Football Features

“This was the perfect start” – Five things learned as Brentford sting Arsenal 2-0 to kick-off the new Premier League season

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:26, 13 August 2021 | Updated: 18:38, 10 September 2021

In an intense night of football, Brentford beat Arsenal 2-0 at home to start the Premier League season with a bang.

The Bees stung Arsenal twice, once in each half, to claim a much deserved win and go, for a 15 hours at least, to the top of the Premier League table in their first game back in the top flight for over 70 years.

What did we learn?

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1. Yes they Canós!

The question as to whether Brentford would be able to transpose their high intensity pressing game and their fluid attacking style to the Premier League was always going to be a big one. So many ambitious sides have come into England’s top flight and not been able to step their game up, but Brentford did the business against Arsenal and they owe so much to Sergi Canós.

The 24 year-old winger wasn’t one of the featured stars prior to kick-off but showed his value to the side by pressing relentlessly, tracking back and defending, plus being willing and able to run at speed towards the Arsenal goal and, most importantly, shoot.

Only Nicolas Pepe had more shots than Canós (3), no one had more interceptions (2) and no one was even close to making as many tackles (7). The Spaniard was absolutely relentless in his application both offensively and defensively. Having two-way players like Canós is going to be so important to Brentford’s hopes of survival and he’s gotten started in the best possible way.

2. Tierney and The Kids

As much as it feels a bit like doom and gloom for Arsenal fans, there was some light among the darkness for the Gunners faithful. Not much light, mind you, but light nevertheless. And it came from the usual sources of Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith Rowe.

The other kids had their moments too: Folarin Balogun looked lively, as did Gabriel Martinelli who seems to enjoy chaos, and Bukayo Saka came off the bench as he makes his return from injury. These lads were better than their more senior team-mates, but Smith Rowe stood out.

Fresh in that new no. 10 shirt, the Croydon De Bruyne refused to be intimidated by the legacy of such a shirt nor the haplessness of his team-mates. He constantly drove at Brentford, carrying the ball 10, 20 even 30 yards forward as he desperately tried to make something happen for Arsenal. And then of course Kieran Tierney was his usual consistent self, sending in dangerous crosses that no one bothered to attack.

3. Ivan and Brian

Arsenal came into this game with their brand new £50m centre-back Ben White on full display, but the poor Englishman looked an absolute amateur from first whistle to last because he was absolutely dominated by the Brentford forwards.

There was so much hype around Ivan Toney’s goalscoring ability that what was overlooked is that he’s just a bloody good player overall. Toney didn’t score against Arsenal (though he did get a small touch to set-up the second goal) but he absolutely dominated their defence all night long in a display that would have made Didier Drogba stand up and applaud.

Toney bullied White and Pablo Mari. He was too strong for them on the ground, too dominant in the air, and far, far too silky in possession. But Toney wasn’t just bulldozing Arsenal, he was using the ball intelligently; playing outrageously weighted first-time passes into the box and linking with his team-mates really well. He also helped defend the near-post on set-pieces.

And he wasn’t alone, either. Brian Mbeumo wasn’t as dominant as Toney, but every time he touched the ball he looked absolutely liquid. His touch, skill and balance was far too much for White and Mari to handle and he was repeatedly dancing in and around them with the ball.

4. Arsenal are in big trouble

There’s no European football for Arsenal this season, so you’d think that with the entire midweek to work with his players Mikel Arteta should be able to work on his side’s flaws and drill a real tactical system into his charges heads.

But based on this first game, he’s got a massive job on to turn Arsenal around. Alright Bukayo Saka was half-fit and their stud forwards Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were missing, as was Gabriel in defence. But that’s no excuse. For a club the size of Arsenal, with a budget like they have, they should be doing much better than this. They should be beating Brentford.

But they never even came close to beating Brentford. David Raya had just one save of note to make, from a Nicolas Pepe snapshot (after great work from Smith Rowe and Tierney) and defensively Arsenal were a completely unable to cope with Brentford’s pace and movement.

Turning this team around is going to take every bit of managerial skill Mikel Arteta has in his perfectly manicured body, because if they play like this for the rest of this season they are in big, big trouble.

5. The perfect start

With fans back in the stands, the Premier League would have wanted a raucous atmosphere for its opening fixture under the Friday Night Lights, and that is exactly what it got. The Brentford faithful were in full voice at the Brentford Community Stadium, reminding everyone watching just how potent a home Premier League crowd can be.

Singing pre-match, singing during the match, screaming the house down for both goals and singing constantly after the match as the players made a lap of honour. The Brentford fans were so loud that the players could barely hear themselves speak in their post-match interviews.

As impressive a logistical feat as Project Restart was, and as much as it was great that we could have an entire season of Premier League football to entertain us during the pandemic-enforced lockdowns, this, tonight, was the real return of top flight English football. For the first time since March 2020, we got to see what the Premier League is really all about.

This was the perfect start to the Premier League season.