EFL CUP: THIRD ROUND-ABOUT
Brentford 0, Arsenal 1: September 27, 2023
Following a dismal performance against Everton, Brentford set out to re-establish themselves as a power in the Premier League. The fixture list dictated they would have to take on Arsenal in a third-round tie of the ELF Cup to achieve such lofty ambition, but hey, who said it would be easy? Not Arsenal, that’s certain.
Head coach Mikel Arteta fielded a starting line-up that lacked some of his squad’s more glittering talents but still presented a lesson in slick passing that made the home team – only a couple of changes from the Everton game – look like… well, look very much like the same bunch that had been unceremoniously thumped 3-1.
Aaron Ramsdale, recalled by Arteta after being usurped by David Raya, had little to do. Bryan Mbeumo, industrious as ever, tried his best but a midfield with Mathias Jensen relegated to the bench seemed stagnant. Yoane Wissa, awarded a golden chance when left unmarked by a mostly diligent defence, unleashed a shot so wayward it was surprising a search party was not despatched to retrieve it.
In the meantime, Arsenal had capitalised on their superiority after just eight minutes when Zanka, one of those selected to compensate for the worrying list of injured regulars, committed a sloppy back-pass that was seized on by an alert Reiss Nelson to beat Mark Flekken with ease.
The Bees looked forlorn as they trudged off but, as usual, Thomas Frank failed to make substitutes at the interval. Instead, he presumably delivering a scalding résumé of the woeful display so far and a demand that his side should pull up their socks.
This, or something similar, worked like a supercharged elixir that made the same players who had fumbled their way through the first forty-five minutes dominate the second, with Arteta fielding five subs in order to keep the inspired home team at bay (yes, Brentford also brought on five substitutes, but that’s hardly unusual for Frank).
Arsenal being what they are – Premier league royalty –the visitors faced drinking in the last chance saloon with great fortitude, breaking away whenever possible to test Flekken.
Such luminaries as Jorginho, Kai Havertz and Ben White must have welcomed Oleksandr Zinchenko and co. for assistance but, Brentford could be thankful for to Bukayo Saka and Declain Rice for their absence, more victims of an injury list.
Arsenal’s class act, short only in the lack of a legal striker, was unsuccessful largely due to the home goalkeeper producing his best performance so far at the Gtech Community Stadium and the do-or-die squad striving for an equaliser gave everything Frank could wish for.
Wissa struck a post with a shot that had Ramsdale’s finger-tips intervention enough to deny a goal and a similar, straightforward smack against the woodwork had the keeper beaten. Wissa, still far from his best, became a constant worry to the defence and Keane Lewis-Potter – sub for Frank Onyeka – lurked dangerously despite sometimes being out-muscled before he could realise his full potential.
All in all, Brentford was transformed into a unit emerging from a dark tunnel into the sun, even if there wasn’t much of that.
Ultimately, Arsenal hung on to their lead. The Bees, having subsequently travelled to Nottingham Forest for what fans hope was a limber up for Manchester United (a game I missed), drew 1-1 with ten men opposition after a shocking goalkeeping error by Flekken that will probably demand a postmortem.
All concerned will be hoping for a swift return for some of the injured, although Rico Henry may be sidelined for the foreseeable future.
The second half revival almost negated the sorry first, I told my mate Charlie.
‘What’s an elixir’, said Charlie.
Brentford: Flekken; Collins, Pinnock, (Zanka) Jorgensen (substitute Ajer 82’); Roerslev (Ghoddos 63’), Onyeka (Lewis-Potter 79’), Nørgaard (Jensen 63’), Janelt, Hickey (Olakigbeat 79’); Mbeumo, Wissa.
Arsenal: Ramsdale; White (substitute Zinchenko 69’), Tomiyasu, Gabriel, Kiwior; Smith Rowe (Ødegaard 92’), Jorginho, Havertz; Sagoe (Gabriel Jesus 68’), Nketiah (Cédric Soares) 87’, Nelson (Elneny 82’).
Nottingham Forest 1, Brentford 1: October 1, 2023
The controversy over VAR – video assistant referee, in case you’ve forgotten – continued apace even before the Premier League meeting at the City Ground. Darren England, initially scheduled to fulfil the role of fourth official here, but was removed following a blunder that denied Liverpool a goal by a correction – ‘Significant human error’ – that came too late. Spurs won the game 2-1. Oops!
