Kaya Kaynak, football.london: Brentford must find Saka solution
Kaya Kaynak, chief Arsenal writer for football.london, insists that Brentford must devise a plan for Gunners forward Bukayo Saka.
England international Saka, who has eight goal contributions in 11 Premier League appearances this season, is in line to face the Bees at Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday.
It’s been just under two months since Arsenal last visited Gtech Community Stadium in the Carabao Cup. What have you made of the way things have gone in the 10 games they have played in all competitions since?
Last time, I said that Arsenal still hadn’t hit top gear – and that is still the case as we approach the Christmas period.
They have not yet hit the heights they hit last season, but they are picking up points and are roughly where you would want them to be at this point.
Arsenal are one point behind Manchester City in the Premier League and essentially through in their Champions League group, so it could not be going much better in terms of results.
But I think most Arsenal fans would say performances have left a little bit to be desired, so I do not think they travel to Brentford feeling totally confident. It is a game they should win, and it is a game they have to win if they are going to keep applying pressure at the top of the table.
How impressive has Arsenal’s form been given how many injuries they have had to contend with?
One of the reasons they have not been able to hit top gear is the number of injuries, which has disrupted the pattern.
Last season, Gabriel Jesus was one of the most important players for Arsenal, but he has barely played this time around. Martin Ødegaard has missed the past few games, while Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli have also had injuries. If you look through the most important players in this team from last season, you would probably mention those guys and they have all been out for various periods of time.
Mikel Arteta has been able to find solutions throughout the periods where he has been without his best players and that is one of his new strengths as a manager because, in previous years, he has really struggled with that.
If Arteta has not had his first-choice XI available, he has struggled to find solutions beyond that. But the Arsenal squad is looking a lot better, too. There is a lot more depth and so they have been able to absorb the injuries much better than they would have done in the past.
It’s been abundantly clear in recent years how much of a priority getting back into the Champions League was for Arsenal and they’ve now played four group-stage matches in their first season back since 2016/17. Is it fair to say they are making up for lost time?
Yes, some of Arsenal’s best performances this season have been in the Champions League.
Beating PSV 4-0 at home was very impressive and I know Sevilla are not in the best shape right now, but it is still a difficult place to go and a difficult place to win and they managed to do that.
As I said, four games in, they are essentially through, which is all you can ask for when it comes to a Champions League group, and I think Arteta will be very happy with how they are progressing.
They need one more win to get the job done but, at home to Lens, you would think they would do it.
If you look across the teams in Europe, based on the league table, Arsenal are the second-best team in England; the best teams in England are the best teams in Europe, so I count them as one of the favourites for the Champions League.
Which player should Brentford fans keep an eye on?
Fingers crossed he comes through the international break unscathed, but it is always Saka.
Saka is always the dangerman for Arsenal; the player they look to get the ball to. Brentford will play a back five and target him, because he is such a good player.
Another in-form player who is slightly more under the radar than Saka is William Saliba, who has been absolutely outstanding this season.
Saliba has played every minute in the Premier League and Champions League. Without him last season, their title challenge fell apart, and now he is back, it is looking in pretty good shape again. He is a massive player for Arsenal.
How is Mikel Arteta likely to set up his side at the Gtech?
It will be the standard 4-3-3, depending on personnel. You will see Arsenal play with inverted full-backs and Saka and Martinelli will go one-v-one with their wing-backs. It is going to be a difficult game for Brentford in terms of picking up Arsenal players because they will move all over the place.
This season, Arsenal are a lot better defensively. They are not conceding many goals and, if you look at the xG stats, they have only conceded more than one xG in two games. Their defensive record is impressive and that is something to keep an eye on.
Arsenal ran out 1-0 winners in the aforementioned Carabao Cup game at the end of September. What’s your score prediction for this one?
Brentford were pretty good that night. Arsenal cleared a couple off the line and Aaron Ramsdale made some great saves, so it was not a clear-cut win.
For this one, just because Arsenal need to win it, I will have to go for a 2-1 win, but I am expecting a tough game.
Brentford are in a good run of form and gave Liverpool a run for their money last time out, having already beaten Chelsea this season.
They have got a good record against the big sides and I know Arsenal were very impressive there last season, but we all remember that night two years ago when they were not up for it and got beaten.
Arsenal will know they need to be on top form to get three points at Brentford and I do not think it will be easy, but they will just about get them.