67 min: Nketiah’s first act is to pop up on the left flank and win a throw. Other than that, there’s not much going on. “Arsenal play like they’re worried about messing up the opportunity to go top of the league,” observes Kári Tulinius, “but then again this season they’ve played like that most of the time.”
65 min: Nketiah comes on for Jesus.
64 min: Norgaard sends a low bouncer in from the right flank. Ramsdale stoops to claim a dangerously oscillating ball. Brentford are beginning to show a little more in attack.
62 min: Wissa strides with purpose down the middle and feeds Mbuemo, who shuttles the ball wide right to Onyeka. He tries to return the ball into the centre for Wissa, who had kept on running, but the curled pass is well anticipated by Ramsdale, who is enjoying this half much better than he did the first.
60 min: Odegaard busies himself down the right only to float an aimless cross out for a goal kick. Arsenal are dominating in terms of territory and possession, but the final ball has been lacking. Brentford aren’t making life easy for them, to be fair.
58 min: Yarmoliuk rolls a pass down the left channel in the hope of releasing Mbuemo, but Saliba comes across to shepherd the ball back to Ramsdale, who clears without ceremony.
56 min: Martinelli is booked for a late clip on Onyeka.
55 min: A long punt down the middle nearly opens Arsenal up. With Mbuemo haring after the ball, Ramsdale comes out of the box to clear well. That’s fine anticipation by the under-fire keeper. Arsenal would have been in all sorts of trouble without him there.
54 min: Saka and Tomiyasu combine down the right and win a corner off Mee. Saka takes it himself. Pinnock blasts a header clear.
52 min: Ramsdale is now launching it long. But it’s not the Arsenal way, an aerial challenge is lost in the centre circle, and the ball’s soon coming straight back at the keeper. Wissa hooks down the inside-right channel for Mbuemo, who rattles a shot into the side netting.
50 min: Martinelli crosses dangerously from the left, the ball whizzing through the six-yard box. Nobody in neon yellow takes a gamble and the ball sails out for a goal kick. On the touchline, Mikel Arteta can’t believe none of his men made a lunge for that. Any touch and it was in.
48 min: Ramsdale had come back onto the pitch for the second half with a smile and a cheeky poke-out of the tongue, but now he’s raging, upon hooking a clearance straight into the stand. He’s sure the ball twanged off Mbuemo but Brentford get the throw. From that, Ghoddos flicks the ball off Gabriel and out for a corner … but Arsenal get the goal kick. Swings and roundabouts.
46 min: Saka jinks down the right and fires a low cross towards Odegaard at the near post. There’s a double deflection that comes off Pinnock and then over the bar via Odegaard. Very close.
Brentford get the ball rolling for the second half. No changes.
Half-time mailbag. “That VAR decision will, unless things turn out better, allow Mikel Arteta to show magnanimity, forbearance and understanding of the delicacy of fine judgements. Or, he can unleash his chagrin-demons once again. Close call” – Charles Antaki
“So we have David (12 mins) complaining that Arteta freezes out players he doesn’t want, and then Gary (19 mins) recommending Brian Clough for keeping his players relaxed, but consider how he treated Peter Withe, whose goals brought Forest promotion and then the First Division championship, sold after a week of the 1978-79 season. In his excellent book I Believe in Miracles, Daniel Taylor tells us: ‘[In one game] Withe took a bang to his foot and could hardly walk as he left the pitch at half-time. Forest’s medical staff wanted to take him for an X-ray. ‘Peter had to be carried off on Jimmy Gordon’s back,’ Woodcock recalls. ‘As we went into the changing rooms they were delicately taking off his boot when Clough came in. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. ‘Get back out there!’ Peter couldn’t even walk let alone run. He just stood on the centre-spot for forty-five minutes, hobbling around to keep himself warm.’” – Alan Baverstock
“1987 again? I wish. Dundee United have just gone out of the Scottish Cup to Queen of the South on penalties. In November. That’s after losing to Falkirk last week in the
Full Members Cup Zenith Data Systems SPFL Trust Trophy. In 87 we made both Scottish and Uefa Cup finals. And lost both, just in case anyone was wondering. Is it any wonder I drink whisky?” – Simon McMahon
Mikel Arteta stomps off down the tunnel. His men have been the better team and had a goal disallowed for a very marginal offside. A half the nervous Aaron Ramsdale would probably like to forget, mind.
45 min +3: Zinchenko curls in low from the left. Odegaard tries an elaborate back-flick but can only send the ball wide right of goal.
45 min +2: Trossard fizzes the free kick low and hard into a crowded box. Mee clears.
45 min +1: Ajer skittles Jesus to the left of the Brentford box, and concedes a free kick in a very dangerous situation. He’s also booked for hoofing the ball all the way into the middle of next week.
