Arsenal return to first place with Fábio Vieira’s victory in Brentford

Arsenal return to first place with Fábio Vieira’s victory in Brentford

What a departure this was from the night 13 months ago when Arsenal succumbed to blows at this stadium. This time they have subjected him to near-absolute silence, taking an early lead over William Saliba and never seeming in the slightest to let him slip. Ghosts are rarely killed so cleanly – Mikel Arteta’s team was far superior to Brentford in every department, and as it’s safe to assume that not all of their rivals will get away so easily here, he can feel they’ve provided convincing publicity for their ability to compete at the end of the business.

Further goals from Gabriel Jesus and Fábio Vieira, the latter with a sublime shot from distance, ensured a return to the top and allowed them to play much of the second half with the match won before creating a moment of history at the end. When Ethan Nwaneri came off the bench early in injury time, he became the youngest player in the Premier League at 15 years and 181 days.

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The disappointment for Brentford was that, after looking comfortable in the air for the first quarter of an hour, they conceded goals from set pieces. Bukayo Saka’s corner, bent left towards the near post, was masterfully rejected but there is no escaping the fact that Ivan Toney has died. He allowed Saliba to stand in front of him and take a look at David Raya, the ball clearly coming in from the far uppercut. Toney’s call-up to England on Thursday was well deserved, but this was a costly moment of inattention.

Arteta raises his arms when, after a moment’s pause, David Coote signals that Saliba’s header had crossed the finish line. In fact there was little doubt and there was no doubt about the importance of the goal: the initial exchanges had been poor and there were obvious advantages for Arsenal in picking the lock so early.

Thomas Frank had returned to three, giving the reborn Kristoffer Ajer his first appearance of the season and sacrificing a striker, but the exhaustion of Brentford’s creative options posed a problem now that they were behind. It was made even stronger when Arsenal doubled their lead with another goal that mocked the hosts’ attempts to look solid.

This must not detract from the excellence of the goal, which was beaten by a delightful cross from Granit Xhaka. He sent the ball adrift on Pontus Jansson and Jesus, whose movement had been too much for the center-back, bent his neck to throw an emphatic header into Raya’s upper right corner. Jesus celebrated on his knees and pretending to polish Xhaka’s boots, whose creative juices have been flowing over the past few weeks.

William Saliba headed in Arsenal's first goal at Brentford

William Saliba (left) heads for Arsenal’s opener in Brentford. Photography: Michael Zemanek / Shutterstock

Life had become extraordinarily peaceful for Arsenal. It did not seem particularly likely at first, with Martin Ødegaard – the captain – and Oleksandr Zinchenko both ruled out due to injury. Although Thomas Partey was ready to return, Nwaneri’s presence in the traveling group pointed out that Arteta’s resources remain easily depleted despite their large summer investment. Vieira, making his first major league debut in Ødegaard’s absence, found some pocket of space in which to rise above the hustle and bustle and hint at what would follow.

Little has come out for Brentford. They were unrecognizable to their more punchy, high-octane selves and a venue that needs a little invitation to pulse to its team’s pace has been completely calmed down. The wind made his attempts to find the wings with long diagonal balls little favors: although Raya earned the applause at the beginning with a great pass to locate Rico Henry, at half-time she had picked up moans with a couple of capricious attempts and those were one piece with his team’s exhibit.

Toney had been firmly in second place against Gabriel Magalhães, although the sight of the Brazilian getting injured while warming up and requiring treatment midway through the first half could have sparked his eyes. But he was running out of support and the pattern continued after the reboot. Brentford did nothing in the first moments and immediately found the game beyond them.

It was a nice introduction to the general public for Vieira, who was completely unattended when Saka entered the house and found him 22 yards from the goal. There was still a lot to do and the finish of him, bent left from a post, was exceptional. Ben Mee, in particular, had twisted in knots as Saka advanced; Brentford had become extremely clumsy.

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Frank’s team still had to get close at a distance, even though Toney wasn’t far with an inventive touch and a volley from a free-kick just outside the box. Arsenal seemed able to score more, Raya saved twice on Jesus after he broke into the left inside and denied Saka with a one-handed flying stop.

When Toney appeared to be on the run, immaculate Saliba was on hand to tidy up and keep possession in the process. Mikkel Damsgaard’s introduction gave Brentford a little more advantage and, as the stadium rose to cheer the late Queen after 70 minutes, it gave Aaron Ramsdale his first and only serious job with an angled shot. That flutter to pieces, Arsenal are back home.

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