Arsenal 1-1 Brentford
As if one goal in three games combined with a new-found defensive hesitancy wasn’t enough to get you biting your nails, along comes a VAR decision that took three or four minutes to get the decision… wrong. “I forgot, guv” is not a good enough excuse, but don’t hold your breath for meaningful change from the PGMOL. Omertà then business as usual. Penny for the thoughts of the Premier League, an organisation that prizes its brand above anything, because inconsistent officiating is a blot on its slick landscape.
Sometimes you need to cling on to win, and yesterday was one of those days. We could really have done with VAR doing its job properly because, truth be told, we struggled to score the one and we never really looked like scoring another. Brentford were excellent, caused us trouble all day, had the best chances and enacted the ‘how to frustrate Arsenal’ playbook’ to perfection. Sit deep, break the game up, waste time and stifle us on the wings. It worked for Newcastle and it worked for Brentford here too, so Arteta has plenty of dressing room light bulbs to plug in over the next few weeks.
In short though, we just couldn’t find the answer to the questions Brentford asked, and when we needed calm heads the most – in the minutes right after we did score – we didn’t get them.
To be fair to our defenders, in the ground itself I didn’t notice anything too awry. I didn’t really spot the lack of aerial duels won. They did struggle against Toney, but he really is a nightmarish bundle of physical power and they wouldn’t be the first to find him a challenging opponent.
Fatigue, pressure kicking in, a predictable lineup or opposition that have worked on nullifying our strengths? It could be a bit of all things, but the pressure of being top this side of Christmas cannot be underestimated. We looked a little off the pace in the first half, which could be fatigue, mental or physical. We went up a gear in the second, aided by the fresh legs and ideas of Trossard.
No reason to panic either, of course. It makes the City game on Wednesday absolutely giant, but we’ve been better against the bigger sides than we have against the rest. And not having beaten them in the league since December 2015 has to end sometime, right? Right?
We also set ourselves a ludicrously high bar with our first half of the season, one that was going to be almost impossible to replicate. As the stadium announcer reminded us as we shuffled out, “we’re still top”.
It’s not a bad place to be.