It’s funny how the world works, sometimes. In September, after their first loss of the season, Arsenal bounced back on the road against Brentford with a resounding 3-0 win over the hosts. Now, as luck would have it, Arsenal, fresh off their second loss of the season, host the Bees at the Emirates, hoping to bounce back once more. Time is a flat circle, after all.
All coincidence aside, the fact remains that Arsenal’s 1-0 loss at Everton last weekend was a wake-up call - perhaps a needed one. But the match, like much of the other happenings in the soccer world, has been eclipsed by the news on Monday that Manchester City had been charged with over 100 counts of financial impropriety by the Premier league and could face potential punishments including steep fines, transfer bans, point deductions, and even relegation.
Do those charges have any bearing on Arsenal or this match in the immediacy? No, not really. But the magnitude of the charges leveled against City, the cream of the PL crop for a decade, are too massive to be ignored. There is no doubt that the Arsenal players have talked about it, especially with Arteta and former City players amongst the ranks. It might not matter to the match, but it certainly matters in the grander scheme of things.
The potential for this issue to become even a minor distractor is worth considering, I think. The Gunners, fresh off a humbling and frustrating loss away to relegation candidates Everton, already had the task of getting their heads right to refocus on their title chase. And now, a giant cloud has settled over the league, a cloud that has the potential to take the Gunners’ eyes off the prize. But if Arsenal have shown us anything this season, it is a remarkable ability to respond to adversity.
When Arsenal traveled to the Bees in September, the Gunners had just suffered their first loss of the season, a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United. Mikel Arteta’s side showed their mettle the following match against Brentford, bouncing back in convincing fashion. That September result against the Bees feels like a proverbial lifetime ago, though, and in that time, Thomas Frank’s side has quietly become a truly formidable unit. Brentford are in the best form of any side in the league, earning 13 points from a possible 15 over the last five matches, good for 7th place on 33 points.
Riding the electric form of Ivan Toney, whose 13 goals are behind only Erling Haaland and Harry Kane, the Bees have not lost a league match since the beginning of November. In that span, they beat Liverpool 3-1, defeated City at the Etihad (thanks, by the way), and battled Spurs to a draw (thanks, again). Ben Mee has been the heart of a stout defense that has allowed only two goals in their last six matches. Despite their own potential controversy over accusations that Toney gambled on matches, the Bees have been one of the most consistent teams this season.
Last season’s Arsenal had a frustrating knack of letting one loss become two or three. This team is markedly better than last year’s, but that ghost still lingers in the back of the collective Arsenal mind. There is always a sense of foreboding, even when the Gunners are flying high and perched atop the PL table. It’s ingrained in the fabric of the Emirates-era Arsenal, for better or for worse. But it is up to this team to carve their own path and set the tone for a more fruitful future.
It seems a little overly-dramatic to call a mid-season match a “must-win,” but this one certainly feels weightier than most. With a win, the Gunners can put themselves potentially 8 points clear of City ahead of their midweek match against the title holders with a game in hand. The general consensus seems to feel that this is City’s title to win and Arsenal’s to lose, regardless of the evidence to the contrary. A loss or a draw only stokes those flames further.
With City’s looming charges, Manchester United dropping points to Leeds on Wednesday, Newcastle’s penchant for draws instead of wins, and the sizeable gap between Arsenal and Spurs in 4th, a win is an opportunity to put more daylight between them and the rest of the pack. Hopefully, the Gunners’ will do what they have done so many times this season - win.
For discussions about line-ups and score predictions, do yourself a favor and check out Nathan’s post.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Brentford
WHEN: Saturday, February 11th 10:00am EST/7:00am PST/3:00pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on Peacock.
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