William Saliba leads Arsenal past struggling Burnley after Fabio Vieira horror tackle

William Saliba was the difference maker for Arsenal at both ends of the pitch Photograph: Shutterstock

Arteta made great play of agreeing with the red card and emphasising the fact that he was not taking issue with Var

There are a few in his team whom Mikel Arteta cannot do without, and while the Arsenal manager has maintained the pace at the top of the Premier League without certain notables, William Saliba is among the select group who are crucial to this side’s viability.

It was the Frenchman’s goal that settled Arsenal after a Burnley equaliser moments earlier and it hardly needs stating what a dominant presence he is week after week in defence. On the touchline, the Burnley manager Vincent Kompany will have recognised a player at the top of his game in the position he once played. Saliba has started every Arsenal game this season save the League Cup ties, and this was another afternoon in which he looked in control.

Last season it was Saliba’s back injury, and his absence from first team action that came with it, which prefaced Arsenal’s fading away in the title race. He departs now to join up with the France team for the final international games of the year and it is hard to think of a more in-form defender in the Premier League than the 22-year-old. In a squad that currently has plenty of injuries, Saliba is indispensable.

His finish in the 57th minute for his first goal of the season was the game’s turning point, and his tackle on the Burnley winger Luca Koleosho in the first half was just as accomplished. The teenager was lightning in a bottle for that first 45 minutes, and when he ran through four Arsenal defenders it took a confident man to pursue the Italian-American and slide in to ease the ball away. Saliba is that man and the influence he radiates through the team is critical.

Arteta’s team went back level on 27 points with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, in spite of the absentees. Fabio Vieira’s red card will mean a suspension to add to the seven already missing. They include Gabriel Jesus, Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Cedric Soares, Emile Smith Rowe and the long-term injured Jurrien Timber and Thomas Partey. There is a good chance that some, like Odegaard and White, will be back after the international break but it is all evidently playing on the mind of Arteta.

“We need to get players back because at the moment we have eight players not available and that’s a lot,” he said. “In December we have 11 games coming up so we’d better get everyone ready.” He picked Leandro Trossard as a converted centre-forward and the Belgian came good. It was his goal that opened the scoring just before the end of the first half, and his corner that Saliba scored from just after the Burnley equaliser.

Arsenal survived a late red card for Fabio Vierira (right) to take all three points. Photograph: Reuters

Arsenal had scored three by the time the substitute Vieira was dismissed by Michael Oliver for a wild lunge that connected with the knee of Josh Brownlow. Arteta made great play of agreeing with the decision and emphasising the fact that he was not taking issue with Var. Hard to say quite what he meant by that although it sounded like a pointed statement. After the meltdown post-Newcastle United he will benefit from that downtime over the international break with all his players away.

As for Kompany, there was a positive outlook from the manager in the face of another defeat. His team had tried to pass the ball against Arsenal and Burnley are a good side to watch. Nevertheless, the outcome was depressingly familiar for them. This was the seventh straight defeat in all competitions including the League Cup exit to Everton. They still have just four points this season. Two goals conceded from set pieces and the second critical goal from Saliba just after Burnley had got back in the game.

“We knew we were going to face one of the best sides in England,” Kompany said. “They test you in every phase of play. They test you when you have the ball, and they test you when they have the ball. Obviously the narrative of the game will be on set-plays – they test you in every way. For us it is to look at them and see if we can have momentum and moments, and in most phases we had momentum and moments. It was a disciplined and mature performance but of course the disappointment of the timing of the goals.”

 Vincent Kompany - William Saliba leads Arsenal past struggling Burnley after Fabio Vieira horror tackle
Vincent Kompany said set-piece goals left ‘a bitter feeling’ Photograph: Getty Images/Glyn Kirk

The gulf between Premier League and Championship remains enormous and never more so than on days like this when a newly-promoted team that likes to play good football is obliged to take on one of the most formidable established powers. Already Burnley look like one of four candidates for relegation along with their two fellow promoted teams and Bournemouth.

Playing as a centre-forward, nominally at least, Trossard was also taking corners and dropped one on the head of Saliba for the second goal. A bad moment for Burnley who had just equalised. Their goalkeeper James Trafford had been excellent before then but just got stuck behind Saliba as the ball came in.

Koleosho had run Takehiro Tomiyasu for Burnley’s equaliser. The third for Arsenal was a neatly executed left foot volley from Oleksandr Zinchenko as the pressure from the home side became too much for Burnley. Against ten men, they pushed hard but it was all too late.