Brentford (1) 2 Arsenal (0) 0
Brentford Community Stadium, 166 Lionel Road North, Brentford TW8 9QT
Friday, 13th August 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Calum Chambers, Ben White, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli; Folarin Balogun.
Substitutes: Hector Bellerin, Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nuno Tavares, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Karl Hein.
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 65%
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Stuart Burt and Simon Bennett
Fourth Official: Mike Dean
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Chris Kavanagh; AVAR Sian Massey-Ellis
And so we say hello to another season, only this time matters are far more serious than before. Not taking part in European competition for the first season in twenty-six years is more than just a sobering thought, as was the poor set of results in the pre-season matches against Hibernian, Glasgow Rangers, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. The one marquee signing is Ben White from Brighton and Hove Albion for a figure in the region of fifty million pounds; other new arrivals are Albert Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares, with a possibility of a deal in the offing for Martin Ødegaard (fingers crossed). Leaving the club are Dani Ceballos, David Luiz, Mat Ryan and Joe Willock. The proof of this season’s pudding is now very firmly in the eating, starting tonight in West London against newly-promoted Brentford in their brand-new stadium, a club that has not competed in the top flight of English football since the 1946-47 season.
In an electric atmosphere, we kicked off our campaign very much on the front foot, applying pressure on the home side’s goal within seconds of the start. Mikel Arteta could be seen gesturing to the players to push up and onto the opposition’s goal, and certainly in the early stages of the match they did just that. After nine minutes, Emile Smith-Rowe lifted the ball in delicately for Folarin Balogun but goalie David Raya came off his line and gathered it in without any problem. Brentford came close to opening the scoring a couple of minutes later when both Frank Onyeka and Bryan Mbeumo looked like they had the better of Bernd Leno, and despite these chances, it was Arsenal who were playing the better football with Emile Smith-Rowe and Nicolas Pépé causing problems for the Bees’ defenders. However, it was Brentford who opened the scoring after twenty-two minutes, when the ball was poorly cleared and found its way to the feet of Sergi Canos, who wrong-footed Calum Chambers and slotted it past Bernd Leno on his near post. This sparked the game up, as only a goal can do, and the match started to get more frenetic and confrontational, but sadly it was the home side who were controlling the game, with the ball seemingly entrenched in our own half. However, Gabriel Martinelli managed to find himself on the edge of the Brentford box, slotted the ball coolly to Nicolas Pépé out on the right, whose shot went narrowly wide. Despite that, the home side were constantly pressing us, running for every ball, challenging everything, whereas we look very nervous at the back when being attacked, and a lot of passes went astray. Thank God for the half-time whistle.
The much-anticipated second half started in earnest, and within a couple of minutes of the restart, Kieran Tierney received a good ball from Granit Xhaka, and struck a very strong shot from the left, which David Raya gathered up comfortably. A couple of minutes later, Emile Smith-Rowe received the ball in the centre of the pitch, turned, beat a player and ran for goal and was desperately unlucky not to score, when his shot was parried by the ’keeper. We were playing better so far in this half, challenging the Brentford defence and testing the goalkeeper. Just before the hour, Bukayo Saka replaced a jaded Folarin Balogun, and received a standing ovation from everyone here at Brentford, which was both moving and heartening to see. Shortly afterwards, Albert Sambi Lokonga took a shot from long range, but it comfortably saved by David Raya. Now it is us who are calling the tune here with good passing and shooting. Gabriel Martinelli came close with a header, which he flicked across the box from a corner, but nobody was there to follow up. At the other end, Bernd Leno made a fantastic save from Bryan Mbeumo, who had space and time to shoot, but fortunately our ’keeper was in the right place at the right time, thankfully. Gabriel Martinelli was replaced by Reiss Nelson with twenty minutes of the match remaining, and despite fresh legs on the pitch, we still couldn’t break through the Bees’ defence. Despite all this, we were two down after seventy-three minutes, when a Brentford throw-in from the left came across, and Calum Chambers didn’t make contact at the near post and Christian Nørgaard just shoved away our defenders to nod it over the line at the back post. Disastrous. The goalscorer nearly scored again from a corner a few minutes later, and with nine minutes remaining, Nuno Tavares replaced Calum Chambers to try and spark some new ideas out there. Granit Xhaka went inches wide with a low, twenty-yard shot, and a couple of minutes later, a Kieran Tierney pass into the penalty area found Nicolas Pépé, whose shot was pushed around the post by David Raya. In the first minute of injury time, a quick shot from Albert Sambi Lokonga flew over the bar, and despite one or two half-hearted efforts, that was it.
Make no mistake about it, we were second-rate tonight, even though we had a few debutants, and a very young team, it still was not good enough. With the notable exceptions of Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe, everyone else looked decidedly average, unfortunately. The defence were intimidated and bullied, and had no direction nor leadership at the back. When we did break out, our passing was crisp and accurate; our possesion rate of 65% reflects that, but of course, it doesn’t translate into goals. Our second half performance was better, but still not clinical enough to score. It is clear, however, this early in the season, that there is a lot of work to do and a rocky road ahead for us all.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Chelsea at the Emirates on Sunday, 22nd August at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.