The recent death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II brought an unexpected halt to Premier League fixtures over the past seven days. For most teams in the Premier League, this allowed for an unexpected period of rest. For Arsenal, while a rest was certainly welcome, it was an unnecessary stop-gap and they were itching to right the wrongs of their crippling 3-1 defeat to Manchester United and to build off their narrow 2-1 win over FC Zürich.
Last season, Brentford away had dealt Arsenal a humiliating 2-0 defeat on the opening day of the season and a squad decimated by injuries. While the result would hopefully improve, there were still a fair few injuries to worry about.
Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson and Mohamed Elneny were expected absentees, however, the additional absences of Oleksandr Zinchenko and captain, Martin Ødegaard, were not ideal.
As a result, this meant that Kieran Tierney filled in for Zinchenko, while summer signing Fábio Vieira made his full Premier League debut.
Whatever worries Arsenal fans may have had about returning to the scene of the crime from last year, were quickly assuaged.
From the moment of kick-off onwards, Arsenal never once looked like a team that would need to be getting out of third gear.
They controlled the tempo with the kind of ease and assurances that Brentford fans have come to expect from their own team when playing at home, not from the visiting opposition.
Arsenal took a well-deserved lead fairly quickly. Another one of Arsenal’s well-worked corners was hit to the near-post by Bukayo Saka and was headed on by William Saliba, who’s towering header looped over David Raya and bounced in off the post. The referee’s Eagle Eye goal-line technology watch quickly informed him that, despite Raya’s mad dash to clear his lines, the Frenchman had put the visitors ahead.
From there, Arsenal continued to dominate the ball and were evading Brentford tackles as though they were hardly there; none more so than Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international, and captain for the day, drifted to the edge of the Brentford penalty area and floated in a delightful cross to the far post, which was expertly dispatched by Gabriel Jesus to double the visitor’s advantage.
Arsenal looked like a team that could do no wrong and were keeping Brentford at bay with ease. A far cry from last season’s visit.
The second-half was more of the same. Predictably, Brentford began to grow more into the game, but the chances they created were often snuffed out at the back by the excellent duo of Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba.
A 0-2 lead is always a good lead to have, but the next goal is the one that proves decisive. Brentford score and they’re back in it, Arsenal score and they’re essentially home-free.
Mercifully for Arsenal, the next goal fell to them.
A wonderful team move saw Bukayo Saka feed the ball to the feet of Fábio Vieira, who took aim and hit a tremendous effort, which cannoned off the post and into the back of the net to mark his first-ever goal for Arsenal and to seal the points off nicely.
Ordinarily, Arsenal would be content enough with that, but the Vieira’s goal was not the only milestone of the day…
Arsenal fans, and indeed the Premier League, were there to witness the breaking of the all-time record for youngest debutant as Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff introduced the figure of Ethan Nwaneri to the world, aged just 15 years and 181 days.
It seems unlikely that anyone will be breaking that record for a while.
The final whistle blew out and Arsenal turned out deserved winners and able to preserve their space at the top of the table, leap-frogging both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.
It was inarguably one of the best performances of the season for Arsenal, or at least the most comfortable, albeit only as far as matchday seven.
In circumstances like these, its easy to say that Brentford played poor, but in reality, Arsenal were simply too difficult for them to handle.
The performances of Granit Xhaka and William Saliba are perhaps the best indicators of just how far Arsenal have come in the space of 12 months.
Xhaka was simply everywhere. If you can find a blade of grass at the Gtech Community Stadium that Xhaka didn’t cover, then it will need to be preserved as the Swiss international was the glue that held the team together.
His double-act with Thomas Partey shows just how stable Arsenal’s midfield can be. While he was perhaps unfortunate not to add a goal to his game, his assist for Gabriel Jesus was a moment of peak ingenuity.
Saliba continues to impress as well. The Frenchman appears simply undroppable at the moment and while plaudits are rightly going to the likes of Lisandro Martínez at Manchester United, Manuel Akanji at Manchester City or Wesley Fofana at Chelsea, Saliba is quietly assuring himself as one of the Premier League’s most assured and consistent performers, and his ability to add goals from the back is another impressive entry in his extensive repertoire.
Its fair to say that Arsenal have put the demons of last season’s nightmare start behind them. A win against tough opposition, especially coming off the back of a narrow defeat in the league is always welcome.
The international break now rears its ugly head, however, Arsenal can have no time to rest as they set their sights to the visit of Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur, for the dramatic north London derby.
1.) David Raya
3.) Rico Henry
20.) Kristoffer Ajer
18.) Pontus Jansson (c)
16.) Ben Mee
2.) Aaron Hickey
8.) Matias Jensen (Baptiste 69’)
10.) Josh Dasilva (Damsgaard 63’)
27.) Vitaly Janelt (Onyeka 63’)
17.) Ivan Toney
19.) Brian Mbuemo (Wissa 76’)
22.) Thomas Strakosha
13.) Mathias Jørgensen
30.) Mads Roerslev
11.) Joane Wise
15.) Frank Onyeka
24.) Mikkel Damsgaard
26.) Shandon Baptiste
7.) Sergi Canós
14.) Saman Ghoddos
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White (Tomiyasu 86’)
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
5.) Thomas Partey (Lokonga 78’)
34.) Granit Xhaka (c)
21.) Fábio Vieira (Nwaneri 92’)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Marquinhos 92’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli (Nketiah 78’)
9.) Gabriel Jesus
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
96.) Lino Sousa
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
72.) Matthew Smith
83.) Ethan Nwaneri
14.) Eddie Nketiah