What a change from the night 13 months ago when Arsenal gave in to beatings at this stadium. This time they subdued him in near silence, quickly seizing the initiative from William Saliba and never looking remotely likely to let him slip. Ghosts are rarely killed so cleanly: Mikel Arteta’s side were vastly superior to Brentford in every department and, given it’s safe to assume not all of their rivals will have it so easy here, can feel that they provided compelling publicity for their ability to compete commercially.
Further goals from Gabriel Jesus and Fábio Vieira, the latter with a sublime strike from distance, guaranteed their return to the top and allowed them to play most of the second half with the game won before creating a moment story at the end. When Ethan Nwaneri came off the bench at the start of stoppage time, he became the youngest player in the Premier League, at 15 years and 181 days.
Brentford’s disappointment was that, after looking comfortable in the air for the first quarter of an hour, they conceded from a free kick. Bukayo Saka’s inswinging corner, dipped left-footed towards the near post, was deftly delivered, but there was no escaping Ivan Toney’s power off. He allowed Saliba to step in front of him and glance at David Raya, with the ball clearly entering the far post. Toney’s call to England on Thursday was well deserved, but it was a costly moment of inattention.
Arteta threw his arms up in the air when, after a moment’s pause, David Coote signaled that Saliba’s header had crossed the line. In fact, there was little doubt and there was no questioning the importance of the goal: the opening rallies had been scrappy and there were clear advantages for Arsenal to pick the lock so early.
Thomas Frank had returned to a back three, giving Kristoffer Ajer his first appearance of the season and sacrificing a striker, but Brentford’s exhaustion of creative options posed a problem now that they were behind. It was made all the more striking when Arsenal doubled their lead with another strike that made a mockery of the hosts’ attempts to look solid.
This does not detract from the excellence of the goal, achieved by a deliciously dug cross from Granit Xhaka. He sent the ball drifting over Pontus Jansson, and Jesus, whose move had been too much for the centre-back, flexed his neck to fire an emphatic header into Raya’s top right corner. Jesus celebrated by kneeling down and pretending to shine the boots of Xhaka, whose creative juices have been flowing in recent weeks.
Life had become remarkably serene for Arsenal. It didn’t look particularly likely at first, with Martin Ødegaard – the captain – and Oleksandr Zinchenko both ruled out through injury. Even though Thomas Partey was fit to return, Nwaneri’s presence in the traveling group showed that Arteta’s resources remain easily stretched despite their substantial summer investment. Vieira, who made his first high-flying start in Ødegaard’s absence, occasionally found a pocket of space in which to rise above the turmoil and hint at what was to come .
Not much happened for Brentford. They were unrecognizable from their most punchy, high-octane selves and a venue that needs little invitation to vibrate to the beat of its team was completely muted. The wind tried to find the flanks with long diagonal balls few favors: although Raya earned applause at the start with an excellent switch to choose Rico Henry, in the meantime he had drawn groans with a few wayward attempts and these were of a piece with the projection of their team.
Toney had been firmly second to Gabriel Magalhães, although the sight of the Brazilian feeling injured during the warm-up and requiring treatment midway through the first half might have made his eyes ignite. But it lacked support and the pattern continued after reboot. Brentford didn’t stick anything in the opening moments and quickly found the game beyond them.
It was quite an introduction to the general public for Vieira, who was completely unguarded when Saka came inside and found him 22 yards from goal. There was still a lot to do and his finish, bent left-footed on a post, was exceptional. Ben Mee, in particular, had twisted himself into knots as Saka advanced; Brentford had come to seem awkward in the extreme.
Frank’s side still had to approach from distance, although Toney were close with an inventive free-kick and a volley from just outside the box. Arsenal looked capable of scoring more, with Raya twice saving Jesus after bursting inside left and denying Saka with a flying one-handed save.
When Toney looked like he was running away, the immaculate Saliba was on hand to put away and retain possession in the process. Mikkel Damsgaard’s introduction gave Brentford a bit more of an advantage and, as the stadium rose to cheers for the late Queen after 70 minutes, he gave Aaron Ramsdale his first and only serious job with an angled shot. This wavering aside, Arsenal went home.