If you’re a fan of both Arsenal and symbolism, then your Sunday lunchtime was a particularly funtime.
Arsenal are back top of the league after swatting Brentford aside at their own ground with something approaching dismissive, arrogant ease.
Being top of the league. That’s quite a good symbol, isn’t it? Especially a league that has this absolute nonsense of a Manchester City side in it, and, to a far lesser extent, a Tottenham team whose current position and points total appear wildly at odds with its performances.
But let’s get back to the side of North London where things look far more convincing and sustainable. There was no more fitting ground for Arsenal to show just how good they are and how far they’ve come in a relatively short space of time.
It was, of course, at Brentford on the opening night of last season where Mikel Arteta’s side had their pants so mercilessly pulled down by the Premier League new boys.
And for a final, decisive dose of symbolism about not just Arsenal’s direction of travel but the long-term nature of what they are attempting to achieve – or really bring back – for the club, Arteta ended a quite brilliant afternoon by bringing on a 15-year-old substitute. A player who wasn’t born when Dennis Bergkamp retired. A player who has only ever known Arsenal to have one stadium, for fu…
What becomes of Ethan Nwaneri is impossible to know. But Arsenal fans are increasingly sure about what’s happening to their club. The by now entirely giddy visiting fans certainly enjoyed his cameo, gleefully if inaccurately singing about how he had “school in the morning” to round out an afternoon where the Arsenal support was able to cycle through its current favourite hits.
The opening goal was headed in brilliantly by William Saliba, his second goal of the season already prompting the latest full-throated rendition of the wonderfully camp and impossibly catchy reimagining of Tequila that has become an Arsenal trademark.
Saliba is a fascinating case. For all your Gabriel Jesuses and your Aleksandar Zinchenkos, Saliba has surely been the most transformative player in this Arsenal team. The tantalising ‘what if?’ is what would have happened had he been part of Arsenal’s rather than Marseille’s squad last season? Would the ending of the 2021/22 season have been different? Or would he not quite be the player he has become? Right now, Arsenal fans don’t really give a shit. And you know what? Fair enough. DO DOO DO-DO-DOO DO-DO DOO!
Gabriel Jesus headed in a second that owed equal parts to a teasing delivery from Granit Xhaka and Jesus’ neck muscles, while the best of the goals came just after half-time to put all thoughts of a Brentford comeback out of the question as Fabio Vieira’s first Premier League start brought him a wonderful goal sent in off the post from 25 yards.
The Arsenal fans didn’t need to be too inventive to come up with a chant for that one. It all feels so marvellous and there are more and more signs of Arsenal diverging from their recent rollercoaster-based brand.
The defeat at Manchester United could so, so easily have been the start of a downward turn, with Brentford away precisely – and last season, specifically – the sort of fixture where Old Arsenal would make a bollocks of it. The postponement of the penalty kick presented by Everton at home could have been a hammer blow to Arsenal’s momentum. Not a bit of it.
It would be a bit of a stretch to claim, as plenty have, that beating Brentford away is of particular note. The GTEch is no fortress. They lost nine Premier League games here last season.
But none like this. And none this season, in which Manchester United have been battered 4-0 and Leeds 5-2.
Liverpool and Tottenham were held to draws here last season as well as that opening win over Arsenal. Chelsea and City each won only 1-0 here.
Of those nine defeats, only two were by more than a single goal. A 3-1 defeat to Manchester United that was goalless at half-time and a 2-0 defeat to Newcastle in which Brentford played 80 minutes with 10 men.
Never since their return to the Premier League have they been so summarily dealt with on home turf as this. England new boy Ivan Toney barely had a look in until the result was long since confirmed and it wasn’t the Bees doing the swarming. Arsenal scored from their first corner through Saliba’s header and very nearly scored from Brentford’s first corner as Gabriel Jesus jumped on a short-corner routine to cut it off at source and start a lightning counter attack.
Reasons to assume Arsenal will soon revert to Arsenalness are getting thinner and thinner on the ground, and those that remain are increasingly those beyond Arsenal’s control. The gentle fixture list, the fact postponements mean they remain untested in the two-game-a-week intensity that will be their reality after this international break and again after the international break.
They have answered questions about their resilience in so effortlessly resisting a team that had until now lost only once all season and fought back from behind to take something from three games already. And even their one defeat, at Fulham, had featured a comeback from 2-0 down before they got Mitroviced. Brentford are not a team that goes away easily, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise here.