Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as Arsenal returned to winning ways with a 3-1 victory against Burnley on Saturday after Mesut Ozil was restored to the starting line-up as captain.
Aubameyang’s two goals moved him clear of Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah as the Premier League’s leading goalscorer and kept Arsenal firmly in the hunt for a top-four finish.
His 11th and 12th strikes of the season gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead against Sean Dyche’s battling Burnley, who got back into the game through Ashley Barnes and rattled their hosts at times before substitute Alex Iwobi scored late on.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery said he expected a tough physical battle against Burnley, who are mired in the relegation zone after finishing seventh last season.
“Physicality is part of football and you need to be strong,” he told Sky Sports. “Both teams needed to impose themselves physically and with quality. We imposed our game plan and we are pleased with this.”
And Emery praised Ozil for his contribution to the win, saying he played “very well, very well”. “We want Mesut like today,” he added.
Arsenal, who remain fifth in the Premier League, had gone 22 matches unbeaten in all competitions before last weekend’s defeat to Southampton and loss at home to Tottenham in their midweek League Cup quarter-final clash.
Former Germany international Ozil has been on the fringes of Emery’s team in recent weeks but was quickly into the thick of the action at the Emirates, playing a key role in Aubameyang’s opener.
That goal helped end a statistical quirk as it meant Arsenal led at half-time of a Premier League game for the first time this season.
Ozil was not in the squad for Wednesday’s match against Spurs and had not started in the league since November 11.
– Arsenal changes –
He was one of six changes from last week’s defeat at Southampton as Alexandre Lacazette was recalled, Sead Kolasinac started following a thigh problem and Mohamed Elneny came in for his first Premier League action of the campaign.
The 30-year-old Ozil was a mainstay in the Gunners side under previous manager Arsene Wenger but Emery has shown he has no issue with keeping the club’s highest-paid player on the sidelines.
Ozil’s lack of game-time, partly due to a back problem, has led to rumours linking him with a January move away from the club.
Both sides had early chances in the first match of the day in the Premier League but the Gunners took the lead following a delightful move in the 14th minute.
Arsenal toyed with the Burnley defence, looking for an opening, until Ozil played an incisive pass with his left-foot that found Kolasinac, whose cutback was steered home by Aubameyang.
Emery has been struggling for fit defenders and his cause was not helped as Nacho Monreal, only recently back from a hamstring injury, limped off before the interval to be replaced by Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Gabon international Aubameyang pulled ahead of Salah in the goalscoring charts in the 48th minute, smashing the ball high past Burnley goalkeeper Joe Hart after a swift counter-attack.
Barnes pulled a goal back for the visitors after Arsenal failed to clear in the 63rd minute and the home fans grew increasingly nervous as Burnley pushed for an equaliser but they sealed the win in added time, when Iwobi pounced after good work again by Ozil.
“Overall today I think we deserved something from the game,” a disappointed Dyche told Sky Sports. “We gave away soft goals and we have to get out of that habit but we were a game for them.”