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Gunner Thoughts

BRE – ARS Standouts, Worries, and Extra Fun

In a stunning performance that will have left Arsenal fans feeling as though it was worth every second they were forced to wait, Arsenal dispatched Brentford on their own turf 3-0. It was the type of comprehensive display that leaves you wanting the international break to pass in a blink of an eye so you can get another taste.

Brentford had lost just one of their last eight Premier League home games prior to Arsenal visiting — 5 wins, 2 draws — making this no small feat. Brentford have already shown an ability to score goals and beat ‘Big 6’ teams this season. However, Arsenal’s control could be felt from the very first whistle. Literally.

Arsenal possessed the ball for the first minute and twenty-five seconds of the game, moving the ball around fluidly, stretching Brentford’s defensive shape, and produced a golden opportunity for Martinelli around the penalty spot. It wasn’t converted, but the damage it did was still felt. The whole stadium went quiet and never, really regained itself, Arsenal continued to impose themselves, and I distinctly felt in that moment that Arsenal would win the game.

It was a reminder to everyone, including the players themselves, of the fact that Arsenal’s ceiling of play remains elusively high and undiscovered. The performance ran far closer to the level of play seen earlier in the season, but this time against better opposition and with key figures Ødegaard and Zinchenko missing from the lineup. The performance was a summary of how Arsenal want to play: control the ball, dictate the play, dominate specific spaces, sustain pressure, keep a 2-3-5 shape and exchange fluidly in the attacking third to create chances.

Arsenal left Brentford Community Stadium with 64% of the ball, two first half goals, a sparkling gem of a third goal from Vieira, a stout defensive performance that bullied Ivan Toney and Mbuemo, and three points that put them at the top of the table. As Arsenal and Arteta look to acquire a collection impressive wins on the backs of win-worthy performances against tough opposition, matches like yesterday’s will begin to make a collection of statements.

Top of the table at the end of August, top of the table at the end of September, a Manager of the Month award for Arteta, 6 wins in 7 matches, and their poorest performance coming the season opener. Of course they infuriated everyone when they got slashed in transition when everyone knew that was what United would look to do, but it was a performance that will win Arsenal most matches. It took just 7 matches to reach 18 points this year. It took Arsenal 11 matches to eclipse 18 points last season.

The improvement is evident, the performances are matching the results, and the results are pouring in with the performances. A HUGE North London Derby that could decide who sits atop the table stares back at the Gunners on the other side of the international break, but first, let’s look at some standouts and worries from yesterday’s win.

Standouts

Granit Xhaka

A Man of the Match performance from Xhaka for me, he was splendid. With Partey back in the side, Xhaka was comfortably able to be everywhere Arteta and Arsenal want him to be in order to make plays. He did it on the defensive side, he did it on the attacking side, he cut out transitions, and he lead them too.

Xhaka heat map. Source: SofaScore

His heat map shows a player pushed forward and playing a key role in sustaining pressure when Brentford try to escape Arsenal’s press, and the eye test matched.

Xhaka ended with 3 chances created, 2 big chances, 1 shot, 1 interception, 6 recoveries and a SUPERB ASSIST to Gabriel Jesus! He now has 1 goal and 3 assists this campaign. An outstanding performance.

William Saliba

It’s fast become a staple of his game and who he is, but Saliba offered himself as a cool, calm and composed figure in back. His calm presence under pressure saw him make defensive interventions and play a role in Vieira’s wonder strike. Last year’s season opener saw Ben White struggle to handle Toney’s size. This year, Saliba handled the Bees, winning 6/8 defensive duels and racking up the defensive stats.

He was incredibly technical on the ball, physical, smart, composed, and is a HUGE offensive threat on set pieces. There was absolutely nothing Brentford could do when he elevated in the box to get his head on the ball and redirected it toward the back post and into the net. Arsenal find themselves passing physicality test after physicality test and it’s refreshing for every fan that had to suffer through the days of being manhandled in the area and creating little threat.

Bukayo Saka

The start to Saka’s season may have been full of scrutiny, and his recent performances may not be coming with a bang and flourish, but he has slid under the radar as he slowly collects a run of games with goal contributions. Would you believe me if I told you that only Kevin de Bruyne has more assists to his name this season than Bukayo Saka?

Saka now has four straight Premier League matches with a direct goal contribution and it puts him at 1 goal and 4 assists. While there are a handful of contributing factors to this, one major one is his ability to come more central and occupy dangerous spaces.

Saka Heat Map; Source: SofaScore

There’s no doubt that growth in Ben White’s game at right back has benefitted Saka, as well. Yesterday was another good performance from Ben White and Saka collected two assists. As White becomes more comfortable on the overlap, and Arsenal continue to grow their attacking prowess, the right side is becoming a real danger. Saka ended the day with 2 assists, 3 chances created, and 3 shots.

Gabriel Jesus

Honestly, I should just save this spot in these articles for Jesus. He deserves a special shout out for collecting Arsenal’s Player of the Month award, but he backed it up yet again with a great match. The guy brings so much more to the team than goals. Oh, and he brings goals! It was a spectacular ball from Xhaka, but Jesus’ elevation and aerial control to tuck the chance away was just so, so impressive.

However, I think my favorite part of Jesus’ game has to be the way he fearlessly throws himself into duel after duel… and WINS them. He plays like a striker with another foot of height and 30 pounds of weight, yet moves with grace and devastation. It’s so enjoyable to watch and tallies another goal and another standout performance.

Worries

Calves

Defined as “the fleshy part at the back of a person’s leg below the knee”, calves are absolutely screwing Arsenal right now. We looked great, but what’s the deal with calves and why are they such finicky bitches?

Odegaard and Zinchenko missed out with calf injuries. Gabriel had a calf strain in the warmup and early in the match but was able to play through it. I know humans have two of them which raises the odds of one getting hurt, but my god SORT OUT THE CALVES! STRETCH PEOPLE, STRETCH! A few weeks without matches hopefully will see returns to full fitness for Ødegaard and Zinchenko.

Partey on International Break

Arsenal are just a better team when he is on the field. When I talk about Arsenal’s elusive ceiling, I’m referring to the sky-high one that is really only possible when he’s in the midfield. Xhaka plays better, the team is better, the possession is more confident, and the defensive transitions feel controlled. Simply put, he’s just good at football.

He’s now coming back from another injury to his thigh, an ailment that has been too frequent not to be concerned about, but he looked great. So, how will Ghana ruin it over the break when they ask him to play every minute like a box-to-box, all action, attacking midfielder that covers the most distance and does the most? Let’s (not) find out!

Extra Fun

It’s always a fun day when Arsenal have a youth debut, but it’s not every day they debut an academy player that breaks a record. What a special day to sub on the youngest player in Premier League history! At 15, Nwaneri comes on and who cares about the rest! It was short and sweet, but totally fun!

Fun fact: due to Nwaneri’s age, it is against the law for him to change in the same locker room before matches as the rest of the team. So yesterday, he changed in a separate location and then joined his teammates. Wild, absurd, and crazy to think about. Looks like another record for the mighty Arsenal.

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