue, but Sean Dyche’s side ultimately lacked the attacking precision required to break down their opponents.
Back-to-back victories for Arsenal, with back-to-back clean sheets, further helps the shifting mood in north London. They are still not playing their most fluent attacking football but they stood up to Burnley’s physical challenge here and, in Aaron Ramsdale and Gabriel Magalhaes, they had the game’s two outstanding players. Takehiro Tomiyasu also impressed on his first away performance for his new club, providing all the aerial support and muscular strength that Arsenal would have wanted from their Japanese international.
The result means that Burnley remain without a victory this season, although their performance here was not as worrying as that record suggests. They had more than enough of the territory and the ball to score a goal, but unlike Arsenal they simply did not have a player capable of producing a game-changing moment.
A week on from a much-needed win over Norwich City, Arteta had sent a message of attacking intent with his team selection. A Manchester City-esque 4-3-3 shape has been in the works for some time in north London, with Arteta forced to wait for the right players to arrive before he could finally press the button on the masterplan here.
It meant that Emile Smith Rowe and Odegaard, traditional advanced playmakers, both featured in central midfield. Between them was Thomas Partey, fit again and tasked with holding the whole team together when the attackers charged forward.
On paper, it was as exciting a team as Arteta could have selected. In reality, they were stodgy for much of the game, with the passing not quite as sharp as the Spaniard would have hoped. Burnley looked dangerous from long balls, as ever, with Ashley Barnes twice firing off target from inside the box in the first few moments.
Arsenal’s reputation for struggling against more physically robust teams has been well-earned over the years, although their record against Burnley is better than many might assume. They had not lost in the league here since 1973, while Burnley came into this on a club-record run of 12 home games without a victory.
For that reason alone, there was a sense of inevitability when Arsenal took the lead. Bukayo Saka was cynically tripped on the edge of the box, around 22 yards from goal, and Odegaard did the rest from the resulting free-kick. Not even the lengthy arms of Nick Pope could reach Odegaard’s effort, which arced beautifully into the top corner.
The nature of Burnley’s riposte was predictable, but they caused Arsenal no shortage of problems. The visitors were reliant on Gabriel on more than one occasion, not least when he acrobatically cleared the ball as Barnes was about to pounce.
The second half brought much of the same, with Burnley pinning Arsenal back and the home crowd growing increasingly excited. The volume went up another notch when Maxwel Cornet came on for his debut and, just a few moments later, tested Ramsdale with a right-footed strike.
Arsenal were weathering a considerable storm in those moments and they did not always make life easy for themselves. Their decision-making in the final third was baffling, with Nicolas Pepe wasting a wonderful counter-attacking opportunity and Smith Rowe miscuing a close-range chance.
Wasteful at one end, they also played themselves into trouble at the other. Ben White was enduring a testing afternoon under the high ball but it was on the floor where he produced his biggest heart-stopping moment: his back-pass to Ramsdale was short, allowing Matej Vydra in behind.
Ramsdale came out, Vydra went down and the penalty was given. Replays showed that the Arsenal goalkeeper clearly won the ball, though, and the decision was swiftly overturned when Anthony Taylor checked the pitchside monitor.
Burnley continued to push, and Arsenal continued to hold firm at the back. At the end the defenders celebrated as one, battered and bruised but with three points under their belts.