It is by no means a major London derby, but there were more than just points on offer as Arsenal made the trip to Brentford on Sunday.
The Gunners’ pride had been severely wounded 13 months earlier, when their Premier League campaign got off to a dismal start with a startling 2-0 loss in the west of the capital. During the defeat, Mikel Arteta’s side, who had been struck by coronavirus, even conceded from a long throw-in to raise serious questions of their quality and mettle.
Things could hardly have been more different over the weekend just gone as Arsenal earned one of their most convincing victories of the season thanks to goals from William Saliba, Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira. The performance and result exemplified the progress the Emirates club have made under the tutelage of their young manager, restoring them to the top-flight summit at this early stage.
Arteta, 40, has already weathered plenty of storms during his fledgling career as a first-team boss and showed just why his future is so bright with his response to last season’s disappointment at the Gtech Community Stadium. Instead of allowing external furore to seep into his dressing room, the Spaniard used the defeat as something which could benefit his youthful squad in the long run.
“What a lot of people described as a bad day, as an embarrassing day, I looked at it as a character-building day,” Arteta told reporters after Sunday’s match as he reflected on the fixture just over one year earlier. “If you want to become a different team, you have to learn from those moments, to go through those moments and then days like today happen.”
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Arsenal showed plenty of character not just with how they dominated proceedings against the Bees, but also because the match came on the back of a 3-1 loss to rivals Manchester United which put an end to their five-match winning run.
Of course, a shift in mentality can only take a team so far – there has also been significant upheaval in the squad over the last year. Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari, two members of the back four which lined up at Brentford last season, have moved on permanently and on loan respectively.
This campaign, William Saliba has forged a rock-solid partnership with Gabriel which looks like one of the strongest in the Premier League. “It’s true that we replaced players with different players as well,” Arteta acknowledged as he compared the two drastically-different results at the same stadium.
Such is the scale of Arsenal’s transformation – in terms of mentality and personnel – they have even been thrust into the title conversation. In typically level-headed fashion, Arteta was keen to emphasise it is a long old season when probed on his side’s chances of domestic glory.
“Push to be the best that we can be and that’s the aim and then the table won’t lie after 38 games,” the former midfielder responded. Some fans will look at the teams that Arsenal have played in their opening seven games to pour cold water on their true title credentials, arguing they failed their most stern test at Old Trafford – and those fans do have a point.
The Gunners must replicate their brilliant, dominant performance against Brentford as they take on local rivals Tottenham in their first game after the international break to truly hammer home their quality. Regardless, there are no longer any “embarrassing” sentiments on the red side of North London, which is a credit to Arteta and his players.