45 min: There will be three added minutes. Meanwhile here’s Justin Kavanagh on that Clough-Arteta comparison: “Let’s hope that Mikel Arteta takes Relaxation Guru Gary Naylor’s advice and that we can look forward to seeing Aaron Ramsdale being warmed up on some European roundabout prior to a future Champions League final. Before a swift couple of pints on the way to the ground, of course. Although, somehow I don’t think we’ll ever hear Arteta praising any of his players for their luuuvely smmiiiiiile!”
44 min: Trossard was the length of his big toenail offside when Jesus took his header. VAR, huh.
43 min: … but VAR is checking for a possible offside.
… but Arsenal come again. The ball’s looped into the mixer from the right by Saka. Jesus powers a header goalwards from six yards. Flekken does well to parry into the air, but the ball drops to Trossard, who bundles a header into the top right from a couple of yards.
40 min: Martinelli worms his way down the left and pulls back for Jesus, whose shot is deflected into the air by Ajer. Flekken does well to adjust and claw the ball away from the top left. Nothing comes of the resulting corner.
39 min: Poor Ramsdale. His head’s gone right now. It’s been an extremely skittish performance so far.
37 min: Now Ramsdale executes a simple throw-out clumsily, holding onto the ball too long and slamming it into the floor. He’s very fortunate that Brentford, upon taking up possession, over-elaborate to the point of allowing Saka to skitter off on a counter that leads to nothing. Comparisons to David Raya continue to be made in song form.
35 min: Arsenal have enjoyed 74 percent of possession since the half hour. They’ve not had much to show for it. On the touchline, Mikel Arteta continues to exude irritation.
33 min: … and to be fair to Ramsdale, who is really under the microscope this evening, he comes through a crowded area to punch clear. That’s fine goalkeeping, especially in the circumstances.
32 min: Norgaard’s presence forces Saliba into conceding a corner on the left. Brentford load the six-yard box. Nearly everybody’s in it! Ramsdale’s heart must be going like the clappers.
31 min: Saka doesn’t take it quickly, though, pushing the referee’s patience. The baiting nearly works, though, as when he eventually whips it in, Brentford are dozing and Gabriel isn’t far away from flashing a header into the top right. Inches wide, into the side netting.
30 min: … but this is better from Arsenal, as Jesus spins down the left and shoots, only for his shot to be blocked by Pinnock. Then Tomiyasu forces a corner down the right. Saka comes across to take it. Quickly, presumably.
29 min: The pace drops. Brentford look super-comfortable at the minute.
27 min: Arsenal’s play is a little bit frantic right now, with Mikel Arteta hopping around in the technical area already. A bit early for this sort of thing, one would have thought.
25 min: Zinchenko curls in from the left. Trossard appears surprised when the cross gets past Ajer and his raised eyebrows ping the ball over the bar. Eight yards out, he should have worked Flekken at the very least.
23 min: Zinchenko does just enough to stop Mbuemo tearing clear down the right. But the ball pings across to Norgaard, who creams a first-time rising shot inches over the bar. Ramsdale had it covered.
21 min: Odegaard drops back to pass and probe. Jesus attempts a dribble down the left. No way through. Brentford have done a good job of holding the visitors at arm’s length so far.
19 min: The Brentford fans are riffing on Ramsdale’s pain, with reference to David Raya, who is still technically their keeper after all. “An often forgotten element of Brain Clough’s football alchemy was his insistence that his players be relaxed, and his typically esoteric methods in pursuit of that end,” recalls Gary Naylor. “I think, in Aaron Ramsdale’s start, we see that Ol’ Big ‘ead had a point.”
17 min: Martinelli crosses from the left. The ball slaps off Onyeka’s face and out for a corner. Again Arsenal take ages to send it in, Trossard the culprit this time. It’s clearly some sort of spoiling tactic, and before Trossard delivers, the referee calls over Arsenal captain Odegaard to tell his team to stop it. When Trossard eventually takes, the ball doesn’t get past the first man. After all that, of course it didn’t.
15 min: The ball again played back to Ramsdale. The crowd are really on his case now. It’s going to be a long evening for the Arsenal stand-in keeper.
14 min: Ramsdale nearly tees up an opener for Brentford! He stumbles with the ball at his feet, allowing Wissa to take it away from him. Wissa cuts back for Mbuemo, who curls towards the unguarded goal. Rice blocks on the line, the ball rebounding to Wissa, who can only react by prodding wide. A huge escape for Ramsdale.
12 min: Ramsdale shanks a clearance out of play. More of the old ironic cheering. While we’re on the subject, here’s David Wall: “The way Arteta has treated Ramsdale is nothing new, he has form for freezing out players he doesn’t want. He did the same to, at least, Ozil, Kolasinac, Guendouzi, and Aubameyang. Perhaps not all had been important players for Arteta, although Aubameyang pretty much kept him in a job in his first season, almost single-handedly winning the FA Cup, but it’s still not great man-management. Do you think it might harm their ability to attract players to play for Arsenal in future?”
10 min: Saka takes a preposterous amount of time to deliver the corner. The crowd get on his back. Saka eventually sends it in. Flekken punches back to Saka, who this time cuts the ball back for Trossard. He attempts to shape one into the top right but gets it all wrong. Goal kick.
