Arsenal go top as Havertz spares Ramsdale blushes

Kai Havertz spared Aaron Ramsdale’s blushes as Arsenal earned a statement win over Brentford which puts them top of the Premier League before title rivals Liverpool and Manchester City meet on Sunday.

Arsenal, looking to lead the table for the first time since December, went in front through Declan Rice’s flicked header.

The home side continued to dominate possession and Havertz skewed wide their best opportunity to go further ahead.

But, out of nowhere, the good work in an assured first-half performance was undone by Ramsdale’s error.

The England keeper, playing because David Raya was ineligible against his parent club, dallied over a clearance and allowed a sliding Yoane Wissa to score.

Arsenal pushed for a second-half winner without much luck until Havertz popped up in space to head in Ben White’s cross.

Havertz, who Brentford argued should have been shown a second yellow card for diving before he scored, netted in his fourth consecutive Premier League game to put Arsenal a point clear of Liverpool and two ahead of Manchester City.

It led to joyous celebrations at Emirates Stadium, although the Gunners know their title rivals have the chance to go back above them at Anfield on Sunday.

What has been so impressive about Arsenal’s sparkling run to the summit is the way they have torn their opponents apart.

Thirty-one goals in seven league wins at the start of 2024 was indicative of their attacking quality, while their refusal to show any mercy once in command demonstrated a ruthless mindset.

But their eighth win in a row required a different type of mentality.

Before the visit of struggling Brentford, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta talked about his side playing with the “same energy, determination and character” as they had in blowing away the likes of West Ham, Burnley, Newcastle and Sheffield United.

Arteta stressed how they needed to earn the right to win the game – and that is eventually what they did.

It was a completely different performance to the type Arsenal have produced in recent weeks – needing to dig in, stay patient and take the big opportunity when it arrived.

The wisdom in signing Chelsea’s deep-lying forward Havertz instead of a more recognised striker has been regularly questioned, but the German proved his worth once again.

Havertz, who also scored a late winner in Arsenal’s 1-0 victory at Brentford, continued to answer any lingering critics with another goal which could prove vital when the champions are decided in May.

What had been a tense atmosphere inside the Emirates instantly became celebratory, with the home fans eventually feeling confident enough to sing “We are top of the league” in the eighth minute of stoppage time.

The sight of Ramsdale cupping his ears towards the Brentford fans after Havertz’s winner was a clear indication of his relief.

The 25-year-old has been considered unfortunate by many to have lost his place as Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper following Raya’s arrival last summer.

With the on-loan Spaniard unavailable against his parent club, Ramsdale had the opportunity to demonstrate why he should not have been discarded by Arteta.

However, the monumental error which led to Brentford’s equaliser only serves to further justify his manager’s stance.

Arsenal were in utter control when Ramsdale allowed Brentford back into the game, dawdling on a backpass under little pressure and taking an extra touch which allowed a sliding Wissa to block the attempted clearance.

Ramsdale could only watch aghast as the ball looped back into his goal, leaving him looking distraught and stunning the 60,000 home fans into silence.

Sympathetic team-mates comforted Ramsdale when he returned to the dressing room at the half-time whistle, and he showed after the break what he can bring to the team.

Ramsdale had to be alert to push over an audacious long-range effort from Ivan Toney, and reacted quickly to deny Nathan Collins with a free header, to stop Arsenal falling 2-1 behind.

Those saves laid the foundations for Arsenal to go on and nick a late winner, with Ramsdale eventually able to smile after the final whistle.

With Arsenal’s attacking capability, and Brentford’s defensive issues, the game had the potential to be problematic for the visitors.

Brentford have been hampered by a series of injuries to their key defenders, heavily contributing to a poor run which has seen Thomas Frank’s side win just three Premier League games since early November.

Conceding headed goals has been a particular problem and it will be a source of frustration to the Bees that both Arsenal goals came this way.

Rice was able to nip ahead of Mads Roerslev to meet Ben White’s cross from the right, and Havertz found space between defenders to meet another accurate ball from White.

Brentford have conceded 17 headers this season, more than any other team in the division.

After Luton’s dramatic late draw at Crystal Palace earlier on Saturday, Frank’s side are now five points clear of the relegation zone and face a battle to stay in the Premier League for a fourth successive season.

<<BBC>>