Nick Bruzon assesses the Brentford player performances after their Gameweek 26 loss to Arsenal and updates his Top 5 over the season so far.
On paper, a 2-1 defeat for Brentford at Arsenal the result pretty much everyone outside of TW8 expected. Not to mention some of those from within.
Moreso when Ivan Toney was once again declared ‘missing in action’ with what was first reported as a minor calf injury but has now run for three Premier League games. With Marcus Forss loaned out to Hull City (and scoring the opener for them in the game at Loftus Road) it was, once again, the combination of Bryan Mbeumo and Yoanne Wissa up top to try and get the goals.
In practice, a game where Brentford were defensively strong but invited that much pressure on themselves that a 0-0 was the best to be hoped for. This, following a first half-barrage as notable for the sheer volume of penalty shouts as shots. Every foray into the box ending with a last gasp tackle, an Arsenal player going to ground or a shout for handball.
Yet The Bees held strong. Unlike against Liverpool or Manchester City, there was no goal conceded in that final five minutes before half-time. The teams went in level.
The hope we’d now go for it in the second period burning strong. Supporters imagining the scene in the changing room with Josh Dasilva, making his first Premier League start, channelling his inner Russell Osman from movie classic ‘Escape To Victory’, saying: “We can win this”.
Sadly, the same script must have been playing out for the home team because just moments in to that second period there was Emile Smith Rowe to give Arsenal the lead. If there was one positive to come out of his goal it was the fact that it forced The Bees to drop the defensive mindset and actually think about pushing up, Brentford. To coin a phrase.
It was attacking intent still dominated by that the endless passing it backwards and sideways, trying to make the perfect opening, but at least we had a bit more of the ball. Even if it wasn’t necessarily in the opposition box.
The Arsenal players and fans getting tetchier (we’re looking at you, green jacket) as the slender lead remained just a moment away from being wiped off. Brentford sensing the opportunity for a wonderful smash and grab as inroads began to be made. Then, Bukayo Saka went down the other end and despite what looked like a foul on Pontus in the build-up, fired home via the far post with little over ten minutes remaining.
There was still time for Christian Norgaard to fire home his second goal of the season against Arsenal to give the scoreline an element of parity but, in practice, playing that deep with so little cohesion or vigour when we had the ball was unlikely to reap much reward.
The last kick of the match saw Shandon Baptiste clear in the box but stumble at the crucial moment. It was a moment crying out for the killer instinct of Ivan Toney but, alas, was not to be. For a second, the headlines were being rapidly rewritten as 2-0 on 90+2 came that close to becoming 2-2. Not this time, though. Not this time.
So who came away with any credit? Who were the top five Bees in a game where our defence came under intense scrutiny?
Brentford Player Ratings from Gameweek 26 (vs Arsenal)
1st (Star player) – Kris Ajer
So Brentford conceded two but it could have been a lot more were it not for a man who is going from strength to strength.
It wasn’t just the number of tackles we saw him make but the timing of these. Granted, he wasn’t alone but it was Ajer who stood out. Who was at the heart of breaking up everything and even found himself playing an advanced position late on. Should Thomas opt for a more traditional formation anytime soon, Kris would be the first centreback named on the team sheet. Not just for his defensive ability as his ongoing desire to try and play the ball forward rather than just ‘hoooooff’.
Hands down our top man in that position at the moment, as we saw again yesterday.
2nd – Ethan Pinnock
If Kris was solid, Ethan was just behind him. Header after header. Block after block.
If Christian Norgaard (and we’ll get there next) is our Mr. Consistent, Ethan is our understated Mr. Reliable. No stress. No panic. Just gets the job done.
Was equally key to maintaining that first half-clean sheet when the ball seemed to be permanently down our end.
3rd – Christian Norgaard
Yes, he got the goal that gave us hope of a late, late point but his place in the top five had been long decided prior to then.
In a game where Brentford invited Arsenal forward time and again, his ability to break up play from that defensive midfield role was key. Likewise, his own presence in our box when the attacks were in their final phase.
4th – David Raya
When the backline was finally breached, there he was. Our safest pair of hands by a country mile, was only beaten by two absolute pinpoint finishes. Prior to then he’d been fast, big, impenetrable. Throwing himself in and around the box to smother anything and everything.
One second half save to the top corner had the Bees fans down the other end gasping with incredulity.
5th – Pontus Jansson
It was close to being Rico or Josh but tough games call for tough calls and, in my opinion, it is our captain who gets that last slot.
With Brentford set up the way they were and not taking it forward, absorbing the pressure was key. Pontus may not have the flair of Ajer or the legs of Pinnock but he has his heart on his sleeve, leather lungs and a head of steel.
Arsenal had 14 corners but threatened with none of them. Hats off to Pontus and his defensive colleagues for that.
All of which means Ivan Toney stays ahead of the chasing pack, but it really is closing up. Christian Norgaard moves into second place ahead of Bryan and Rico, whilst Ethan Pinnock and Kris Ajer are breathing down the neck of (current 5th-placed) Vitaly Janelt.
Brentford Player Ratings – Top 5 Players Overall (after Gameweek 26)
1st – Ivan Toney
2nd – Christian Norgaard
3rd – Bryan Mbuemo
4th – Rico Henry
5th – Vitaly Janelt