Reviewing the Performances of the Fringe Players Against Brentford
The EFL Cup clash with Brentford offered Mikel Arteta the chance to give much needed game time to some of the players that have been on the fringes for the campaign. The fact that Arsenal has been swarmed by injuries didn’t help the gaffer’s cause, but he still managed to assemble a squad that covered themselves in glory after what I’d regard as a spirited performance against Brentford.
There was a debut for Academy youngster, Charles Sagoe Jr, who prior to this game I honestly didn’t know much about. The only academy players that came close to senior team action this season were Reuell Walters and Amario Cozier-Duberry, so to see Sagoe Jr. selected ahead of the latter who featured in pre-season speaks volumes of how the club values him. In his 68 minutes on the pitch, he had 20 touches, one successful dribble and one pass into the final third. The youngster will take some confidence from his debut with the club.
In defense, Jakub Kiwior and Takehiro Tomiyasu put up monster performances that helped in securing a resolute outing at the Arsenal rearguard against Brentford. Kiwior played in left back, a position he plays with regularity for the Polish national team, had 88 touches, 71 passes (91 percent accuracy), one key pass, two clearances, one block, two interceptions and most importantly, one clearance off the line. It was a fantastic performance from the Pole that has really had to bide his time on the dugout, and he would be delighted that he put a performance that would make his manager happy. I would expect Kiwior to feature in some Champions League games and will certainly continue featuring in domestic cup matches.
Tomiyasu has been a Swiss army knife in this team featuring in a lot of positions due to his amazing versatility, but on Wednesday night against Brentford, Tomiyasu played as a center back for the first time in Arsenal colors, and he was on fire. This is a position he features constantly for the Japanese national team, so it was like water off a duck’s back. When Oleksandr Zinchenko came on for Ben White, Tomiyasu’s versatility was on show as he was drafted to right back. When Cedric Soares came on in the closing stages, Tomiyasu switched to RCB in the back five Arteta deployed to see out the game.
To his numbers, Tomiyasu had 72 touches, nine passes to the final third, crossed one corner, made three blocks, six clearances, two headed clearances, three recoveries, one last man tackle and won 75 percent of his duels. You know how Arteta loves it when you win your duels.
The midfield saw the return of Emile Smith Rowe to the starting lineup, his first start for the club since May 2022. Injuries and lack of form had plagued the Hale End Academy graduate has had to spend a lengthy time on the bench watching the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Leandro Trossard and Fabio Vieira get opportunities ahead of him. The acquisition of Kai Havertz didn’t help his cause as well, but what mattered was for Smith Rowe to put up a show when he got his chance against Brentford.
He had an amazing moment in attack where he and Jorginho combined with some intricate passing and after taking on his last man, he had just the keeper to beat but his left footed effort was saved by Mark Flekken. I desperately wanted that ball to go in because I imagined the emotions that would have soared through Smith Rowe if he scored with that attempt. After the game against Brentford, Smith Rowe spoke about how he struggled with fitness and confidence and is ready to go for it,
“I have changed my mentality a bit: just to go for it. I have not really got anything to lose. I have tried to change that inside me. I used to have a lot of doubts. I used to question my confidence at times. But now I am really strong, I am feeling really fit and I am taking that into now.
I really believe in myself now. I have got all the right people around me helping me — my family, my friends and everyone at the club is always willing to help every day in training and off the pitch. I have just got to keep going, keep believing, and I am sure the chances will come.”
Smith Rowe is a player that is loved at the Emirates and it must really be tough for him spending minutes upon minutes on the bench when just a few years ago, he was undroppable and indispensable to the squad, scoring goals for fun. As he rightly said, he will get his chances this season, and I hope that he makes the best use of them. It’s also worth noting that it was Smith Rowe’s 100th appearance for the club, which is a great milestone for the player.
Finally, the goal scorer and match winner, Reiss Nelson. This young winger was close to leaving the club on a free transfer last summer, but he signed a contract extension and with the departure of Nicolas Pepe, he was odds on to be a deputy winger on both flanks when required. He made his first appearance of the season in the Champions League, playing 32 minutes and creating an assist for Martin Odegaard, then he was brought on to bolster Arsenal’s attack in the North London Derby for 13 minutes.
The game against Brentford saw Nelson feature in attack alongside Sagoe Jr. and Eddie Nketiah, and Nelson did really well to score a well taken goal after some good work from Nketiah. Received the ball in a high-pressure environment but had the composure to pick his spot and place it past the goalie. It turned out to be the match winner, which was enough to send Arsenal to the fourth round of the competition.
These fringe players will be expected to strut their stuff in the course of the campaign and I certainly hope that they will continue to do their bit to help the team when summoned by the gaffer.
Follow Gooner Daily on Twitter @goonerdaily.
Visit Gooner Daily’s Facebook page.
Click on the “Follow button” to join Gooner Daily’s Mailing List