Forest’s own problems began after eleven minutes when striker Taiwo Awoniyi fell foul of VAR, which correctly denied his score for being offside, and continued later when Moussa Niakhate’s second yellow card turned red and he departed from the scene. Then, Disaster upon disaster, VAR showed that Christian Norgaard’s header from Matthias Jensen’s free-kick was legitimate.
Argentina international Dominguez put Forest back on terms with a looping header that sailed over keeper Mark Flekken, but despite 13 extra minutes added neither side managed to add to their tally.
Brentford; Flekken; Ajer (substitute Roerslev 89m), Collins, Pinnock, Hickey (sub Ghoddos 69); Jensen (sub Onyeka 69), Norgaard, Janelt (sub Olakigbe 89), Mbeumo, Wissa, Lewis-Potter (sub Maupay 75),
SINGING IN THE RAIN
Brentford 3, Burnley 0: October 21, 2023
‘Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink’, said my mate Charlie as Brentford’s secured their first victory since 19 August to the accompaniment of torrents from the skies. It could have been worse: had the clouds decided to join the afternoon entertainment nearer the kick-off, a flotilla of small boats might have been required to rescue the players and match officials from a flood.
As it was, the Bees found some of the form enjoyed in promising performances at the beginning of the season, most satisfying a 3-0 win over Fulham at Craven Cottage. But that was then and now was now, when supporters were busy calculating how close to the relegation zone their team might fall if failing to improve on the string of draws and defeats recorded since then.
With Neal Maupay making his first start since rejoining the club, hopes, while not high as kites, were certainly boosted. And with the opposition already languishing in the relegation box, three points was a definite maybe if the worrying list of walking wounded could be replaced in Thomas Frank’s squad shuffle.
A near-miss by Maupay – his inside-a-minute shot drifting wide as he bore down on goalkeeper James Trafford – was an indication of the Bees’ determination on the one hand, although on the other there were still those who believed the striker can’t shoot for toffee.
He did his best to convince those doubters after just eight minutes, finding the net from close in after defender Nathan Collins had contributed sterling work in attack. The VAR decision to rule out the goal because of Kristofferson Ajer’s alleged offside was about as popular with the Brentford faithful as losing to Fulham on a wet Saturday, but more of this later.
Later came after 25 minutes when Maupay sent Bryan Mbeumo – at his creative best for much of the game – down the right flank to provide a cross that Wissa was table to tap home at the far post. This could have been the signal for a deluge of chances that saw the Bees forge ahead, but Trafford coped well with them all. A deluge of a different type was to come.
What did arrive after the break was a more cohesive Burnley. As so often happens, Brentford appeared bemused by this and for fifteen minutes or so the game remained far from won. But a candidate for goal of the season so far was just around the corner.
Ajer and Maupay combined on the right with the full-back providing a cross for Mbeumo, cutting inside to find some wriggle-room. His thunderbolt of a shot from outside the goal area left Trafford with nothing to do other than scratch his head as the ball zipped into the top corner.
With the balance of play restored and Burnley’s enthusiasm diminished, the visitors were once again reduced to attempts on goal that rarely troubled Mark Flekken, although an embarrassing miss of a gaping empty net by lively forward Luca Koleosho did nothing to lift the visitors’ spirits.
And then the rains came; very wet rains at that.
Saman Ghoddos, having been substituted for Frank Onyeka, thumped a third goal almost as good as Mbeumo’s and, to complete a miserable afternoon for Burnley, full-back Connor Roberts was despatched to the lonely if dry dressing room having collected a second yellow card.
Thomas Frank was to express the view that the first half was ‘a top, top performance’ in the team’s first home win of a season marred by injury as well as Ivan Toney’s long suspension. As for the rain, who cared about the weather? I asked Charlie.
‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge did’, said my erudite friend.
Brentford: Flekken; Ajer (substitute Roerslev 76m), Collins, Pinnock. Janelt; Onyeka (sub Ghoddos 84), Norgaard, Jensen (sub Yarmolyuk 76); Mbeumo, Maupay (sub Olakigbe 88), Wissa.
Burnley: Trafford; Roberts, Al-Dakhil, Shea, Taylor; Cullen, Berge (sub Brownhill 66); Trésor (sub Bruun Larsen 66; sub Delcroix 80), Amdouni (sub Redmond 76), Odobert (sub Koleosho 45); Foster.
Bill Hagerty is a contributing editor to the Chiswick Calendar.