Brentford 0, Arsenal 3

Bees outgunned

The day started so splendidly. Prolonged applause as the two teams took to the pitch. A respectful hush during the silent tribute to the late Queen Elizabeth (apart from one moving murmur from a puzzled young voice). A bright start from Brentford, with an Ivan Toney header from a Rico Henry cross arriving too close to keeper Aaron Ramsgate, but an indication that the Bees meant business.

And then just after the quarter-hour the visitors had to go and spoil everything when a header brimming with finesse from William Saliba converted Bukayo Saka’s corner. David Raya desperately scooping the ball away after it had crossed his goal line was immaterial.

From then on, the Gunners took control. Passing of the highest quality constantly put Brentford under pressure; the visiting defence snuffed out increasingly rare Brentford attacks like candles on a birthday cake.

Suddenly, Arsenal no longer resembled the side that lost 0-2 to Brentford on the first day of last season. That was then and now was now, with only four of the players humbled that day still in the team, so it came as no surprise when after 27 minutes Gabriel Jesus – a big-money acquisition in July – headed home Granit Xhaka’s superb cross to double the visitor’s lead.

Come half-time, the Bees still had lost their buzz. Even the usually indefatigable Ivan Toney was beginning to fade, the elation of being called up for the England squad for Nation League games against Italy and Germany later this month disappearing by the minute.

Woe was we spectators, too, with the noticeable absence of full-throated singing by the home crowd probably caused by the dire straits being suffered by the team as much as a noon kick-off that determined a pre-match visit to the pub was not on the itinerary this day.

Thomas Frank’s half-time instructions injected some pep into his side, only for it to dissipate when after ten post-interval minutes Arsenal scored again. Collecting Saka’s pass, Fabio Vieira unleashed a shot that bent wickedly to cannon in via a post.

Brentford struggled to respond, with Frank using four substitutes – the first time since the rule-change that he hasn’t employed all five – while the visitors dropped a gear, holding on to the ball and playing batches of short passes just to show they could.

Toney perked up and one or two chances presented themselves to him and his co-strikers. But the longer the Bees pressed hard for a goal, the less likely did it seem they would do so. Did his predecessors as England squad members have such a limited service from midfield and face such an uncompromising defence?

[For those interested in Brentford’s chequered history, there were only two predecessors, each of whom won only one cap: inside forward Billy Scott in 1936 and winger Leslie Smith in 1939.]

Seventy minutes came and went, with some of the crowd applauding the late Queen to celebrate the length of her reign; others uncertain exactly what was going on and more interested in Brentford’s immediate plight anyway.

The dying minutes of the game provided the most interesting substitution made by either side: the introduction of Ethen Nwaneri, aged 15 years and 181 days, the youngest ever Premier League player so far and a record even if his debut didn’t begin until there were around 12 minutes left when he joined the action.

[For those interested in football history, his predecessor was Harvey Elliott, who was 16 years and 30 days old when he played his first PL game for Fulham. He is now a winger or midfielder with Liverpool.]

‘It is not time to talk about them [Arsenal] as title contenders yet,’ Alan Shearer was to write in his BBC column. ‘Thomas Frank differed: ‘I think they are title contenders,’ he told Sky TV. Sorry Manchester City, apologies Brentford, but I’m with Thomas.

International break now until the end of the month, I reminded my mate Charlie.

‘Thank heavens for that,’ said Charlie.

Brentford:  Raya; Ayer, Jansson, Mee; Hickey, Dasilva (substitute Damsgaard 63 mins), Janelt, (Onyeka 63), Jensen (Baptiste 69) Henry; Mbeumo (Wissa 76), Toney.

Arsenal: Ramsdale; White (Tomiyasu 86), Saliba; Gabriel, Tierney; Partey (Sambi Lokongar 78), Xhaka, Saka (Oliveira Alencar 90+2); Ferreira Vieira (Nwaneri 90+2), Martinelli (Nketiah 78); Gabriel Jesus.

Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor of the Bees United supporters’ group. Pictures by Liz Vercoe.

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