That was definitely not how Arsenal wanted to start the season. The Gunners fell 2-0 at Brentford in a pretty even match that saw the home side convert their two big chances and the visitors only manage one really good chance (Pepe’s near post shot late on, down 2-0) and some half-chances.
Whether Arsenal should be playing even with a newly-promoted side is a different question. I’m inclined to write this one off because of the late scratches of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Folarin Balogun played well in relief, and a maybe not fully rested Gabriel Martinelli was fine. But there’s a reason Arsenal are paying those two a combined £500K per week. They’re the first choice players, and they’re paid to score goals.
And it was always going to be difficult playing in front of what was a laudably raucous home crowd. I was concerned the fans might lift the home side, and they did just that.
The xG was basically even between the sides. The Gunners didn’t play badly, per se, but they’ll need to be much better to do anything this season. There still isn’t enough creativity or variation in the attack. It’s predictable — work the ball wide to Tierney, cross it back into the box to nobody in particular, oftentimes because there’s only one attacker to aim at.
Twice — once with Martinelli not playing in Balogun and once with Xhaka not playing in Martinelli — Arsenal players in the midfield opted for a safe, slower, less dangerous ball out wide to Kieran Tierney. They’ve got to try the higher risk, higher reward pass. The thing is (we think) that easier ball wide is what they’ve been coached to do.
It also really hurts to not have Thomas Partey, the guy the manager really wanted to make his system work, available. I think Arsenal will be a different team with him on the pitch. And that’s not a knock on Sambi Lokonga, either. The kid played really well today, and Arsenal look to have a burgeoning talent in him. I absolutely love how his first instinct is to progress the ball.
Today, the defense, Arsenal’s strong suit last year, was poor. Pablo Mari was dreadful, playing arguably his worst game in an Arsenal shirt. Ben White did some good things on the ball but looked lost defensively at times. Notably, he twice in the first half was out towards the right side but fell back to the middle and put himself in a bit of a no man’s land when he might have done better to stay wider to help out.
But how many reps do we think Ben White has gotten with Calum Chambers on his right side? Probably not that many. He may not get many more, either because Chambers was dreadful. Mikel Arteta would do well to give Hector Bellerin a shot at RB because I don’t think he can be much worse.
As for the goals, Chambers has to do better on the first. And Bernd Leno shouldn’t be beaten at the near post. On the second, I felt Bernd Leno was pretty clearly fouled and the goal shouldn’t have counted. And a bunch of Arsenal players could have won a header in the box, but they didn’t.
There were also a handful of penalty shouts for Arsenal. I think Balogun’s leg getting absolutely clattered in the first half was the clearest one. Emile Smith Rowe got bumped in the back in the box that put him off but he stayed on his feet. Lee Dixon (and I) thought that had he gone down, he’d have earned a penalty. Kieran Tierney and Smith Rowe both, understandably for their own welfare, avoided wild slides from Brentford defenders when seeking out the contact might have won a penalty. But it would be better if Arsenal didn’t put themselves in a position where they had to rely on a judgment call or a player running into a sliding opponent to win a penalty.
And at some point, the explanations and excuses have to stop. The results still matter. And right now, Arsenal are at best, equal to the sum of their parts. And they’re probably a bit less than that. The players have to step up, and the manager has to put them in better positions to succeed. This team has enough talent to play better than they showed today. They need to start, you know, playing better. I don’t know when the clock will or should run out, but it’s definitely ticking down.
Odds are Arsenal start with zero points from their first three games. Then again, the odds were that Brentford weren’t going to be on three points after today, either. Arsenal won’t be favored against Chelsea or Manchester City, but that’s why they play the games. The Emirates crowd will lift the club next weekend, and the Gunners have played Chelsea tough of late. Manchester City away is a big ask, but who knows, stranger things have happened. And even if Arsenal do start the season oh-fer, everybody plays the same schedule. There will be plenty of opportunities for teams to drop points and for Arsenal to pick up unexpected ones. It’s a long season and a lot can happen. Take a deep breath. Calma. Relax.