It’s match day people! And it is the reverse of the opening game of the season, in which we succumbed to an excitable and motivated Brentford side who took advantage of our mixture of injuries and COVID situation in the Arsenal camp, to overcome us 2-0 in their new stadium. I drove past their stadium the other day and it looked quite decent actually. But today they will be rocking up to the slightly frayed at the edges Emirates (something I’m sure we’ve all seen has been made aware of with the recent fans forum) looking to repeat the opening day and get three points against us. And to gauge fan mood, I decided to have a little look this morning on some Brentford fan forum websites before I started to write today’s musings.

Let me tell you, they are in bullish mood about this one, I have to say. You are always going to get more fans positive than not on these types of forums, but of the circa 50 messages I saw, only two had Arsenal winning. The general consensus was that we were the weakest of all of the ‘big teams’ up the top of the league, that we could be got at, that they have a full strength squad to call upon and that Toney will cause us problems today. And given that I haven’t really watched Brentford very much at all this season, many of these could end up being true. But I am hoping that our own situation is such that we too can draw on many positives. We have had nine days off and welcome back the return of Tomiyasu to the team. Arteta wouldn’t be drawn on whether he will start or not but if he has had a good three or four days of training with the first team then you have to put him in. The difference in class between him and Cedric is marked and if he comes in it represents a very different challenge for Brentford to overcome today.

On the opening day of the season the back five they faced was Bernd Leno, Calum Chambers, Ben White, Pablo Mari and Kieran Tierney. Just two of that five remain and each of the replacements are significant upgrades. In fact, I seem to recall their first goal coming as a result of mistakes by Chambers and a lack of aerial threat to Toney as he won a ball unchallenged on the left hand side. I mean, I say I ‘seem to recall’, but in fact I’ve just watched a video on it. Now, put our new players in that situation; I think Tomiyasu challenges Toney for the ball there, or at least somebody does. I also think Chambers’ clearance isn’t very good and between the back line we would deal better with it now. Perhaps Ramsdale doesn’t let the ball slide in at his near post, although that may be harsh because it was hit with some power, but Chambers doesn’t really do a lot to stop the shot. Then for the second one I cannot see the current crop letting the ball bounce from a long throw like that – that was an appalling second goal and as big as Mari is, how he couldn’t get his head on that is amazing when you think about it. Gabriel smashes that clear with his head.

In midfield Partey partners Xhaka instead of Sambi making his debut away from home in the Premier League and instead of Pepe on the right we will have Saka, with Smith Rowe on the left and Odegaard in the middle. Up top I am no fan of Lacazette but he is more experienced and a better option than a young Balogun who looked like he got bullied a bit on that first game.

We also have bench options in Pepe, Tavares, etc, so we feel like a stronger outfit and with a week off we need to show that we are here to make a statement. Brentford have conceded 23 goals away from home in 12 matches which means an average of just under two goals conceded. They have two wins away, six losses, and four draws and whilst they sit about mid table on away goals scored with 12, they will look to come to our gaff today and frustrate, perhaps looking to play on the counter. Their style of play is to go for longer balls and they’ll look to use the aerial threat from Toney, so we need to ensure our back line is ready to deal with that. It is why I absolutely would definitely have Tomiyasu back in the team because if he isn’t they will target Toney on Cedric and he’ll pull away to their left side/our right hand side for defence. Brentford attempt more long balls than any other team in the league so we know what they will do today.

Brentford are a side towards the bottom of the league when it comes to shots against – with four other clubs also having more shots against them and they’re averaging 4.5 shots on target against them in games, so if we’re going to win this we need to take lots of opportunities and work them on the flanks because Brentford allow teams more space in those wide areas. For me that means we need big games from Saka and Smith Rowe but I also think the return of Tomiyasu needs to be able to release Tierney to get closer to Smith Row, assuming Emile plays. If we can overload Brentford on that left hand side of ours, we could get more joy.

Our team should be fairly self explanatory and the absence of Martinelli is a blow, but my hope is that ESR sees it as a chance to get himself back in to the team more regularly. It’s that line behind Lacazette that I have my biggest hopes for and against Burnley we looked out of ideas after a while, although we still created chances we should have scored from.

I’m not expecting Brentford to sit back and soak up today. They are a team that presses the ball and is up there for pressures in the top four teams in the league when they don’t have it. Brentford tend to be better pressing in the middle of the pitch though, which is why having Partey and Xhaka in there could be vitally important today.

What I want to see is a quick and purposeful start from the Arsenal. We’ve had the rest, we’ve got the players fit, we have a run of games that if you are going to have any chance of finishing in the top four, you need to be doing something about in terms of picking up three points. I am never overly optimistic about Arsenal, but always hopeful, so let’s hope that hope gets us somewhere today.

Catch you all in the morrow for a debrief.