Unai Emery has won his first league cup match and his Arsenal side have progressed to the 4th round of the Carabao Cup after beating Brentford 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
The last time Arsenal and Brentford faced up against each other was, amazingly, all the way back in 1947. On that occasion, Arsenal came out 1-0 winners – this time, 71 years later, the score line was higher, but the outcome remained the same.
Danny Welbeck became the first player from any team to score in 3 different competitions (Premier League, Europa League, League Cup) this season when he netted the first of two goals after just 5 minutes.
The Englishman, who has been so very unlucky over the past few years with lingering injuries, was the folly of Brentford on Wednesday night, and put in a fine midweek display.
It was Alexandre Lacazette who netted Arsenal's third at the death, but not before a nervy half hour following Alan Judge's superb second half free kick.
Arsenal lined out, as expected, with multiple changes from the side that bested Everton at the weekend.
Bernd Leno got another cup opportunity to impress between the sticks; a semi-new defence of Stephan Lichtsteiner and Rob Holding – accompanying Shkrodan Mustafi and Nacho Monreal who started at the weekend; and Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi marshalled the midfield.
Up-front was where things got particularly interesting, though, with Emile-Smith Rowe making his debut from the start. The 18-year-old Englishman signed a new contract after some very impressive pre-season displays against top European opposition, so it was a fascinating prospect to see the youngster from the start in a competitive game and thankfully, he didn’t disappoint.
He was flanked by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi, with Welbeck acting as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
If Brentford were nervous going into the match, their fears weren’t alleviated by the opening passages of play, as the home side dominated. There was a little wobble from Leno when it came to a backpass that resulted in what could have been an embarrassing moment very early on, but thankfully that crisis was avoided.
Then, the deadlock was broken, before plenty of the crowd had even arrived at their seats.
From a corner that was taken short and met by Guendouzi and then crossed into the box by the midfielder, Welbeck rose highest to meet a ball with his head that he was always favorite to win. Straight from the training ground, 1-0.
Almost immediately afterwards, Smith-Rowe had his first big impact of the game, rushing onto a long ball and nearly troubling the Bees defence, but it ultimately amounted to nothing.
After 20 minutes, Arsenal looked to referee Mike Dean for a penalty after Iwobi was bundled down by Brentford centre-back Jeanvier, but he was having none of it.
In the 37th minute, Arsenal carved Brentford open with perhaps the most lucid piece of play of the game, which led to the second goal of the first half. Mkhitaryan made his way forward with the ball, and found Iwobi to his left.
Iwobi then played the ball into the path of an onrushing Monreal, who quickly did the same for an onrushing Welbeck.
The Englishman was never going to miss this chance once he found himself in such a good position, and he duly made it two-nil.
Welbeck continued to trouble over the remaining minutes of the half, in what was overall a really great 45 minutes for the striker.
At two-nil up at half time against a championship club, this should have been plain sailing, but this is Arsenal and nothing can be taken for granted.
Both sides traded blows over the opening 15 minutes of the 2nd half, and after 57 minutes, defender MosesOdubajo – on his second debut for Brentford, after returning to the club from Hull this Summer – was bundled down on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area.
Irishman Alan Judge stepped up to take the resulting free-kick, and he made absolutely no mistake – placing an incredible curled finish straight into the arsenal net and ensuring that the new Arsenal stoppers wait for a clean sheet in Arsenal red goes on.
Now, after such a good start, there was pressure on Emery and Arsenal. Arsenal very rarely get knocked out of this competition at this stage – in fact, the only time it has happened in the past 5 seasons was in the 14/15 season, when Southampton recorded a 2-1 victory to knock Arsenal out.
With the pressure on, changes had to be made, and ultimately it was these changes that made the difference. When a manager does not play a full-strength team in a cup match, they often keep some of the first-team players on the bench, just in-case they need to be called upon. Sometimes, this tactic is disastrous – sometimes it works out like tonight.
Alexandre Lacazette took to the field for Smith-Rowe, who put in a little over an hour. Joining the Frenchman from the bench as the game progressed were Lucas Torreira and Aaron Ramsey.
At the death, the ball made its way up to Torreira, who headed the ball onward, and still with a bit to do, Lacazette pushed through the now-tired away defence, and his fresh legs meant he had to edge in breaking free and drilling an effort into the bottom corner.
3-1, and that was that. Brentford scared mid-way through the opening 45, but Arsenal’s forward talent proved too much, with particular commandment having to go to Welbeck on the night.
Brentford have performed above and beyond expectations over the past 2 seasons, and have already put them self into promotion contention after a fine start to their season in the second tier.
Manager Dean Smith made no secret of the fact he thought it was a difficult encounter pre-game, but nonetheless was out to cause an away upset.
Unfortunately for him and his Brentford side, it wasn’t to be and his losing run against Premier League opposition as a manager goes up to 6 matches.
Also going up to 6 matches is Arsenal’s unbeaten run in all competitions! On-paper, I don’t think it’s unfair to believe that Arsenal should have been winning all 6 of these fixtures, but as supporters have seen all to many times in recent seasons, just because a game should be won on-paper does not mean that will ultimately become the case.
Now all eyes revert to the Premier League, where the Gunners have a home fixture against this seasons surprise side in Javi Garcia’s Watford. The Hornets have only performed outstandingly in their opening 6 matches, winning 4, drawing 1 and only losing against Manchester United.
There’s no doubt that Arsenal are in good form, but this weekend’s match will be the biggest test of their momentum yet. For now though, Arsenal can celebrate getting to the 4th round of the 2018/19 league cup.