Brentford 0, Arsenal 1

Image above: Brentford v Arsenal, Wednesday 27 September 2023; still from YouTube video

EFL Cup: Third Round

Following a dismal performance against Everton, Brentford set out to re-establish themselves as a power in the Premier League. The fixture list dictated they would have to take on Arsenal in a third-round tie of the ELF Cup to achieve such lofty ambition, but hey, who said it would be easy? Not Arsenal, that’s certain.

Head coach Mikel Arteta fielded a starting line-up that lacked some of his squad’s more glittering talents but still presented a lesson in slick passing that made the home team – only a couple of changes from the Everton game – look like… well, look very much like the same bunch that had been unceremoniously thumped 3-1.

Aaron Ramsdale, recalled by Arteta after being usurped by David Raya, had little to do. Bryan Mbeumo, industrious as ever, tried his best but a midfield with Mathias Jensen relegated to the bench seemed stagnant. Yoane Wissa, awarded a golden chance when left unmarked by a mostly diligent defence, unleashed a shot so wayward it was surprising a search party was not despatched to retrieve it.

In the meantime, Arsenal had capitalised on their superiority after just eight minutes when Zanka, one of those selected to compensate for the worrying list of injured regulars, committed a sloppy back-pass that was seized on by an alert Reiss Nelson to beat Mark Flekken with ease.

The Bees looked forlorn as they trudged off but, as usual, Thomas Frank failed to make substitutes at the interval. Instead, he presumably delivering a scalding résumé of the woeful display so far and a demand that his side should pull up their socks.

This, or something similar, worked like a supercharged elixir that made the same players who had fumbled their way through the first forty-five minutes dominate the second, with Arteta fielding five subs in order to keep the inspired home team at bay (yes, Brentford also brought on five substitutes, but that’s hardly unusual for Frank).

Image above: Brentford v Arsenal, Wednesday 27 September 2023; still from YouTube video

Arsenal being what they are – Premier league royalty –the visitors faced drinking in the last chance saloon with great fortitude, breaking away whenever possible to test Flekken.

Such luminaries as Jorginho, Kai Havertz and Ben White must have welcomed Oleksandr Zinchenko and co. for assistance but, Brentford could be thankful for to Bukayo Saka and Declain Rice for their absence, more victims of an injury list.

Arsenal’s class act, short only in the lack of a legal striker, was unsuccessful largely due to the home goalkeeper producing his best performance so far at the Gtech Community Stadium and the do-or-die squad striving for an equaliser gave everything Frank could wish for.

Wissa struck a post with a shot that had Ramsdale’s finger-tips intervention enough to deny a goal and a similar, straightforward smack against the woodwork had the keeper beaten. Wissa, still far from his best, became a constant worry to the defence and Keane Lewis-Potter – sub for Frank Onyeka – lurked dangerously despite sometimes being out-muscled before he could realise his full potential.

Image above: Brentford v Arsenal, Wednesday 27 September 2023; still from YouTube video

All in all, Brentford was transformed into a unit emerging from a dark tunnel into the sun, even if there wasn’t much of that.

Ultimately, Arsenal hung on to their lead and now move on to the fourth round to take on West Ham at the London Stadium. The Bees, having subsequently travelled to Nottingham Forest for what fans hope was a limber up for Manchester United, drew 1-1 with ten men opposition after a shocking goalkeeping error by Flekken that will probably demand a postmortem.

All concerned will be hoping for a swift return for some of the injured, although Rico Henry may be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

The second half revival almost negated the sorry first, I told my mate Charlie.

‘What’s an elixir’, said Charlie.

Brentford: Flekken; Collins, Pinnock, (Zanka) Jorensen (substitute Ajer 82’); Roerslev (Ghoddos 63’), Onyeka (Lewis-Potter 79’), Nørgaard (Jensen 63’), Janelt, Hickey (Olakigbeat 79’); Mbeumo, Wissa.

Arsenal: Ramsdale; White (substitute Zinchenko 69’), Tomiyasu, Gabriel, Kiwior; Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 92’), Jorginho, Havertz; Sagoe (Gabriel Jesus 68’), Nketiah (Cédric Soares) 87’, Nelson (Elneny 82’).

Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor for the Bees United website.

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