Arsenal find two unlikely heroes on dizzying night in Premier League title race

Arsenal 2-1 Brentford: Kai Havertz headed a late winner as the Gunners returned to the top of the table after Aaron Ramsdale’s remarkable second-half redemption act

Jamie Braidwood
at the Emirates
Sunday 10 March 2024 01:25 GMT
Mikel Arteta hails 'exceptional' Kai Havertz after late winner against Brentford

Aaron Ramsdale was on his knees at one end. Kai Havertz was wheeling away at the other, as the Emirates erupted into bedlam and melted in the dizzying sense of a title race that is hurtling towards its end-of-season throes. Arsenal found two unlikely heroes against Brentford, on the night and in their season, just as the pressure of the title race looked to have reached Mikel Arteta’s side when they had the chance to go top. Instead, after Havertz’s late winner, it’s eight Premier League wins in a row. Arteta had a face like thunder at half-time but, by the end, he was kissing his goalkeeper in the middle of the pitch

Kai Havertz and Aaron Ramsdale celebrate Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Brentford
Kai Havertz and Aaron Ramsdale celebrate Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Brentford (Reuters)

On such moments do title races turn and Ramsdale ensured he provided his own with a remarkable second-half redemption arc. Brought in from the cold with David Raya unable to face his parent club, Ramsdale looked to have cost Arsenal when he was caught by Yoane Wissa. But from calamity, Ramsdale rescued Arsenal with two excellent stops in a breathless, frantic second half, including a spectacular save to deny what would have been a stunning, improvised long-range strike from Ivan Toney. For Ramsdale, it may have been his last appearance of the season, but if Arsenal go on to lift the title, he will know he has played his part.

“Errors are part of football, it’s how you react from it,” Arteta said. “It shows his personality, his courage. The whole team, the whole stadium was behind him. We really wanted to win for him in that moment, and he really helped us.”

Ramsdale reacts to Havertz’s winner in front of the Brentford fans
Ramsdale reacts to Havertz’s winner in front of the Brentford fans (Action Images via Reuters)

Unlike Arsenal’s recent run, this was narrow and tense, but it was also the best sort of result. Since the turn of the year, Arsenal had smashed all before them in the Premier League as they closed the gap to the top of the table, carried by a splurge of goals. Wins like this, though, are worth so much more for the belief and determination that Arteta wants his players to show.

Havertz has encapsulated that on his own, as the Emirates belted out his song to the tune of “Waka Waka” at full-time: “Sixty million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again.” Just so. He now has four in a row in the Premier League, his best run since arriving in England, the German eclipsing anything he had previously displayed at Chelsea.

Even Arteta did not expect such an impact, particularly after such an uncertain start. “If you told me in the first two, three months that the whole stadium was singing his name, I wouldn’t believe it,” Arteta said. But Havertz has shown his value. “It’s impossible not to love him,” Arteta added.

Kai Havertz was Arsenal’s match-winner
Kai Havertz was Arsenal’s match-winner (PA Wire)

It was crucial that Havertz found that winner, his header planted past Mark Flekken from Ben White’s cross. There was a sense of desperation creeping into Arsenal’s play and it would have been a waste had they failed to take the opportunity to put pressure on Liverpool and City ahead of their title rivals meeting at Anfield tomorrow. The standards that both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have set in previous title races have made clear that you cannot afford to drop points in such fixtures.

The Emirates knew it and the positivity of their recent run would have vanished had Brentford managed to hang on to a point. Arsenal were chasing the game, each attacking wave becoming a bit more frantic and hurried. All the while, the frustration and whistles from the Arsenal fans grew at what they perceived to be time-wasting tactics from Thomas Frank’s side.

But who could blame them? Someone had to try and slow Arsenal down. Brentford refused to be as allowing as Sheffield United, Burnley, West Ham and Newcastle, all swept aside by Arsenal with 21 goals scored. Brentford were without a first-choice defence but were minutes away from an unlikely result.

Havertz heads past Flekken, but the match-winner could have been sent off
Havertz heads past Flekken, but the match-winner could have been sent off (Getty Images)

Frank let out a huge sigh. “It’s so tough on the players,” he began. “It was almost a defensive masterclass.” He was further aggrieved after discovering that Havertz, already on a yellow card after catching Nathan Collins in the first half, had escaped another following a “clear, clear dive” – in Frank’s words – midway through the second half. For Brentford, the threat of relegation won’t go away and they are now winless in five.

They almost hung on. Although Gabriel’s header was cleared off the line and Declan Rice hit the top of the upright with an almost perfect curling shot from 25 yards, Brentford prevented Arsenal from creating chances in the second half. The injured Gabriel Martinelli appeared to be a costly absence for Arsenal. So, it seemed, was Raya.

It was looking set to be a nightmare return for Ramsdale. Deposed by Raya, Ramsdale had not appeared in the Premier League since the return fixture at Brentford in November. With Arsenal out of the FA Cup, he had not played at all since they were knocked out in the third round by Liverpool two months ago.

Ramsdale is closed down by Wissa for Brentford’s goal
Ramsdale is closed down by Wissa for Brentford’s goal (Reuters)
But the goalkeeper then saved Arsenal to keep out Toney and Collins
But the goalkeeper then saved Arsenal to keep out Toney and Collins (Action Images via Reuters)

The time he spent on the ball suggested he was not up to speed. Ramsdale took an age to clear and Wissa caught him, sliding in close to the goalline. It rebounded horribly for Ramsdale, back over his shoulder and in off the post, but wonderfully for Brentford, who had a lifeline and a way back into the game after Rice’s excellent header opened the scoring.

But Ramsdale would then keep Arsenal in it, and wonderfully so. Toney was the scourge of Arsenal at the Emirates last season and, after being linked with a move to the Gunners in January, almost returned to haunt them again. An inspired half-volley off his left foot, from all of 40 yards, looked to be looping in before Ramsdale scrambled back to claw it wide of the post. Ramsdale settled and produced another excellent save to deny a back-post header from Collins.

It steadied Arsenal, as Ramsdale grew in confidence and began to give some back to the Brentford fans behind his goal. As time ran out, captain Martin Odegaard continued to play with clarity, his touch a level above anyone else on the pitch, and he played in White. While Arteta had turned to Gabriel Jesus from the bench, he found his winner in Havertz, Arsenal’s answer to their missing No 9. It sparked those celebrations at both ends, with Havertz and Ramsdale, yet Arsenal were united. Now for one night at least, they are leading the title race again.

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