The return of club football is a very welcome sight for football fans up and down the land. The excitement of the EUROs and the Copa América this summer has had people itching to see the team they chose strut their stuff on the opening day.
Arsenal’s match against Brentford was the first game to be selected for showing on Friday 13th. It’s perhaps fitting that Friday 13th was the date for the game, given how truly abysmal and unlucky Arsenal’s transfer business had been in the build-up to the match.
Late injuries to Alexandre Lacazette and captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well as earlier injuries sustained by Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães, Arsenal were clearly not heading in with their best starting XI.
Nevertheless, the team that was chosen should have been enough to give newly-promoted Brentford a run for their money; and they did, for the opening 20 minutes or so. Arsenal looked sharp moving forward, a little suspect at the back, but that was understandable given there was no official right-back and the club’s best defender was out injured.
But things soon took a very predictable turn as Brentford’s corner was hastily scrambled away by Arsenal, only for the home side to launch another attack. Pablo Marí’s clearance wasn’t swooped upon by the players and the former Barcelona and Liverpool youth player Sergi Canós lept onto it and smashed a superb effort through the legs of Calum Chambers at Bernd Leno’s near post to give the hosts the lead.
Arsenal continued to create chances, but there was a very distinct lack of ability in front of goal. Chances either went begging or were never truly taken and Arsenal went in at half-time a little punch-drunk.
The second-half wasn’t pretty. Arsenal had more clear-cut chances and dominated for most of the half, but the speed and intensity of Brentford’s press proved too much to deal with.
Brentford’s second-goal was truly a comedy of errors. Arsenal looked utterly woe begone. Brentford’s party-piece, the long throw, was used to devastating effect as Bernd Leno was marked out of the move, failed to get anywhere near the ball and allowed Christian Nørgaard the easiest header of his career.
Arsenal’s chances were fairly interesting, Emile Smith Rowe’s somewhat tame effort was easily saved by former Arsenal target David Raya and Nicolas Pépé’s late effort forced another impressive save from the Spaniard, but Arsenal looked done well before then and the final whistle was a merciful release.
Having four key players injured for a game will always have an adverse effect on the team’s performance. Without your star defender, sart midfielder, last year’s top scorer and your captain, you expect a certain level of drop-off, but Arsenal did not look up to the task at all.
Mikel Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back has once again raised questions as to why the team are still bothering. Training videos show the players practicing El Rondo’s every single day, so why do the players look so utterly petrified when the press comes to them? Arsenal are no further forward in the tactic than they are in their overall performances.
Ben White looked particularly fragile on the night as well. Though this is likely down to the fact that he was partnered alongside Pablo Marí, who looked very meak, and being next to the very defensively poor Calum Chambers, it wasn’t a good night for Arsenal’s new £50m defender. The aforementioned insistence on playing out from the back put a lot of pressure on the defender and he seemed incapable of being able to win aerial duels, resulting in Brentford dominating the skies far more than they had anticipated.
There were some bright performances, however. Emile Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney were at their usual best and new boy Albert Sambi Lokonga looked like a gem too. Folarian Balogun was unable to show his real qualities owing to a distinct lack of service, but the forward often found himself in good positions and was able to get himself into areas that could prove deadly in the coming weeks if Arsenal sort the supply line out.
Brentford’s meteoric rise is well known (especially to those who have read Christoph Biermann’s wonderful Football Hackers: The Science and Art of a Data Revolution), however, their unique means of operating aside, they looked like a team that was better prepared than Arsenal, a team that knew what they wanted to do and a team that already had the opposition sussed.
Arsenal are in dire-straits now. Games against Chelsea and Manchester City beckon respectively and Arsenal seem assured to finish both games with no points. The recruitment has been stagnant and uninspired and it’s taking far too long. As per usual, Arsenal have left things to the last minute, but while Technical Director Edu Gaspar may need to look inwardly at his own work, Mikel Arteta needs to change things on the field, or else find himself looking for a new job.
The Arsenal fans are restless and tolerance isn’t high, the mood is changing and Arsenal need to act fast if they are to save their season. Deals for Martin Ødegaard, a striker, a midfielder, a back-up goalkeeeprr and a right-back need to be concluded as soon as humanly possible. Still though, the kits looked good.
1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers (Tavares 81’)
4.) Ben White
22.) Pablo Marí
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka (c)
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
19.) Nicolas Pépé
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
35.) Gabriel Martinelli (Nelson 71’)
26.) Folarian Balogun (Saka 59’)
49.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
20.) Nuno Tavares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny
7.) Bukayo Saka
24.) Reiss Nelson
1.) David Raya
20.) Kristoffer Ajer (Sørensen 71’)
18.) Pontus Jansson (c)
5.) Ethan Pinnock
7.) Sergi Canós
15.) Frank Onyeka (Bidstrup 80’)
6.) Christian Nørgaard
27.) Vitaly Janelt
3.) Rico Henry
19.) Bryan Mbeumo (Forss 86’)
17.) Ivan Toney
13.) Patrik Gunnarsson
29.) Mads Bech Sørensen
4.) Charlie Goode
30.) Mads Roerslev
14.) Saman Ghoddos
28.) Mads Bidstrup
9.) Marcus Forss
21.) Halil Dervisoglu
11.) Yoane Wissa