It’s finally a Premier League match day again for The Arsenal and I’ve got that usual feeling of butterflies in the stomach that occur in the morning of a game. All week I’ve been thinking about Brentford, I’ve listened to podcast previews, I’ve ruminated on how the match might unfold and in my head I’ve had the usual quiet confidence that comes when your team has been playing well.
And we have been playing well. Even the United game felt like we were the better team and played the better football, we just made some silly mistakes and were sucker punched as we always are. The important thing, however, is how you react and that is what we all have to hope for today. It feels more mental than physical to me. We’ve played well all season, we look like a good team, we have the talent and players available to hurt Brentford, but we need to get over some of the mental obstacles that lay in front of us. One of those mental obstacles is the fact that in this fixture last season we started our campaign in terrible fashion. It was a poor performance pretty much from the start and we allowed Brentford’s physical prowess to overcome us, being dominated in the duels and it ended up with that 2-0 defeat. This season has to be different.
With that mental obstacle to overcome of banishing the demons of last season, we also have the physical obstacles to overcome too, however, because Brentford are a physical team who will look to out-fight us on the pitch and we have to win the right to play our game and impose ourselves on the match. Ivan Toney has just had an England call up and he will be bouncing off the walls. He loves a battle and will be a handful for our defenders, but my hope is that in Gabriel and Saliba we have two big lads more than happy to engage in a physical battle against an in-form Premier League striker. If Toney decides he wants to drop and win battles in the midfield then that’s better, because it means he’s further away from goal, but winning those duels in the midfield puts others like Wissa and Mbeuno in to play and they have already shown this season that they can be deadly – just look at that United game as an example.
But whilst we have to be careful and ready for a battle in defence, they do in attack too and the form of Martinelli, Jesus and Saka should give them enough food for thought. Their two centre halves – Mee and Jansson – are old school defenders and love a battle, but they aren’t the quickest in the world, so our football needs to be balls played in behind them or technical quality to wriggle through, rather than go out wide and bring back in for balls in to the box. They’ll win those all day long if we do that. Which is why I’ll be interested to see if Zinchenko is fit or not. If (as we all suspect after the Ukrainian FA’s announcement that he isn’t fit for the upcoming internationals), he is not fit, then it’ll be Kieran Tierney on that left and he is at his best getting the ball and driving out wide to cut in. Does that style of attack work as well with the likes of Janssen and Mee at the back? Maybe, if he’s able to get beyond Hickey at right back, but if he does play and is swinging balls in for us from out wide and the touchline, then we’ll not get very far at all.
The other question will be on how fit Partey is and given he’s been training all week I have an expectation he’ll start. If he does it will give me a lot of confidence because although Sambi hasn’t really done very much wrong whilst Partey has been out, the Ghanaian is a little more of an experienced and wily operator if we do have somebody like Toney dropping deeper to collect the ball. So my hope – and kind of my expectation – is that we see him today.
I think the team will be:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Tierney
Odegaard – Xhaka
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli
That team feels like a good one to me, but it will be about how it responds to the physicality, wins the the duels, takes its chances, because I think we can all agree that we were guilty of not doing that at Old Trafford. We were ball dominant and I am expecting us to have more of it today again too, but we were a little timid in the opposition box it felt like, so that is something that has to change today.
This is a tough game. Brentford are a good side and they haven’t lost this season at home. They’ve scored ten goals in three games at home and so the expectation from their fans will be that they get one the scoresheet today. Which means we probably need two or three. Their xG this season is the fourth highest in the league behind us, Liverpool and City. But they’ve also conceded goals and have let in nine goals this season, so they do give chances to their opponents. They’ve attempted the fourth most long passes over 40 yards and so I suspect that is where they will feel they can catch us out, having seen our high line against United. They will probably attempt to go long from goal kicks to target Toney and that is why we need to win the battle against him first and foremost I reckon. He’ll probably win most of his aerial duels as that is what he is good at, but it will be important that we win the second balls or knock downs. So the blueprint for this game feels – when you look at the numbers – like it is set and we’ll have to deal with longer balls, target man balls, with the duels being the difference between winning and losing.
I want to see more of what I’ve seen from The Arsenal this season though, because it feels like we are more up for the fight. This will be a hard game to win but if we get it, it’ll feel massive, so I’ve got all my fingers crossed that we can continue our good form.
That’s me done for another day. Have a good one and here’s to hoping for another three points.