ARSENAL 3 BRENTFORD 1

Bill Hagerty celebrates the return to form of a Griffin Park favourite as Arsenal record their second win over the Bees in 71 years  

 

Forget the result – at least, push it to the back of your mind – for this game belonged to Alan Judge. Still brave of heart, he has never quite recaptured the majestic form he frequently displayed prior to the double leg-break that sidelined him for the best part of two seasons from April 2016. Until now. A scorching free kick that had the Irishman’s name written all over it not only prompted furrowed Arsenal brows, but seemed to release any inhibitions remaining in the psyche of a player soon to reach his thirtieth birthday.

No wonder the fans that had made the tortuous journey from west to north London – railway union strikers even more efficient than those on the pitch caused travel chaos – greeted Judge’s goal with an ovation of the kind usually reserved for victory over Fulham or QPR. Hugs and back-slaps from his teammates acknowledged a seismic moment. And for the rest of the game Judge fizzed and fought with all the midfield nous and determination of old. 

But what of the match? If ever there was a game of two halves, this was it. With Dean Smith having made seven changes to his side – Arsenal fielded nine – Brentford were playing catch-up from the minute, the fifth, that Danny Welbeck headed the Gunners in front. 

Only the tenacity of Julian Jeanvier, impressive in the defence engine room, foiled another Welbeck lightning-fast sprint before the 42-cap England frontrunner completed a succession of smart passes by stroking in his second.

Brentford were going nowhere, although NicoYennaris, once an Arsenal Academian and now Brentford’s captain for the day, ballooned a shot so high that it would have cleared the stand behind the home goal if it hadn’t been taller than the Taj Mahal.

Perhaps it was the sheer size of the Emirates that overwhelmed some of the visiting team. Certainly Sergi Canos’s arm-flapping leaps designed to persuade a distant Jeanvier to deliver a crossfield pass may well have been futile because he was mistaken by the defender for an energetic pigeon.   

The 9.000 Brentford fans continued to deliver vocal support that would have raised the roof had there been one, hoping to see the team avenge the 0-1 defeat when these clubs last met. That was at Griffin Park in 1947, in the final match of a disastrous season that saw the Bees relegated from the old Fist Division, never to return. 

But it was more likely a pep talk from Dean Smith and possibly a ration of magic juice that transformed the Bees’ performance after the interval. Some lax Arsenal finishing and resolute Brentford defending saw a pendulum swing that soon had Canos coming within a whisker of pulling a goal back before Judge did just that.  

Brentford were playing some sublime football. Another Judge effort was saved at full-stretch by Bernd Leno, Yennaris came breathtakingly close, only to shoot straight at the keeper. Arsenal looked increasingly puzzled: this wasn’t supposed to be in the script.

The manager’s trio of substitutions – squad returnee Moses Odubajo received especially warm applause when replaced by Henrik Dalsgaard – revitalised Brentford’s momentum. Yoann Barbet penetrated the Arsenal area before being felled by a tackle and a terrace-full of Bees fans willed on the team to equalise as the referee allotted four minutes of extra time.

Okay, Arsenal were the beneficiaries here, hitting Brentford on the break for substitute Alexandre Lacazette to snatch a goal that produced a scoreline that certainly didn’t fairly reflect a thrilling contest.

In the match programme, I informed my mate Charlie, a pen-portrait of Judge was presciently headlined ‘The Comeback Kid’.

‘Welcome home. Alan,’ said Charlie.

Arsenal: Leno, Lichtseiner, Mustafi, Holding, Monreal, Elneny (sub. Ramsey), Guendouzi, Mkhitaryan (Torreira), Smith-Rowe, (Lacazette), Iwobi, Welbeck.

Brentford: Daniels, Odubajo (sub Dalsgaard), Jeanvier, Konsa, Barbet, Sawyers, Mokotjo, Yennaris, Judge, Watkins (Benrahma), Canos, (Maupay).