BRENTFORD 2 (Canos 22, Norgaard 74)
THE PREMIER LEAGUE returned with a bang last night, as Brentford celebrated their return to the top flight after a 74 year absence with an emotional victory over Arsenal at their new stadium, full for the first time and rocking to the rafters.
Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard scored a goal in each half as Brentford saw off a disappointing Arsenal side, and well before the final whistle, their fans were singing “We are top of the league.”
There is a long way to go, of course, but on the evidence of this cracking night in west London, Brentford can claim plenty more Premier League scalps, while it looks like being another long painful season for the misfiring Gunners.
The pre-match build-up was emotional and spectacular. Octogenarian Brentford fans were interviewed, some who had been at the club’s former ground Griffin Park when it last hosted top-flight football in 1947. Fittingly Brentford’s final game in the old First Division was a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal, but from the start here, once the strains of Hey Jude had died down, it was the Bees who were buzzing for victory.
Thomas Frank’s men may have been full of adrenaline or just well-prepared at how to exploit weaknesses in the Arsenal armoury. Either way, they went at Mikel Arteta’s men from the start, the Bees swarming around their opponents as if their lives depended on it.
The energy came from the bench, with Frank urging them on, and Arsenal looked rattled from the kick-off. Without their star strikers Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette because of illness, Folarin Balogun was given a chance as a lone forward. He managed just one shot, well wide, before being replaced by Bukayo Saka before the hour mark. They exemplified an Arsenal side that was youthful, bordering on inexperienced. Even though Brentford’s only player with any Premier League experience was Ivan Toney, who played twice for Newcastle six years ago, but this was a side packed with seasoned professionals and a smattering of internationals.
They soon took control of a fast-paced game and showed plenty of silk as well as steel. Frank Onyeka, the Nigerian international signed in the summer, sent a looping header just over Bernd Leno’s bar, and the keeper got enough of a touch on Bryan Mbeumo’s volley to tip it on to the near post.
Arsenal’s early efforts were tame. Kieran Tierney hit a long-range shot straight at keeper David Raya, and Calum Chambers had a volley blocked. Brentford were decisive though, when Canos made the breakthrough in the 22nd minute. A controlled Brentford build-up appeared to be snuffed out by Granit Xhaka’s headed interception. But the ball was recycled to Canos deep on the left. The Spaniard cut inside Chambers into the penalty area and hit a powerful low drive that flew past Leno at his near post. This compact stadium erupted in joyful celebration, while Canos was engulfed by his ecstatic team-mates.
Emboldened, Brentford went for the jugular. Canos had a fierce shot beaten away by Leno, who then saved well from Mebeumo after the young French forward wriggled past four defenders. The half-time whistle brought respite for Arsenal, and they emerged rejuvenated for the second half, getting the best of the opening period, with Tierney their most effective attacker. Emile Smith-Rowe led a break from the halfway line and shot well, but Raya made a superb one-handed stop. Xhaka fired wide, not for the first time, and Nicolas Pepe curled one over the bar.
Still Leno was the busier keeper, and dived low to keep out a shot from Mbeumo. But the keeper always looked vulnerable at set-pieces and was nowhere to be seen when Norgaard doubled Brentford’s lead – and effectively sealed victory – in the 74th minute. Substitute Mads Sorensen hurled in a long throw from the left, Leno tussled with Pontus Jansson on the goal line and the ball bounced up high for the on rushing Norgaard to head home from close range. That was it. Arteta made a rash of substitutions but still Arsenal rarely threatened. When Pepe finally got a shot on target from Tierney’s cross, Raya got down well to tip the ball around the post.
The final whistle was greeted with a huge roar from a crowd close to the capacity of 17,000, and while Arsenal’s beaten players slunk away sheepishly, Brentford’s heroes celebrated an historic night with a well-deserved lap of honour.
Raya 8; Ajer 7 (Sorensen 70), Jansson 7, Pinnock 8; Canos 8, Onyeka 7 (Bidstrup 80), Norgaard 7, Janelt 7, Henry 7; Mbeumo 8 (Forss 88), Toney 7
Leno 7; Chambers 6 (Tavares 81), White 6, Mari 5, Tierney 8; Lakonga 7, Xhaka 6; Pepe 5, Smith-Rowe 6, Martinelli 6 (Nelson 70); Balogun 5 (Saka 58)
Ref: Michael Oliver 9/10