Brentford boss Thomas Frank described Arsenal as title contenders after Fabio Vieira’s stunning goal helped the Gunners secure a 3-0 win at the Gtech Community Stadium which sent them top of the Premier League.
Vieira, making his first Premier League start in the absence of the injured Martin Odegaard, rifled a long-range effort in off the post (49) to cap a commanding victory for Mikel Arteta’s men.
Earlier, the impressive William Saliba had opened the scoring with a flicked, near-post header from Bukayo Saka’s corner (17), before Gabriel Jesus doubled Arsenal’s advantage with a similarly well-taken header from Granit Xhaka’s diagonal centre (28).
The Gunners’ last visit to Brentford ended in a dismal 2-0 defeat on the opening day of last season but on this occasion they were totally dominant, the victory underlining their recent improvement and sending them a point clear of Manchester City and Tottenham at the top of the Premier League table.
“It was a well-deserved win for them,” Frank said of Arsenal. “You can see how hard they worked. I think they will do brilliantly. I think they compete for the title now.”
Arsenal even had time to create a piece of Premier League history in stoppage time as Arteta sent on academy player Ethan Nwaneri, who only turned 15 in March, to become the youngest-ever player to feature in the competition.
Brentford: Raya (7), Hickey (6), Jansson (6), Ajer (6), Mee (6), Henry (6), Janelt (6), Jensen (6), Dasilva (5), Mbeumo (5), Toney (6).
Subs: Onyeka (6), Damsgaard (6), Baptiste (6), Wissa (n/a)
Arsenal: Ramsdale (7), White (7), Saliba (9), Gabriel (7), Tierney (7), Partey (7), Xhaka (8), Vieira (8), Saka (8), Martinelli (7), Jesus (8).
Subs: Nketiah (n/a), Tomiyasu (n/a), Nwaneri (n/a), Marquinhos (n/a).
Man of the match: William Saliba
How Arsenal cruised to victory
The atmosphere was subdued before kick-off, with players and supporters observing a minute’s silence in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, followed by a rendition of the national anthem.
- Arsenal were without injured duo Martin Odegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko, with Fabio Vieira making his first Premier League start. Thomas Partey returned, while 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri made the bench.
- Kristoffer Ajer came into the Brentford team for the first time this season, while Ivan Toney, hat-trick hero against Leeds two weeks ago, continued to lead the line up front.
When the action got underway, though, Arsenal provided an immediate clue of what was to come as Xhaka combined with Martinelli inside the Brentford box, only for the Brazilian to lose his footing before connecting with his shot.
The Gunners didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough, however, with Saliba’s header from Saka’s corner clearly bouncing over the line after hitting the inside of David Raya’s right-hand post.
It was the Frenchman’s second goal of the campaign and he was equally impressive defensively, helping to shackle Ivan Toney following the Brentford striker’s England call-up this week.
Arsenal’s second goal came from a familiar source, Jesus netting for the fourth time this season as he headed Xhaka’s superb delivery just out of reach of Raya.
Brentford could not get a foothold in the game and Arsenal effectively ended it as contest soon after half-time when Vieira collected a Saka pass in space outside the Brentford box and unleashed a powerful strike that crashed in off the post.
The Gunners continued to dominate, with Raya twice denying Jesus and also making a superb one-handed save from Saka, but the three-goal cushion proved more than enough to take Arsenal top and there was more reason for the visiting fans to cheer when Nwaneri was thrown on in the closing stages.
“It was a pure gut feeling,” explained Arteta when asked about Nwaneri afterwards. “I met the kid and I liked what I saw. He has trained a couple of times with us and I had a feeling yesterday that if the opportunity came I would do it.”
Arteta: We are a different team now
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta to Sky Sports: “The natural thing to do is to describe what happened here last year as a really bad day. The way I describe it is as a character-building day. A team has to evolve and go through those moments together.
“A team can give up, question everybody and blame other people, or it can look in the mirror, take the lesson and move forward. Today, obviously, you have seen a very different team.
“This is what we wanted. We talked before the game that we had the opportunity to back to the top.