9 min: Rice knocks the ball down the right flank. Janelt tries to usher it out for a goal kick, but Saka sticks to his shoulder and forces him into the concession of a corner. Saka to take himself.
8 min: Onyeka carelessly loses possession on the halfway line, allowing Jesus to tear off with the ball on the counter. Brentford are light in defence, and Jesus has options either side, but Onyeka makes good his mistake by getting back and nicking the ball off the Arsenal striker’s toe.
6 min: Arsenal ping some pretty triangles before Tomiyasu passes the ball out of play. Ironic cheers. This game hasn’t quite got going yet.
4 min: Trossard is illegally stopped mid-dribble down the left. Odegaard dinks the resulting free kick into the mixer. Martinelli clanks a poor header over from six yards. He had more time than he realised.
2 min: Brentford get their foot on the ball and Yarmoliuk finds a bit of space down the right. His cross is no good and easily cleared. A rare old atmosphere this evening at the Brentford Community Stadium, lubricated by some lovely afternoon pints no doubt.
Arsenal get the ball rolling. Ramsdale launches it long. Mee clears. The ball flies back to Ramsdale, who hoicks forward. Just for a moment, it’s like 1987 all over again.
The teams are out! Brentford buzzing around in their red, white and black, Arsenal in 1970s-sweetie-wrapper neon yellow. Or is it retina-bothering green? I think yellow, but it hurts to look too closely for too long. We’ll be off in a minute! “Interesting that the Arsenal have kept Trossard in the opening eleven, upon the return of Gabriel Jesus and Odegaard,” begins Bill Hargreaves. “Seems to mean that Saka moves back into the midfield. A hyper-attacking field, with Zinchenko behind. A glimpse of the future, a bit of temporary expansiveness against a deemed-lower opponent, or a trial run?”
Thomas Frank talked earlier to TNT. “I have picked a good team … a lot of teams have injury issues, it is not only us … we have a thin squad but it is a challenge … it’s a challenge we need to solve … I am confident the team can do the job and hopefully win the game today.”
The interview was conducted in his office, where he was found watching the Luton-Palace game on his laptop, via Danish television. Rather deliciously, he made no attempt whatsoever to hide it. Good old VPNs.
Mikel Arteta, ahead of his 200th match as Arsenal manager, speaks to TNT Sports. “I am very proud, it is a big number at a big club and I’m very grateful at the people who gave me the opportunity and stuck with me … it’s a big privilege … we are really going to have to earn it because it’s a tough place to come … we have had to try something else today and I’m looking forward to it.”
Will Aaron Ramsdale, standing in for the ineligible David Raya, keep his place if he plays well tonight? “I have top players, I love all of them, and we try to give opportunities to everybody. A few of them have a good one today. He is going to do well, that is for sure.” That’s an Olympic-standard bodyswerve. Our judges score it 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 6.0, 5.9, 6.0.
At stake tonight: The early 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Liverpool means Arsenal can go top with a win this evening …
… while Chelsea’s 4-1 hammering at the hands of Newcastle gives Brentford the opportunity to climb into the top half of the table.
Brentford make three changes to the starting XI named for the 3-0 defeat at Liverpool. Nathan Collins, Mathias Jensen and Mads Roerslev are all out of action; Frank Onyeka, Yehor Yarmoliuk and Saman Ghoddos take their places.
Arsenal also make three changes to their team, after their 3-1 victory over Burnley. Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard both return from injury; Jorginho and Kai Havertz drop to the bench. Meanwhile in goal, Aaron Ramsdale takes over from David Raya, who is ineligible against the club he’s on loan from.
Brentford: Flekken, Ajer, Mee, Pinnock, Janelt, Onyeka, Norgaard, Yarmolyuk, Mbeumo, Ghoddos, Wissa.
Subs: Goode, Maupay, Jorgensen, Strakosha, Lewis-Potter, Peart-Harris, Baptiste, Olakigbe, Brierley.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Saka, Rice, Odegaard, Gabriel Jesus, Trossard, Martinelli.
Subs: White, Nketiah, Kiwior, Cedric, Jorginho, Nelson, Elneny, Havertz, Hein.
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex).
August 2021, and in the opening match of the new Premier League season, this happened …
… and after another couple of defates, Mikel Arteta’s jacket was hanging from a shoogly peg. But the Arsenal boss turned things around, de-shoogled his coat-dangling device, and now his team are serial title-chasers. Since that famous chastening defeat, the Gunners have returned to the Brentford Community Stadium twice, winning 3-0 last season, and knocking the Bees out of the League Cup a couple of months ago. They arrive in good form and looking to make it three wins here on the bounce.
Brentford meanwhile are still Brentford. Relative minnows but ones capable of sheer brilliance on their day. It’s going to be fun finding out which Brentford turns up this evening. Kick off is at 5.30pm GMT. It’s on!