Arsenal welcome Brentford to the Emirates on Saturday, looking for a bit of revenge for their opening day defeat. It feels like an eternity since the Gunners last took the field in the Premier League: it’s been more than a week, which in PL time, is substantial, especially when several of the club’s Top Four rivals have played two matches.
And my how the table has turned of late. A few weeks ago, it was Arsenal’s rivals with several matches in hand looking to leapfrog Mikel Arteta’s side by stringing together some results. Now Arsenal have 2 or 3 games in hand over the teams ahead of them and the ability to move multiple results clear with a strong run of form.
Dropping points, however, has been an early 2022 theme (as exhibited by the other “top” clubs), so the Gunners shouldn’t take anything for granted. If you’ll recall, Brentford beat Arsenal 2-0 in the season opener. Now, there are a bunch of reasons why I don’t think there ismuch predictive value to that result (Arsenal having several positive COVID tests the day before, other players unavailable, Brentford’s first home Premier League match in decades, etc.), but the Bees can be tricky.
Brentford are somehow simultaneously better than I expected they’d be and not as good as I thought they were based on their early-season performances. They’re one of the highest pressing teams in the Premier League, and their press helps them to an upper-half defense. They struggle to turn that press into meaningful attack. They break quickly from wherever they win the ball, but they struggle to turn attacking moves into shots and shots into goals. Shoutout to Scott Willis (@oh_that_crab) for his preview tweet thread, which helped coalesce my Brentford observations.
One of the reasons that Brentford haven’t been as successful with the ball is that Ivan Toney is not scoring at anything close to the clip he did in the Championship — 33 goals last season, just 6 this year. That’s not to discount him (or jinx Arsenal). Toney is still a dangerous player, especially on the break, and can create chances and finish them. Fortunately, the Gunners may not have to worry about him: he’s recovering from an injury, has only done light training, and is a match-day decision. Christian Eriksen is also not quite ready yet for the Bees, although he’s expected to make his miraculous return to Premier League action soon.
Arsenal will be without Gabriel Martinelli, who is serving his one-match suspension for his (ridiculous) two yellow cards against Wolves. Bernd Leno has recovered from COVID and is expected to be on the bench. Miraculously, the Gunners have no other injuries. ***knock on wood***
According to several different predictive models, the Gunners have the best chance of any team in the Premier League at finishing fourth and a small chance to pass Chelsea for third. They control their own fate to return to the Champions League. Let’s hope they don’t fumble the bag.
WHAT: Arsenal vs. Brentford
WHERE: The Emirates
WHEN: Saturday, February 19th 7 am PT | 10 am ET | 3 pm BT
US TV: Streaming only on Peacock.
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