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Arsenal 1 - Brentford 0 match report: top of the league

The Gunners leave it late, but Kai Havertz plays the hero.

Brentford FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Arsenal beat a stubborn Brentford team 1-0 at the Community Stadium to go top of the Premier League for the first time this season. Kai Havertz’s late goal, his first from open play for the club, was the difference-maker. After some early wobbles, Aaron Ramsdale calmed down and did what was asked of him to keep a clean sheet, with assists from Declan Rice and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who was making up for his own error, clearing balls off the line.

It was not a scintillating performance from the Gunners, who didn’t muster a second half shot until deep into the frame. Some of the credit for that goes to Brentford, who consistently have eight men in their box and frequently have all ten outfield players behind the ball, within 25 yards of their goal. It’s pretty putrid to watch, but it was nearly effective in getting the Bees a result.

Arsenal did well to shut down Brentford’s attempts to counterattack, with Gabriel Magalhaes and Takehiro Tomiyasu putting in notably strong performances. As is their wont, the Gunners nearly gifted the opponents goals. Early in the match, Aaron Ramsdale lingered on the ball and coughed it up. Declan Rice bailed him out (obligatory “Declan Rice was excellent” comment). As mentioned, Ramsdale did well to calm down and have a solid game after that.

In the second half, Zinchenko coughed the ball up and eventually atoned for his error, clearing off the line. For what it’s worth, I think had Brentford scored on that instance, I think it would have been called off by VAR. The Bees won the initial header by going through Tomiyasu’s back.

The Gunners thought they had taken the lead towards the end of the first half, but Leandro Trossard was a fraction ahead of the ball and offside. It shouldn’t have come to Trossard to finish the move. Gabriel Jesus steered a wide-open header directly at Mark Flekken — Jesus should have scored.

The play was a bit out-of-sync, which is to be expected with Gabriel Jesus and Martin Ødegaard coming back from injury. Everything was a beat or two slow from the Gunners. They needed to play faster in the attacking third.

Arsenal also needed to make runs to the back post. Multiple times different attackers played excellent, searching crosses across the face of goal that would have been tap-ins had someone made a hopeful run.

Enter Kai Havertz. Bukayo Saka played a ball to the back post. The German attacker made the right run and headed home to claim the points for Arsenal. It was the type of goal I expected to see from Havertz when he joined the club. His movement is excellent, especially his late-arriving runs into the box. Arsenal should target him there a couple times each match, either for him to score or play the ball back across the face.

It’s trite but today’s match was the type that title contenders win. They find ways to unlock teams / get their goal against clubs that have set up deep to defend. Congratulations to Mikel Arteta on a win in his 200th match in charge of the club. Well done to the team for going top of the Premier League.