Arsenal predictability makes them ‘easier’ to play against, Brentford manager Thomas Frank reveals after draw
LONDON — It took 21 games to get there, but Premier League clubs seem to have found at least a blueprint for how to stop Arsenal. For the first time this season, the leaders have played two league games without a win, they can count themselves lucky that they even scored a point in a 1:1 draw with a strong, well-trained brentford side.
Arsenal’s huge strength this season is their predictability. There isn’t much drama in the minutes leading up to the team’s news an hour before kick-off. If all of Mikel Arteta’s players are in good shape, you can issue an XI without much thought. The same players who lost in Everton last Saturday entrusted to make amends seven days later. They have earned this right.
Likewise, Thomas Franck was not in for surprises hours before kick-off. He could spend a week coaching his team knowing not only how Arsenal would play but also who would play for them. “Does predictability make it easier? In a sense, yes, ”admitted the head coach of Brentford. “They are very good at what they do. It’s about eliminating their threat.
“Clearly [Gabriel] Martinelli and [Bukayo] Saka, we are well aware that we can double them. One moment we didn’t get it right was the moment they scored [through Saka]… They are the two strongest strikers in the Premier League at the moment.
“Except [the goal] We defended very well against Arsenal. I don’t think they had much of a chance. Yes, they had dangerous moments, but we were very pleased.
Frank revealed after the game that he did not watch Everton’s 1-0 win over Arsenal in the Gunners’ previous match, but his Brentford side played as if they had received a message from Sean Dyche and the boss Newcastle’s Eddie Howe, who earned a 0-0 draw here last month. Both have quelled much of Arsenal’s momentum by ensuring their full-backs are always lending a helping hand against Saki and Martinelli.
Like today, Arsenal spent most of the match crashing into the brick wall erected by their opponents in the final third. Pretty much unable to get around the back, they found no enjoyment playing through the center where Martin Odegaard had Matthias Jensen as a shadow. The teams decided not to be beaten by the club’s captain, Saka or Martinelli. Still Eddie Nketiah, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Granit Xhaka have not proven themselves capable of winning these matches.
Instead, they rather rejected the most promising positions of their teams. This time, Zinchenko’s decision was deplorable. He has recorded three of the 10 shots from outside the box that Arsenal have taken, the most this season. Few of them were great scoring moments, more often it was the reaction of a team that ran out of ideas.
As Frank pointed out, Arsenal’s only major chance came not from finding another way around Brentford, but from Plan A, which paid off after more than an hour of waiting. Odegor managed to elude Brentford’s attention for what seemed to be the first time in the game, eluding an overlapping Saki on the right channel. Demonstrating the strength to intimidate Jensen and the accuracy to get the perfect cross fast enough that Brentford couldn’t roll back, he shot below the rear post. Trossard was ready to help, taking the pressure off the Emirates for an hour.
It was the kind of goal that comes when you dominate the territory like Arsenal did, but for most of that game it was obvious they had no response to Brentford’s attacking weapons. In defense of Gabriel and William Salibafew centre-backs could have gotten the better of Ivan Toni in the mood he found himself in. Brian Mbeumo rushing past him, visitors constantly annoyed the counter.
However, their biggest threat would come from dead balls. Whether this is Arsenal’s Achilles’ heel remains an open question. Their last three goals were conceded from set pieces, and since the start of the year they have been the fourth most anticipated goal from set pieces. Equally, they have played teams like Newcastle, Everton Brentford, who have the inherent advantage of being a collection of very tall players. Lisandro Martinez heads the ball Aaron Ramsdale spill means set pieces coach Nicolas Hover has an explanation? Those four goals are all the goals Arsenal have conceded in the Premier League this season.
“You want to improve in all areas,” Arteta said. “We are the third team in terms of defensive standards. We want to be the best.” It was not immediately clear what metrics he was using in this assessment, but judging simply by the goals conceded in no-penalty dead-ball situations, only West Ham have conceded fewer than Arsenal’s four.
“Today we were talking about not giving anything, because from the very beginning of the game, set pieces are their strongest point. I thought we controlled them well enough. I think we controlled them in that situation, but not like that because they were offside and it’s always unfortunate when that happens because it costs you points, so set pieces are very important in this league, that’s for sure.”
A goal scored from a set piece was not without controversy. Jensen’s free kick from the left was caught by Tony, who had space. Ethan Pinnock fought with Gabriel. It eventually got to Christian Norgaard on the other side of the net, where he tossed the ball over to Tony to land the killing blow. VAR did not offer a reprieve when it investigated whether Pinnock was in an offside position jostling with the Arsenal defender. He didn’t seem to appreciate if Norgaard was also behind Arsenal’s back line.
“I just looked back and it’s offside,” insisted Arteta, who will be awaiting clarification from the PGMOL judging panel. “They will probably give an explanation later in the week. Today we don’t have it.
“You have to apply certain principles in defense and you do that by sticking to the rules, suddenly you change the rules and then you have to change your principles. So tell us early so you don’t hide the lane so high later, because you will always have an advantage if you get blocked.”
Frank admitted that Pinnock was offside. “The next question is whether he affected the fact that we could cross the ball,” he added. “They decided it wasn’t enough. I agree”.
After the Emirates Stadium bubble burst, Arsenal never looked like they could pull themselves together. It didn’t help that the depth that January was supposed to give them didn’t really exist until Gabriel Jesus, Emil Smith Rowe And Reiss Nelson not available for contributions. Arteta threw Fabio Vieira entered the fight late, but it soon became easy to see why he stayed with Xhaka for so long, even as the Swiss midfielder struggled to use the space that Brentford had given him.
Vieira shone as a substitute for Odegaard in the return match. Since then, he has struggled to adjust to the pace and fitness of the Premier League; his only memorable contribution today was a free-kick into the hands of David Ray with the last shot of the game.
Ultimately, it may turn out that Arsenal will not have to change so much. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that Pep Guardiola will mentor Jack Grealish And Riyad Mahrez do the back six when Manchester arrive in the Emirates on Wednesday evening. Most teams will not defend as well as Brentford today, not only in defending their flanks, but also in the last man tactics that Pinnock used to make it impossible for Nketiah to be exploited at close range.
Bring back Gabriel Jesus, who moves so easily from the central striker position, and it will not be easy for teams to outnumber Arsenal in vast territories. A few more Trossard-level players coming off the bench will demand some more from opposition defenders.
But the purposefulness of visitors today offers further evidence that the plan drawn up by Dyche, Howe, and now Frank can be effective. For so long this season, it didn’t feel like Arsenal could be stopped by anyone other than themselves. Brentford had to dissuade the rest of the league from this particular notion.