Arsenal return to top spot as Fábio Vieira strike seals win at Brentford | Premier League

This was, as the away support gleefully reminded Ivan Toney, a stroll in the park for Arsenal. It certainly presented some departure from the night, 13 months ago, when they buckled under a battering at this venue. Brentford were quickly subdued to near-silence and their new England call-up barely had a sniff thanks to a visiting defence whose performance was almost immaculate.

Last year Toney had tweeted about a “nice kickabout with the boys” after his side’s 2-0 win; this time references to playground football became especially relevant in stoppage time, when Mikel Arteta felt sufficiently assured to create a piece of history. He sent on the schoolboy Ethan Nwaneri, who had not been born when the Emirates Stadium was completed in 2006: at 15 years and 181 days old, the England under-17 international became Arsenal’s youngest-ever player and the youngest to appear for any team in the Premier League.

Nwaneri made a tackle in his cameo and, taking his time to depart at the end, deservedly savoured the moment. Arsenal’s faithful were generous in their appreciation of the youngster and equally lusty in acknowledging their team’s return to the summit. When they resurface in two weekends’ time it will be for a north London derby between bitter rivals who both look in exceptional shape; perhaps it remains too early to make definitive conclusions but Arteta appears to have moulded a unit that can, at the barest minimum, challenge concertedly for the top four.

They were vastly superior to a Brentford team that did not have a chance until Mikkel Damsgaard tested Aaron Ramsdale late on. Toney was smothered by Gabriel Magalhães even though the Brazilian had clearly felt an injury in the warm-up, also requiring treatment midway through the first half; to Gabriel’s right William Saliba blended graft with grace, one piece of defending when Toney appeared to have broken through taking the breath away with its sheer composure.

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Youngest players to feature in England’s top flight since 1992

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Harvey Elliott (Fulham) 16 years, 30 days
The midfielder came off the bench during Fulham’s 1-0 loss at Wolves in May 2019. He made one other brief appearance for the Cottagers that season before moving to Liverpool, where he has played 14 times in the Premier League.

Matthew Briggs (Fulham) 16 years, 65 days
The left-back became the Premier League’s youngest ever player in Fulham’s 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in May 2007. He made 29 appearances for the Cottagers. Since leaving permanently in 2015 he has played for a number of clubs in the English lower leagues and Denmark and currently plays for Gosport Borough.

Isaiah Brown (West Brom) 16 years, 117 days
The midfielder, now 19, made his top-flight debut for Albion as a late substitute in their 3-2 loss at home to Wigan in May 2013. He joined Chelsea that summer but only made one substitute appearance for the Blues’ first team. He joined Preston in 2021 but was released this year following an injury-hit campaign and is currently without a club.

Aaron Lennon (Leeds) 16 years, 129 days
At the time, the winger became the youngest Premier League player when he came off the bench for Leeds at Tottenham in a 2-1 loss in August 2003. Moved to Spurs two years later and he went on to win 21 England caps. After 10 years at White Hart Lane, Lennon joined Everton in 2015. He has since had two spells with Burnley either side of a year playing in Turkey, but is currently a free agent.

Jose Baxter (Everton) 16 years, 191 days
A 3-2 home defeat to Blackburn in 2008 saw Baxter make his Everton debut as a 78th-minute substitute. He made 13 substitute appearances and two starts before leaving for Oldham in 2012. In July 2015 he was suspended by the FA for failing an out-of-competition drugs test while at Sheffield United, who then suspended him in 2016 for an unspecified reason. He rejoined Everton and then Oldham, before signing for Plymouth in 2019. He retired aged 29 in 2021, after a year playing in the US. PA Media

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It was Saliba who put Arsenal ahead with a more rudimentary action, glancing Bukayo Saka’s inswinging corner across David Raya via the far post and changing the complexion of a game that had begun scrappily in a brisk wind.

There was a brief wait before David Coote indicated it had crossed the line, Raya having scooped the ball back out, but nobody had been in any doubt. Saliba had got in front of Toney before rising high; it was a sequence that spoke aptly of the overall contest.

“You could see how much it meant to Arsenal, they knew it was difficult, look how they celebrated the first goal,” Thomas Frank said. They certainly enjoyed the moment, remaining in a prolonged huddle and perhaps reminding one another to push on from there. Frank had reverted to a back three, giving the fit-again Kristoffer Ajer his first appearance of the season, and Brentford’s starting XI did not look ideally equipped to chase a game.

They had opted for solidity but a superbly constructed second goal made further mockery of that. Granit Xhaka’s deliciously dug-out cross drifted over Pontus Jansson for Gabriel Jesus, whose movement had been too much for the centre-back, to flex his neck to propel an emphatic header into Raya’s top-right corner. Jesus celebrated by kneeling and pretending to polish the boots of Xhaka, whose creative juices have been flowing in recent weeks.

Arsenal were missing Oleksander Zinchenko and Martin Ødegaard through injury; the latter’s absence looked particularly troublesome at the outset and it was asking a lot of Fábio Vieira, the 22-year-old summer signing from Porto, to impose himself similarly. As it turned out Vieira answered every possible question on his first top-flight start, delighting Arteta with his appetite for the game’s muckier aspects and providing the flourish that finished Brentford off.

William Saliba heads in Arsenal’s opening goal at Brentford
William Saliba (left) heads in Arsenal’s opening goal at Brentford. Photograph: Michael Zemanek/Shutterstock

It came four minutes into the second half after Saka, with a dart inside that twisted Ben Mee in knots, found him in a pocket of space. If it was a surprise that no home player was closing Vieira down, it was still quite something to see him arrow a breathtaking 22-yard finish that clipped an upright before bulging the net behind Raya.

The presence of Nwaneri on a young Arsenal bench might have suggested they lack depth, but the fact they can call upon such an accomplished deputy for their captain mitigated such concerns. “He’s a creative player who needs to play with his gut feeling and instinct,” Arteta said. “But what I like as well is the way he competes.”

The contest was over: the atmosphere, among Brentford’s ranks at least, had never really got going and perhaps the midday kick-off was to Arsenal’s advantage. Now it was completely flat and the only significant consolation for Frank was that his players did not fold. Raya saved twice from Jesus and, with a flying one-handed stop, from Saka but this did not develop into the rout it might have been.

Even so, the point was well made. Ghosts are rarely slain this easily but, as Brentford tried to build pressure late on, even long throws of the kind that caused such strife in August 2021 were dealt with comfortably. For Arsenal, a stroll could yet become the headiest of sprints.

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