Yesterday’s result felt like yet another milestone, yet another narrative, was knocked down. On opening day it was the “tough game under the lights”, after five games it was the “yeah but the teams you’ve played have been rubbish”, but yesterday we played a good and in form team, whose fans are bullish, playing them off the park and getting three points with an imperious result.
The narratives were fed to us before the game; last season Brentford started their season off with a victory against us on the opening Friday night and it set them up for a great season. Arsenal were a team that could be dominated physically, could be bullied, couldn’t always handle it. Brentford set up yesterday just as I suspected they would, with longer balls towards their target men to win knockdowns and duels, but what ended up happening was a totally different Arsenal was in town. This is a strong and powerful Arsenal, this is an Arsenal who have strength and physicality to win battles and won battles all over the pitch. And we did. Raya launched ball after ball forward and both Gabriel and Saliba competed for them. And won a decent number of them. When they didn’t win a ball, they won the second ball and so this idea that Arsenal can be dominated, this narrative that we can be bullied, is slowly washing away.
As is the fact that we perhaps don’t react to adversity well. Last season we went through patches of bad form, losing two or three times on the trot and it really harmed our season. Having undeservedly lost to United a couple of weeks ago, my big fear was that going to a tough place like Brentford and getting handed our arses back to us, might put all of the early season good work to the back of our minds, washing away like some kind of fading memory from your childhood. But, as I have said above and in the title for today’s blog, narratives are being kicked in to touch with this Arsenal team. The idea that we can’t bounce back from defeats has now been put away with that resounding 3-o victory.
It could have been more too, couldn’t it? I mean, we were totally dominant from pretty much the first minute and when Martinelli found himself about ten yards from goal in the centre of the goal, just to slip at the last minute, I was cursing what I worried might be a rare opportunity to get chances against an organised and well-drilled Brentford. But again, these narratives – even the ones we as Arsenal fans hold in our own minds – keep getting knocked down and the team responded within the first 20 minutes to get us one up. A lot has been made about how we are better physically in defence, but in attack we are too and the corner from Saka to Saliba’s head was spot on, but it was the fact he managed to leap an extra few inches above Ivan Toney (a superb defender when he’s asked to track back for his team, by the way) to steer the ball off the post and in, that showed how much a danger we are going forward.
You expect a Brentford backlash after going behind at home, but we just kept control throughout, knocking the ball around as if it was a training exercise. But this wasn’t an Arsenal team showing a lack of respect to the opposition, but rather an Arsenal team with laser focus on what they needed to do to nullify a very good opponent. And Brentford are very good and very organised, as I’ve already mention, which you could see in parts of the game. There were a few instances where they ventured forward and as we threatened to counter attack, they all got back in to a strong defensive shape that broke down a few moves. When they had the ball they looked to go long and had we had the same back line as at the start of the season, we’d have probably crumbled under the pressure. But we didn’t and we capitalised, taking our chances expertly.
I’ve already spoken about the first goal from SALIBA! (I think that’s how we have to say his name from now on…) but the second was majestic too, as Granit Xhaka’s ball to Jesus was absolutely inch perfect. Let’s not forget that Brentford have defenders in Mee and Janssen who are very good in the air and normally it is meat and drink for them to mop up balls in to the box. unless those balls are perfect and yesterday he delivered a sumptuous ball to the head of Jesus, who scored with a fabulous header to put us two up. And from that moment on we were in cruise control for the first half. We saw it out and I went to the fridge to grab myself an alcoholic beverage, because I started to think that we wouldn’t have it our own way for the whole of the second half; this was going to get scary as we try to steady the storm that will come from Brentford.
But the best way to quieten an already quiet crowd, the best way to quash any momentum in the second half, is to get an early goal and make it feel like there is no way back. Step forward debutant Fabio Vieira with an absolute peach of a finish off the post from 25 yards. You have no need to worry about VAR spoiling a goal when you’ve banged one in from that range! It was a fabulous finish, it basically ended the game as a competition and for a lad making his first appearance from the start it is the perfect start to an Arsenal career. He gave us a cameo against united and looked tidy, he gave us the same against Zurich, but yesterday he showed us that he has end product too and on a day where the absence of Martin Odegaard could have been telling, he stepped in and performed really well. He was tidy all game and popped up in positions centrally that were really important. During the match I had thought he was unspectacular but upon reflection, I am recalling a number of times where he was an option for the likes of Saka, or Partey, to distribute the ball to in Brentford’s half. He was just there, always showing for the ball, just like Odegaard does. He is not as accomplished as Odegaard, which you’d expect for a man just at the start of his Arsenal career, but the fact he can come in and act as an able deputy like that is brilliant. It’s the same for Tierney, who played because of the absence of Zinchenko but who performed really well too. We have ourselves a squad. Yesterday we were missing Zinchenko, Odegaard and Smith Rowe and yet you wouldn’t have known we were light on first team players with the XI that started. We bossed a team who are going to pick up a lot of points at home this season and cause teams a lot of problems.
And so will we. Next up after the international break it is the Scum. I’m already crossing my fingers and praying that we can knock down another one of those narratives.
Catch you all tomorrow.