Looking at the fixtures calendar in July, not many Arsenal fans would’ve predicted a week of Everton away followed by Brentford at home as pivotal. Arsenal know that this game is a mark of champions. By no means an easy test, but one they absolutely must overcome if they are to prove themselves this season. Soon, if not already, every fixture will begin to feel like this.
Dropping points at Goodison Park has become common for Arsenal, yet fortunately for the Gunners, the same can be said for their closest title rivals Manchester City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Last weekend was a let off for Arsenal, and a lesson that must be capitalised on.
Unbeaten in 9 Premier League games which include victories against Manchester City and Liverpool and a draw against Tottenham, Brentford are resolute, dynamic and old-school. They are currently the most in form team in the league. They’ve only conceded one goal in their last 5 league games, and scored more than Manchester United this season. Change their name from Brentford to City/Liverpool/Chelsea and I think more people would be keeping an eye on this fixture than they currently are. Big-club-bias once again.
In terms of patterns of play, player match ups and formation – Brentford excel at keeping the opposition guessing. Brentford have proved they don’t need lots of the ball to carry attacking threat, and I expect that to be the case here. Arsenal will dominate possession in their own half and middle third of the pitch, but Brentford will be physical and dominant in pressing for turnovers closer to their box.
Since his transfer from Blackburn, David Raya has quietly become one of the best goalkeepers in the league. With his contract ending in 2024 and many of the top 6 needing a new starter, don’t be surprised to see the Spaniard’s name linked with a move away this year.
Raya will, like Jordan Pickford, look to kick long and catch Arsenal’s fullbacks out with Mbeumo and Wissa comfortable at receiving and holding the play up, to allow Brentford‘s danger-man Ivan Toney space in behind. Arsenal’s desire to flood the midfield with extra bodies leaves Gabriel and Saliba alone in defence, and Brentford will look to capitalise on this with quick counter-attacks. The left channel particularly has been targeted by opposition teams this year, with Zincehnko naturally higher on that side compared to White, and Gabriel seen as the less composed centre-half. This could be a real threat for Brentford, and one of their only hopes of scoring through open play.
Scoring from set-pieces however, is a different story. Ethan Pinnock, Pontus Jansson, Christian Norgaard and Ivan Toney are all a huge threat from any set piece. Literally. Brentford, like Everton last week, will be thrilled at winning corners and throw-ins close to Arsenal’s 18 yard box, especially if the clock is ticking down. Their fresh mix of routines and ability to isolate weaknesses mean they have a great success rate and make things awkward for teams. They scored three goals from three separate corners against Liverpool in the first half of their game (despite two being ruled out through VAR). Don’t be surprised if Thomas Frank and his staff have been studying how easily Everton were able to score on Saturday, with Martin Odegaard caught marking James Tarkowski – something Arsenal fans have been aware of but not punished by for some time. Brentford, more specifically Toney, is also known for never missing from the spot too. Great.
Arsenal will dominate possession, but must move the ball much sharper than they did last week if they are to break Brentford’s mid block. Martinelli has been criticised quite widely by the Arsenal fanbase recently, but he wasn’t helped by the pace of Arsenal’s transitions at Goodison. Too many touches and lack of confidence to pass sharply (which is credit to Everton’s tireless pressing) meant that once the ball had recycled from right to left, Coleman was helped by a team mate to double down on controlling Martinelli.
More and more teams are looking to directly isolate and man-mark Martin Odegaard out of games, and Arsenal will need him to be his electric best to avoid a similar result as last week. Vieria doesn’t have the physicality to deal with Brentford’s midfield, and Smith Rowe isn’t fit. A lot will rest on Odegaard’s ability to break lines and continue to play the dangerous final ball if we are to break Brentford down. His assist against Liverpool earlier this season (for Martinelli) springs to mind.
Pundits and fans seem to be underrating how difficult this game might be, and two consecutive Premier League losses (which would be 3 in all competitions) would really rock Arsenal, and the media. Let’s hope Arteta can show the world they are serious about this title challenge, and throw the gauntlet down to City, who play Sunday.
Arsenal Predicted Starting XI
Tomiyasu – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Partey – Xhaka
Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli
Brentford Predicted Starting XI
Ajer – Pinnock – Mee
Henry – Jensen – Norgaard – Da Silva – Roerslev
Mbeumo – Toney