GTECH COMMUNITY STADIUM, LONDON — With a 3-0 victory over Brentford, Arsenal reclaimed first place in the Premier League.
Midway through the first half, William Saliba headed the Gunners into the lead from a corner. Gabriel Jesus added another goal to the lead 11 minutes later by heading home Granit Xhaka’s skillful lob over the Bees’ backline. Gabriel Jesus has had a strong start to life in red and white.
Fabio Vieira made it three shortly after halftime with a beautiful long-range drive that hit the wall on his maiden Premier League debut.
Mikel Arteta’s team may have fallen short of their first major test of the season in their most recent match against Manchester United, losing 3-1 despite putting on a strong display at Old Trafford, but they recovered well and are once again at the top of the standings. This drama-free Sunday lunchtime victory also prevented a potential banana skin.
While Manchester United and Leeds United were defeated by nine goals each here, Brentford was given the encouragement of having their star player, Ivan Toney, selected for the England team. Arsenal, who at times took the life out of the proceedings in a nice way, made them look bad.
What a year can do for you
Indeed, Arteta’s performance was based on a solid foundation he has created over the past 13 months since Arsenal’s humiliating 2-0 loss here, which feels like a lifetime ago now that the early-season crisis was ignited beneath the Friday-night lights.
After the pandemic, it was the first time we saw a top-flight stadium packed with fans; it was the first time Bukayo Saka received cheers from home fans after missing a penalty and suffering racial abuse at Euro 2020; it was the first time Ben White put on an Arsenal shirt following his £50 million transfer. it was the first time Brentford had ever participated in a Premier League match and it was the first time then-public enemy No. 1 Xhaka played after a failed proposed transfer to Roma.
The Switzerland international has now fully recovered to the point where the visiting supporters sang his name during the second half and at the end of the game. Last season, it would have been completely impossible to serenade him while wearing the captain’s armband. He has emerged as Arsenal’s go-to player, constantly in the midst of the action and moving the team from defence to attack. His manager gives him high fives and backslaps while watching from the sidelines in the afternoon.
He controlled Arsenal’s shape, recycled possession to calm the play after each goal, passed accurately into the final third, and challenged opponents with tenacity. Every part of his game was at a higher level. Xhaka gave a complete performance.
He co-starred with Thomas Partey, who had a triumphant return. With Saliba and Gabriel standing behind them, they form a base that is physically intimidating and capable of competing with any team in the division. After Arsenal’s loss to Brentford last season, there were repeated complaints that the tenacious team outworked and physically dominated the team. Today, every time Toney and Bryan Mbuemo were spotted, they were tracked down and forced off the ball.
Jesus is a game-changer
The new-look front-four of Arsenal can thrive thanks to that basis. Despite Martin Odegaard’s absence due to injury today, Vieira served as a more than adequate backup. Naturally, Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, who are positioned either side of him, have nailed those starting positions. They have the ability to quickly shift the tide of a pretty nasty game, keeping Brentford pegged back even when not under immediate pressure.
The real star, though, is Jesus, who has already shown to be an excellent investment. Over the course of his first seven league games, he has now scored four goals and provided three assists.
The Brazilian, who was playing No. 9 on paper, was allowed wide reign of West London to wander, collect the ball wherever he saw fit, and assist defensively. He was a constant threat going forward, and center-backs feared his jinking feet.
Jesus was the only player striving to up the pace even when Arsenal decided to let up, cutting through the middle of the opposition and constantly tearing down the left. He gave Kieran Tierney and Xhaka an out-ball, and he easily dislodged any Brentford defender who was unfortunate enough to be standing next to him at any given moment.
When Balogun entered this game in August of last year, it perfectly encapsulated Arsenal’s failings since the young player was, through no fault of his own, left to flounder in a broken system and up against opponents he had no idea how to trouble. Jesus demonstrated once more that he had reinstated terror in the Gunners’ assault.
Nwaneri makes Premier League history
Ethan Nwaneri’s appearance off the bench as the youngest player to play in the Premier League capped off a successful afternoon for Arsenal. He was born in the inaugural year of the Emirates Stadium and is only 15 years old.
Subsequently making his Under-18 debut in 2021–2022, the midfielder has seen his stock grow quickly. He has since played for the Under-21s. However, Arteta made the decision based only on instinct this afternoon, absolutely out of the blue.
In his post-game press conference, the Spanish coach stated: “It was a pure gut sense. I liked what I observed when I first met the boy.
“I had information from Edu and Per [Mertesacker]. Due to Martin’s injury, he was required to arrive yesterday, and I knew that if the chance arose, I would take it.”