Arsenal (0) 2 Brentford (0) 1
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 19th February 2022. Kick-off time: 3.00pm
(4-3-3) Aaron Ramsdale; Cédric Soares, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Martin Ødegaard, Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Emile Smith-Rowe.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Rob Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Omari Hutchinson.
Scorers: Emile Smith-Rowe (48 mins), Bukayo Saka (79 mins)
Yellow Cards: Gabriel Magalhães
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 67%
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistant Referees: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Lee Mason; AVAR Dan Robathan
Attendance: circa 60,000
Today is somewhat of a milestone regarding our West London opponents. The last occasion on which we entertained Brentford in the top flight of English football in North London was on 12th October 1946, when goals by Reg Lewis and Jimmy Logie helped secure a 2-2 draw with The Bees over the road at “The Old Place”. Seventy-six years down the line they are finally back again, and most welcome they are too. Our previous meeting this season came on the opening day of the campaign which saw the chaps spectacularly crash to a 0-2 defeat at the Brentford Community Stadium, so let’s hope that we can redress the balance today with a victory, one that we most desperately need, make no mistake about that! Sad to note the passing of Steve Burtenshaw at the of 86 on Thursday. Steve spent two periods at Highbury as a scout and Caretaker Manager in 1986, before handing over the reins to George Graham. Rest in peace, Steve.
Straight from the kick-off, we dominated the proceedings, which was heartening to see. Within three minutues, we had won our first corner, and although we didn’t score, the intent was certainly there with Ben White intelligently flicking the ball towards the Bees’ goal, only to be cleared to safety. Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith-Rowe were linking up extremely well on the left, and the boys were playing slickly and confidently in all areas. Bukayo Saka came close to scoring after seven minutes, when some excellent play from Alexandre Lacazette saw the ball fall to him, but sadly his shot hit the side netting. We are playing a lot of good, intelligent build-up play; although the visitors are successful in keeping our strikers out, nobody can surely deny our desire to score. After two denied penalty appeals, Alexandre Lacazette got the ball into the Brentford net, but sadly it was chalked off for offside. Arsenal continued to play a good and patient build-up game, and it has to be said that every time we advanced into the Brentford half, we looked like scoring. Thomas Partey had an excellent chance to score after twenty-one minutes, but the chance went agonisingly wide. We also appear to be getting caught out on the break by Brentford’s strikers, and although their chances came to nothing, that is an area that we need to concentrate on more often in this match. Just before the half hour, Martin Ødegaard hit a beautiful left-footed shot from just outside the penalty area, but the shot went just wide of the left-hand side of the post. The play was held up for a while when Brentford goalkeeper David Raya and defender Pontus Jansson ran into each other as they cleared a cross from Kieran Tierney, and Pontus Jansson came off the worst for the collison; the visitors’ medical team rushed onto the pitch to attend to him, and very shortly afterwards, play resumed in earnest. When the match restarted, normal service was resumed with some superb play from our midfielders; Ben White looked to have scored with a long-distance shot but David Raya picked up the ball easily. Frustratingly, we had a third penalty appeal denied when a blatant handball by a Brentford defender was checked by the VAR team; nothing was given by referee Jonathan Moss. In the four minutes injury time tacked onto the end of the first half, and despite incredible pressure by our boys, we went into the break honours even.
The visitors kicked off the second half, and within three minutes, we finally opened the scoring when Emile Smith-Rowe received the ball out on the left, jinked and turned defenders and shot an inch-perfect ball past David Raya and into the Brentford net. There is nothing like a goal to lift the spirits, and the boys started to play as if a huge weight had been lifted from their shoulders at last. The general play was calming down and moving in our favour with the mood within the stadium reflecting this. When Brenford moved forward, we easily neutralised their attempts, and it was in one of their break-outs that Cédric Soares was extremely fortunate in not picking up a yellow card when he clumsily tackled Brentford midfielder Rico Henry. Good refereeing on the part of Jonathan Moss there, it has to be said. Thomas Partey nearly grabbed the second when he hit a ball on the volley with his left foot, but his strike went over the bar. The relentless pressure on the Brentford goal continued at a pace, when shots rained down on them from all angles via several Arsenal players. Bukayo Saka was tackled strongly and went down, but instead of claiming for a penalty, he snapped back on his feet and crossed the ball to Kieran Tierney, who had his shot blocked. There was some very neat and precise passing by Arsenal players out there this afternoon, which was a joy to see. Emile Smith-Rowe was causing a nuisance to the Brentford defenders out on the left, by cutting in time and time again and passing good balls into the centre for others to run onto. With eighteen minutes remaining of the match, the visitors appear to have woken up, but for all their good play and honest endeavour, nothing came of their efforts, thankfully. A couple of minutes later, goalscorer Emile Smith-Rowe was replaced by Nicolas Pépé in order to push up for more goals, obviously. And sure enough, chaos ensued at the Brentford goal when Martin Ødegaard ran through their defence, and with only the goalkeeper to beat, mis-hit his shot, and David Raya pushing the ball into the path of Nicolas Pépé, but Christian Norgaard slid in to deny our man the surefire goal. Eleven minutes from the finish, we finally got our well-deserved second goal when we advanced on the break, and Thomas Partey passed the ball over to the left to Bukayo Saka, who hit a sweet left-footed shot past David Raya into the net in what appeared to be almost a carbon copy of the first goal. Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Eddie Nketiah shortly afterwards, and our desire for more goals started again. In a bizarre set of circumstances Granit Xhaka refused the captain’s armband twice from the hands of Eddie Nketiah, so he gave it to Kieran Tierney, who was happy to wear the band of honour. Gabriel Magalhães then stupidly received a yellow card for a ridiculous and clumsy tackle on a Brentford player. In the three minutes of injury time, Christian Norgaard managed to get a goal back in controversial circumstances, but it mattered not, as we ran out more than worthy victors by the odd goal in three.
A very good and well-deserved victory today, and one that keeps up the pressure for the coveted fourth position in the Premier League. The stats of the match suggest that we should have scored far more than we did, but hey, at the end of the day, three points is what was on offer, and three points was what we got at the end of the match. Two excellent goals by two superb, classy young players, and the record books firnly state that Arsenal have scored 19 Premier League goals by players aged 21 or under this season, a Premier League record. The omens are looking good, at last.
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: Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates on Thursday, 24th February at 7.45pm (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.