“Yesterday, they took it away from us, but we wanted it back. We had to show that desire from the first minute and we have done it.”
Analysis: Saliba typifies Arsenal transformation
William Saliba was hundreds of miles away, literally, and, perhaps, figuratively, when Arsenal suffered their ignominious 2-0 loss to Brentford last season. But he is here now. You couldn’t really miss him at the Gtech Community Stadium on Sunday.
The Frenchman, outstanding all season having spent the previous campaign on loan with Marseille, produced arguably his best performance yet to help Arsenal secure a 3-0 win which underlined their transformation over the course of the last year.
His goal, his second of the campaign following his superb finish against Bournemouth, showed his aerial threat from set-piece situations, his towering header from Bukayo Saka’s corner bouncing off the inside of the post and over the line.
But it was everything else he did – the “ugly” things, as Mikel Arteta described them afterwards – that made his performance really stand out. Ivan Toney left Arsenal shell-shocked in this fixture last year. This time, he was dominated by Saliba from the start.
The 21-year-old was a colossus, winning duels, snuffing out danger and ensuring a side who scored five goals in their last home game could this time only muster two shots on target.
Even Brentford manager Thomas Frank could not help but be impressed, using his post-match press conference to laud the centre-back’s performance as he described Arsenal as title contenders.
Saliba relished his physical battle with Toney and he was just as impressive on the ball, providing composure in the face of Brentford’s pressing, at times slaloming away from challenges deep in his own half before sending Arsenal forward on the attack.
His presence is not the sole reason for Arsenal’s transformation. Gabriel Jesus’ impact has been similarly significant and Fabio Vieira, another summer signing, provided a glimpse of his class on Sunday too. But it is Saliba, Arsenal’s new colossus, who best shows the extent of the progress.
Gabriel taunts Toney on Twitter
Arsenal were irked by a tweet from Ivan Toney after last year’s 2-0 loss to Brentford but defender Gabriel Magalhaes was quick to respond after full-time on Sunday, publishing a post which mimicked the striker’s as the Gunners celebrated their victory.
Frank: Arsenal are title contenders
Brentford boss Thomas Frank to Sky Sports: “I think we performed quite well, but if you want to win against a team that is flying, you can’t concede the first goal from a set-piece, you can’t concede the second one like we did.
“We talk about [Martin] Odegaard being out, but then they put in a £35m player [Fabio Vieira] instead. That shows their quality and I respect that. It was a well-deserved win for them. You can see how hard they worked.
“You can see how they celebrated the first goal, in a huddle, so they had clearly spoken about how difficult a place it is to come here, and they showed us a lot of respect, which I’m pleased with because it means we have done something good.
“I think they will do brilliantly. I think they compete for the title now.”
Nwaneri the record-breaker – Opta stats
- At the age of 15 years and 181 days, Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri became the youngest ever player to appear in a Premier League match. The previous-youngest had been Harvey Elliott, who played for Fulham at the age of 16 years and 30 days (vs Wolves in May 2019).
- Only Erling Haaland (12) has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus this season (seven – four goals and three assists). Indeed, no Arsenal player has ever had more combined goals and assists through their first seven Premier League appearances for the club.
- Of the 19 players to have scored on their first start for Arsenal in the Premier League, Fabio Vieira is the first to have found the net from outside the box.
England World Cup Squad watch
Ivan Toney was unable to follow up his England call-up with any more goalscoring heroics following his hat-trick against Leeds last time out, sending a free-kick narrowly over the bar with one of few chances.
Bukayo Saka impressed for Arsenal, setting up the first and third goals, while Ben White showed why he was unfortunate not to be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad with another assured display at right-back.
Rico Henry, tipped by some as an outside bet for the squad, had a difficult afternoon up against Saka.
The deadline for Gareth Southgate to name his squad is October 19. The World Cup begins on November 20, with England’s first game against Iran on November 21.
After the international break, Brentford travel to Bournemouth (3pm), while Arsenal host rivals Tottenham Hotspur (12.30pm), with both games taking place on Saturday October 1.