September 14, 2022 4 min read
The Brentford Community Stadium opened in 2021 just in time to see Premier League football for the first time. The Bees had been promoted during the pandemic-shortened 2020/21 season, with manager Thomas Frank galvanising the team and Ivan Toney whacking in the goals. It meant that Brentford, a club in West London, could host their city rivals Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea.
It is interesting to note, with Brentford playing Arsenal at noon on Sunday, that the Bees and the Gunners were First Division opponents back in the 1930s when Arsenal were sweeping all before them. Brentford completed a brilliant rise from the third to the first tier inside two seasons.
They went up from the Third Division South as champions in 1932/33, scoring 90 goals, then were champions of the Second Division two seasons later, scoring 93 goals. They then finished fifth, sixth and sixth in the seasons between 1935/36 and 1937/38, helped by super Scottish striker David McCulloch who moved down from Hearts in 1935.
Rather incredibly, the upstarts from Hounslow beat Arsenal in November 1935 with goals from John Burns and Welsh wizard Idris Hopkins. They then went seven games without a win before a wild Christmas week where they beat Preston twice in two days (5-2 on Christmas Day at Griffin Park, 4-2 on Boxing Day at Deepdale) then trounced Bolton 4-0 at home on December 28. The return fixture at Highbury, by the way, ended in a 1-1 draw, which helped Brentford finish above Arsenal, who were a point behind Brentford in sixth.
In 1936/37, Arsenal finished third, six points ahead of Brentford, with the same results as the previous season between the two: a 1-1 draw at Highbury and a 2-0 win at Griffin Park with Hopkins and McCulloch on the scoresheet. Manager Harry Curtis was Brentford’s version of Herbert Chapman, the man who brought trophies to the marble corridors of Highbury; indeed, the boardroom at the new stadium is named after Curtis, who managed over 700 games.
Arsenal finished as First Division champions 1937/38, with Brentford in sixth. The teams didn’t meet until April 1938 in a month which saw Brentford play seven league fixtures. Rather amazingly, Brentford kept up their unbeaten run against the Arsenal, beating them 2-0 at Highbury (one of only two home defeats for them all season) and 3-0 at Griffin Park. Brentford finished ahead of Chelsea, Liverpool and Sunderland that season, then came the Second World War and a fall through the divisions after relegation in 1946/47. There were no meetings between the teams at any level until 2018.
When Arsenal won the First Division and FA Cup double in 1970/71, Brentford were promoted from the Fourth Division, to which they immediately returned the following season. When Arsenal won their domestic cup double in 1992/93, Brentford were relegated from the second tier (which went under the name Division One), while they were relegated from Division Two the season Arsenal won their famous 1997/98 double in the first full season under the management of Arsène Wenger.
In 2007/08, while Arsenal were contesting a Champions League quarter-final at their sparkling new stadium against AC Milan, Brentford were a mid-table League Two side, struggling in the fourth tier against Dagenham & Redbridge, Macclesfield Town and Accrington Stanley.
Brentford travelled up to the Emirates for a League Cup game in 2018, for which Arsenal rested Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Oezil. They started with three Englishmen – Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck and, wearing number 55 rather than the current 10, Emile Smith Rowe – plus players from Armenia (Mkhitaryan), Germany (Mustafi), Egypt (Elneny) and Uruguay (Torreira). The Premier League team still won 3-1.
As you can imagine, much changed in the Brentford XI between September 2018 and the Premier League fixture in August 2021. Four players were sold to bigger clubs even before that fixture, with Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konza going to Aston Villa, Said Benrahma sold to West Ham and Neil Maupay (now at Everton) heading down to Brighton. Upsetting every prediction, Brentford rolled back the decades and beat Arsenal 2-0 at their new stadium thanks to goals from Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard, plus there was a fine goalkeeping performance from David Raya.
Thanks to their link with Danish club Midtjylland, Brentford welcomed several Danish internationals in their roster, who helped them cement Premier League status along with Cristian Eriksen, who started for Manchester United against Arsenal in their 3-1 win at the beginning of the month. Eriksen was not in the Brentford side who lost 2-1 to Arsenal in the game at the Emirates in February 2022.
Aside from a bumpy loss at Old Trafford, the 2022/23 season has, brought good results for Arsenal as they add two signings from Manchester City (Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus) to a team full of young English talent like Smith Rowe, Ben White and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Brentford, who lost their talisman Eriksen, won two of their first six league games. They have not lost at home nor won away, so it is handy that the game on Sunday will take place in West London rather than London N5.
Having already put four past a hopeless Manchester United, they scored five against Leeds with Ivan Toney grabbing three of them. Arsenal’s defence will need to be alert to Toney and new signing Keane Lewis-Potter, who is still getting used to the top tier after signing from Hull City. A year on from their defeat in the first league meeting between the clubs for 70 years, Arsenal need a solid away win of the kind they used to get in the days of Wenger (and, indeed, Herbert Chapman).
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