Arsenal beat Brentford

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They are a superstitious lot, football people. So the sight of a player called Vieira scoring for Arsenal in an imperious performance that returns them to the top of the table is going to have a lot read into it.

Yet why not? Here was another display that suggests Arsenal have the mettle to contend, and certainly the strength to finish in the top four and return to the Champions League, qualities that used to be taken for granted under Arsene Wenger. So at the very least Mikel Arteta has them edging towards former glories, even if few are seeing beyond Manchester City and Erling Haaland for the title, no matter who leads .

For now, though, City still have a little catching up to do. Arsenal are a point clear going into the international break and this was an impressive result. The cynical will claim it’s only Brentford, but Thomas Frank’s team started the day in the top half of the league and with Ivan Toney recently called into the England squad; the first Brentford man to be so recognised since Les Smith in 1939.

So Arsenal establishing a commanding 2-0 lead by half-time was impressive. Fabio Vieira, on his first Premier League start, then put the outcome beyond doubt just three minutes into the second-half. Bukayo Saka slipped the ball inside to him and the young Portuguese midfielder – recruited from Porto this summer – hit a shot that defeated goalkeeper David Raya and went in off the inside of a post.

 

The visiting fans immediately dusted off a favourite old song about a chap called Vieira, who came to Arsenal from foreign lands, Portugal perfectly fitting the line where Senegal used to be. Just as well he didn’t arrive from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It was also the signal for some mockery for Toney whose commentary on social media the last time this fixture was played is still recalled in north London. Brentford won 2-0 that day, the first game of the 2021-22 season, and Toney implied it had been easy. ‘Nice kickabout with the boys,’ he tweeted.

He may be regretting that jibe despite the positive turn in his personal circumstances. It will have been remembered by plenty in the Arsenal ranks and those that were unaware or had forgotten will most certainly have been reminded. The fans directed their observations in his direction. ‘Ivan Toney – it’s a stroll in the park,’ they crowed. They were right, too. Brentford were hugely disappointing.

And the margin could have been greater. Gabriel Jesus went on a fine run only for his shot to be saved by Raya after 57 minutes, while a lovely passing move involving Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli and Jesus, ended with Saka forcing an excellent stop from Raya on 66 minutes.

Yet forget the notion that this was a straightforward game for Arsenal, who last league result was the 3-1 defeat at Manchester United. All eyes were on them here and victory was no foregone conclusion. Brentford can be difficult as Manchester United and Leeds have found here and Arsenal, beaten and second best last time, were now without captain Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko, a revelation at full-back since his move from Manchester City.

Not to worry. Arsenal are made of sterner stuff these days. They were far better at Old Trafford than the scoreline suggested and this was an impressive riposte, the perfect bounce back.

A goal up after 17 minutes, lead doubled after 27, it could have been even worse for Brentford, had Martinelli not slipped at a vital moment after two minutes when Xhaka – captain on the day and absolutely bossing the game from midfield in tandem with Thomas Partey – put the ball on a plate for him.

Arsenal were on top from that moment, defending well against Toney, and the rest of the front-line. William Saliba, in particular, has the potential to be an outstanding player for the club. So Arsenal set about Brentford with purpose.They were a physical match and technically superior and their danger in the air is possibly their most under-rated quality.

In the 17th minute, a lovely corner from Bukayo Saka on the right was met by Saliba with a glancing header. It was a tight angle, but beautifully directed. The ball struck the far post and was palmed out by Raya, but not before it had crossed the line by some distance. Referee David Coote was duly alerted by his magic watch and the goal was given.

Then, ten minutes later, Arsenal took very firm control. Xhaka and Kieran Tierney exchanged passes on the left before Xhaka struck a fine cross met by Jesus in a foolish amount of space. Like Zinchenko, he has blossomed since leaving Manchester City and his header gave Raya no chance. The game was pretty much done at that point. Brentford offered very little.

After 52 minutes, Toney received the shortest of free-kicks, flicked the ball up and then struck it on the volley, just over the bar. It would have been a superb goal but it was a matter of seconds in 90 plus minutes of relative calm. For him, and Brentford, this was a game to forget, and a reminder of the step up that international football will be.

For Arsenal, though, it just kept getting better. As four minutes injury time was signalled, Mikel Arteta introduced Ethan Nwaneri for Vieira, at 15 years and 181 days the youngest player in Premier League history, taking the mantle claimed by Harvey Elliott – 16 years and 30 days – for Liverpool against Fulham in 2019. To put this into perspective, Nwaneri wasn’t born when the club left Highbury.

He is Arsenal’s first Eimrates baby. ‘School in the morning – he’s going to be school in the morning,’ sung the Arsenal supporters. They were wrong, of course – but only because the schools aren’t open on the occasion of the monarch’s funeral. Nwaneri didn’t touch the ball in any meaningful way in his injury time minutes but that doesn’t matter. To be trusted with involvement in a team this good at his age suggests unique potential. There are just so many reasons to feel positive about Arsenal right now after so long on the periphery. The omens, real or imagined, are very, very good.