Brentford’s first game in the top flight since 1947 ended in fairytale fashion as goals from Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard earned the newly promoted side a thoroughly deserved 2-0 win over Arsenal.
In front of the first capacity crowd at the Brentford Community Stadium since it was opened at the start of last season, Thomas Frank’s side offered an intensity and energy to their press and interplay that coupled with a raucous atmosphere had Arsenal wobbling from early on. Bernd Leno and in particular Pablo Mari radiated skittishness, at times it seemed they were engaged in a battle of one-upmanship, who could play their teammate into the most trouble?
Certainly, their apprehension was contagious as Calum Chambers, fearing his side were about to concede a corner, booted the ball up in the air from the byline. It came straight to Canos, who drove straight at the Arsenal right back. A swiftly taken shot fizzed through the defender’s legs at such a pace that there was little Leno could do to block the effort at his near post.
The swarming Bees had their hosts pinned back and ought to have doubled their lead on the half-hour mark. Bryan Mbeumo may have been making his Premier League debut but his aggression, energy and eye for goal spoke of a five year veteran or more. He made Ben White look like the rookie with a drag back and spin, but perhaps rushed a shot that he drove wide of the post.
As for Ivan Toney, the hero of Brentford’s promotion campaign with his imposing, throwback center forward play, he may not have gotten his goal, but he looked every inch a Premier League player. In the air, the ball was consistently drawn into his orbit. Play it to his feet and he would look to give and spin with frightening accuracy and pace. He was not alone in proving his class in a top-flight debut. Rico Henry, David Raya and Ethan Pinnock all had top-flight clubs eyeing them before this team finally reached the promised land. You could see why.
Arsenal had a Premier League newcomer of their own in Folarin Balogun, taking the spot of the ill duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette with Eddie Nketiah out until next month. Hopes are high for the New York City-born youngster in the long term, but on his top-flight debut, he looked some way from the finished product even though a smart spin in the box might have earned him a penalty from a more generous referee.
Ultimately, Arsenal were too reliant on Emile Smith Rowe, though the excellence of their new No. 10 was such that you could understand why their build-up play kept going through the 21-year-old. Like a man with a new pair of cargo trousers, he keeps finding pockets. A brilliant spin early in the second half took him careering through midfield, but as Brentford bodies squeezed out his path to goal he could only curl the ball straight at David Raya.
Bukayo Saka’s introduction gave Smith Rowe and Kieran Tierney someone to work with at last. They and new signing Sambi Lokonga were quick in their interchange, direct in their running and inventive in possession: everything their teammates were not. A flowing move that began with White resisting the press and pushing the ball up to Saka deserved a goal at the end but Tierney’s shot was deflected wide.
The second half was Arsenal’s. Until it wasn’t. Until they did that purely Arsenal thing of shooting themselves in the foot en masse. Two defenders at the front post managed to miss Mads Sorensen’s long throw. Leno could not extricate himself from a scuffle with Pontus Jansson. Somehow, no one else picked up the two Brentford players waiting on the goal-line to turn it in, Norgaard the lucky one who propelled his side to their first top-flight points since Clement Attlee was prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II was single.
If this was thrillingly new for Brentford, it was all too familiar for Arsenal. Undone by a newly-promoted team in red and white cannoning long throws into the danger area? Plus ça change. Though, with Manchester City and Chelsea to come before the international break, something is going to have to change for Mikel Arteta.