Another international break is officially behind us. Ahead lies a packed December which sees Arsenal play 10 matches across all competitions before the new year ushers in another break in Premier League play. The Gunners have much to play for, as the margin at the top of the table is still razor thin and a spot in the Champions League knockout stage is at stake. But first, the Gunners need to wrap up the remaining November ties.
Kicking things back off is a trip across London to play 11th placed Brentford. The Bees are in their third year in the top flight, having found a firm footing under manager Thomas Frank. The Danish skipper has done a bang up job for the Bees, having taken the perennial Championship side to a stalwart in England’s top flight after being hired in 2018.
Arsenal’s recent history against Brentford paints a fairly one-sided picture. Since being promoted in 2021, Brentford have managed a single win against Arsenal - the season opener for the 2021/22 season, which saw Brentford play their first ever Premier League match at home against a COVID addled Arsenal side. Legend has it that Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville are still dancing with the home fans after their win…
It’s been one-way traffic since, with Arsenal winning two of the three league matchups since the 2021 season opener, the lone blemish a dubious 1-1 draw at the Emirates last season that saw VAR award an offside Brentford goal that was so egregious that the replay official involved resigned (and was eventually rehired because of course he was) and the PGMOL obligated to formally apologize to Arsenal post-match for effectively robbing the Gunners of two points.
Would it have mattered in the end with the Gunners losing out on the title by five points? Maybe. Am I still mad as hell about it? Definitely.
Nevertheless, here are five talking points ahead of Saturday’s match,
The Return of Ramsdale
It was bound to happen. Once on-loan goalkeeper David Raya overtook Aaron Ramsdale, there was always that lingering issue when Arsenal would inevitably play Brentford. With Raya only on loan from Brentford, he is unable to play against his home club in the PL for fairly obvious sporting reasons. Enter Ramsdale. The displaced shot stopper is in desperate need of match time, especially after Arsenal were dumped from the EFL Carabao Cup. Now, he heads to Brentford where he will almost certainly get an earful of stick from the home fans about losing his spot to their keeper. He is known to thrive against hostile fans, but can he shake off the banter and put in a shift when it matters?
The Iron Curtain
if anything should come as a comfort for Ramsdale, it is that he will be playing behind the league’s most stingy defense. Arsenal’s defense has allowed the lowest xGA in the league through the first 12 matches of the season. Of the recent goals given up by Arsenal over their past five matches, they have been through incredibly lucky shots (Newcastle, Mudryk at Chelsea) penalties (Chelsea), or turnovers/deflections (Burnley). The fact is that teams cannot break down Arsenal easily from open play, and it takes some extraordinary circumstances for teams to find the back of the net against the Gunners.
The big story around the Bees since before the season began revolved around striker Ivan Toney’s suspension for gambling on matches. To their credit, Brentford haven’t missed much of a beat, with Bryan Mbuemo stepping up as the team’s leading goal scorer with 6 on the season. They've bagged nine in their last five despite getting blanked by Liverpool and remain a lethal threat on the counter. They remain a team capable of punching teams in the mouth if they let their guards down.
Health & Fitness
Arsenal return from the break largely intact, despite fears that players like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus were in need of rest, with the latter putting in a full 90 against Argentina for Brazil. Martin Ødegaard, who was left out of international duty following a concussion suffered in training, was training with the first team this week. Emile Smith Rowe remains out with an undisclosed knee injury, with Thomas Partey and Jurrien Timber both out with long-term injuries. Fabio Vieira, who opened his Arsenal account at Brentford last season, is out for three matches after picking up a red card against Burnley.
Brentford, on the other hand, have a spate of injuries, including one picked up by club record signing defender Nathan Collins, who will be unavailable for Saturday’s match.
The battle for the top of the table is incredibly tight, with 5 clubs within three points of the top spot. Arsenal have a tremendous opportunity to find themselves in 1st with a win, as table toppers Manchester City play 2nd place Liverpool and 4th place Tottenham host a surprisingly solid Aston Villa, who are in 5th. A win would put Arsenal on 30 points, which might be enough to secure the lead if other results break their way.
The December fixture bloat will be the acid test that separates the wheat from the chaff. Arsenal have remained one of the league’s best sides in the face of injuries, the stop-start rhythm of multiple international breaks, dodgy refereeing, and, occasionally, themselves. Ending November with two solid wins will bode well heading into the final month of the calendar year.
WHAT: Arsenal at Brentford
WHEN: Saturday, November 25th, 12:30pm EST/9:30am PST/5:30pm GMT
WHERE: Gtech Community Stadium, Brentford
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on the USA network. Streaming on NBCSports.com
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