In their sixth straight win in all competitions, the Gunners defeated Brentford 3-1 on Wednesday to move into the fourth round of the League Cup. Emery gave the evening off to Cech, Ozil, Xhaka and Aubameyang while making 9 changes to the side that sank Everton 2-0 last weekend with only Mustafi and Monreal retaining their starting spots. Maybe the Spanish manager would have also rested Mustafi and Monreal if Sokratis, Kocielny, Maitland-Niles and Mavropanos had not been injured.
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Emery didn’t underestimate Championship side Brentford as he included just one academy player in his starting lineup: Smith-Rowe. A decade ago, Wenger would have started more youngsters in that competition. But nowadays, the gap in quality between academies and the Championship has become bigger.
A day after Derby County knocked out Manchester United on penalties, the Bees were hoping to cause another upset. They had 5 internationals (Dalsgaard, Mokotjo, Judge, Mepham and Sawyers), 3 players coming from the French league (Maupay, Jeanvier and Benrahma) and 4 players with a bit of experience in the Premier League (McEachran, Daniels, Yennaris and Canos).
Arsenal had the game under control in the first half, reaching halftime with a 2-0 lead. But Brentford proved more daring in the second half, even enjoying a good spell of domination. Embarrassingly, an equalizer from the visitors looked more likely than a third goal from Arsenal. Emery put an end to the suspense by sending on Lacazette, Torreira and Ramsey in the last 30 minutes.
- Welbeck is showing his value
His contract ends next year and no one can deny his value as an impact player. Welbeck can play in any position of the front three, he can score goals off the bench, and his work-rate and attitude have never been questioned. Obviously, the key question is whether Welbeck wants to be a regular starter in an average side or if he’s happy to compete for a spot in a big club. Welbeck opened the scoring in the fifth minute by heading home a cross from Guendouzi. The England international then doubled the lead by converting a cross from Monreal in the 36th.
- Smith-Rowe still has a lot of work to do
I was surprised that Smith-Rowe got the nod over Nketiah. On Wednesday, Smith-Rowe sometimes looked out of his depth. He wasted two good situations because of a lack of composure in the final third. Smith-Rowe missed his cross for Welbeck in the 54th before overhitting a final ball in the 56th. His best move was a run in behind to collect a long ball from Elneny in the seventh minute. Jeanvier deflected Smith-Rowe’s angled shot out for a corner. At 18, Smith-Rowe is a promising youngster but he’s far from the finished product. He will probably win more duels by bulking up a bit.
- The Gunners still struggle to play out from the back
Playing out from the back is very demanding because it requires good technique, focus, and movement. Leno nearly scored an own goal in the opening minute by miscontrolling a back pass. While trying to build up play, Holding in the 15th and 59th and Mustafi in the 35th gave the ball away. Those 3 turnovers led to 3 Brentford shots. Is the risk worth it? Maybe if we look at the second goal which started with Leno’s lobbed pass for Lichtsteiner. But the Gunners definitely need more practice on the training ground.
- There’s a reason why Arsenal fans dislike Dean
His controversial calls against Arsenal have been well documented. Dean added another chapter on Wednesday by denying a penalty in the 20th when Jeanvier tripped Iwobi inside the area. The referee could have used VAR technology to make the right call but he preferred not to. Then Dean failed to give Yennaris a yellow card for a stamp on Guendouzi in the 26th. That leniency was all the more stunning that Lichtsteiner was booked for an obstruction in the 28th.
- Guendouzi is learning the hard way
There’s a reason why Emery preferred to play Xhaka alongside Torreira in the Everton game. Guendouzi may have more potential than Xhaka, but the Switzerland international has more experience. The naivety of the French teenager nearly cost his team on Wednesday. His turnover in the 56th led to a scoring chance for Watkins, who got bullied off the ball by Holding. A minute later, Guendouzi gave away a cheap set piece by shoving Odubajo from behind. Judge cut the deficit to 2-1 with a curling free kick.
Guendouzi wasn’t really helped by Emery’s decision to play him alongside Elneny in central midfield. Neither Guendouzi nor Elneny is a ballwinner. It wasn’t clear who was supposed to shield the back four. Emery finally solved the problem by sending on Torreira for Mkhitaryan in the 76th as the team morphed into a 4-3-3 formation with Torreira, Elneny and Guendouzi in midfield and Lacazette, Iwobi and Welbeck in the front three. Torreira killed a dangerous play by intercepting Benrahma’s through ball for Maupay in the 82nd.
- Emery didn’t gamble
The Spanish manager played it safe by replacing Smith-Rowe, Mkhitaryan and Elneny with Lacazette, Torreira and Ramsey. Those substitutions helped Arsenal see the game out. Lacazette swapped passes with Ramsey in the 87th but was put off by Barbet while pulling the trigger. In stoppage time, Lacazette won a 50-50 ball and made it 3-1 with a strike into the bottom corner.
In a similar situation, I think Wenger would have gambled on youth to see if they had the mental strength to overcome adversity. Last year, Wenger sent on Nketiah when the Gunners were trailing 1-0 against Norwich in the League Cup. As you all remember, Nketiah scored twice to lead Arsenal to a 2-1 win.