FLASHBACK: Tough Night In West London Proves The Building Block For Success

Arsenal will be looking to make it eight wins on the spin on Saturday as they welcome Brentford to the Emirates. The Gunners were held to a 1-1 draw by the visitors in the corresponding fixture last season, due in large to a highly controversial VAR error that enraged the hosts. 

Lee Mason, the VAR official last season, forgot to draw the lines to measure whether Christian Norgaard was in an offside position in the build up to Ivan Toney's equaliser. The error ultimately cost Arsenal two valuable points in the title race. 

The Gunners will be hoping that their football does the talking this year though, and enter into this fixture having won their previous seven and racking up 31 goals in the process. 

Arteta's Watershed Moment

Usually I would create a Top 5 article, but seeing as we have only played Brentford 19 times in our history, it makes it quite a challenge! So instead, I thought I'd write about something that was pivotal in the Mikel Arteta era.

As Arsenal entered the 21/22 season, there was of course optimism that things were about to change. During the pandemic, despite winning an FA Cup, Arsenal had struggled in the league and had finished eighth in each of the previous two campaigns. The visit to Brentford represented the chance to welcome a new era at the club.

It was the first time that a Premier League game was able to go ahead without crowd restrictions, and as a fan in attendance, it was an emotional moment walking into the ground. The thrill of entering the stadium was of course a familiar feeling, but this felt different. The atmosphere was intoxicating and despite being at the GTECH Community Stadium for the first time, it felt like I was at home. 

The rumours before the game though dampened the expectations of the Arsenal supporters. News was filtering through that both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were not available. 

This meant that Arteta was forced to field Gabriel Martinelli, a player who had just returned from the Olympics, and Folarin Balogun, someone completely unproven at this level. Factor in first starts for both Ben White and Sambi Lokonga, and it promised to be a difficult night in West London. 

That is exactly what transpired, as the newly promoted side scored twice through Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard to inflict an opening day defeat to The Gunners. Cue pandemonium among the home supporters and significantly, intense criticism from those in the media.

Gary Neville was particularly critical of the Arsenal performance, suggesting that the visitors had been bullied. He later added: "I don't know what the plan is at Arsenal. The recruitment has been really poor. They are just poor at it compared to other clubs." 

Perhaps a relevant point at the time. Arsenal seemed like a club struggling for direction and even the most ardent supporter would have struggled to predict that the club would be challenging for the title just two years later. 

Ben White was heavily criticised for his performance in the defeat, which again prompted questions as to Arsenal's recruitment strategy. 

Patience Required

While it may not have been clear where the club were heading to Neville and Co, the hierarchy clearly knew what they were doing. They had a plan for their squad, but knew that it would take time to overhaul it completely. 

Arsenal are now reaping the rewards of that patience. It would have been easy for the club to pull the trigger on Arteta following the opening three games of that season. The Gunners followed the defeat at Brentford with losses to both Chelsea and Manchester City, and many were concerned that this would be another season of midtable mediocrity. 

Although Arsenal didn't quite manage to clinch Champions League football, the squad was beginning to take shape. Arsenal had spent the season developing into a side capable of competing, but it was the transition over that summer that would really accelerate their evolution. 

From that night at Brentford, just three of the starting XI remain. It has been a seismic shift in North London and the strategy is clear for all to see. The pain felt back then was a necessity for this side to progress. 

Mikel Arteta, knows exactly what we need.