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Smith Rowe's killer instinct earns Champions League-hunting Arsenal vital victory over Brentford

21:33 GMT+4 19/02/2022
Emile Smith Rowe Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal Brentford Premier League 2021-22
After a bitterly frustrating first half for the Gunners, their top scorer this season made the crucial breakthrough with a superb solo strike

Arsenal 2-1 Brentford: Match Statistics

After watching his Arsenal team-mates toil in front of goal during the first half of Saturday's Premier League meeting with Brentford at the Emirates Stadium, Emile Smith Rowe decided to do things all by himself.

There seemed little on when the 21-year-old received the ball from Alexandre Lacazette just three minutes after the interval.

However, within seconds, he had raced towards the penalty area, jinked inside two Brentford defenders and bent a wonderful finish past the outstretched hand of David Raya and into the far corner.

It was a moment of inspiration from Arsenal’s top scorer just when his team needed it most, and it proved the catalyst for a vital 2-1 victory for the Champions League-hunting hosts.

Mikel Arteta’s side had dominated the first half at Emirates Stadium, enjoying 78 per cent possession and firing in 16 shots on goal – the most they had attempted in 45 minutes of football in the Premier League since October, 2017.

However, despite being camped around the Brentford penalty area, they couldn’t find a way through, with Alexandre Lacazette having a goal ruled out for offside and Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Ben White all seeing chances go begging.

With the 0-0 home draw against Burnley last month still fresh in everyone’s minds, you could sense the nervousness around the Emirates as the players trudged back to the dressing room at the interval.

So, the celebrations that met Smith Rowe’s brilliant strike soon after the restart were of relief as much as anything else.

With the battle for the final top four spot looking increasingly tight this year, Arsenal know there is very little room for error over the coming months – especially at home.

This, then, was a huge win for Arteta’s side, even if it was far closer than it should have been because of their lack of ruthlessness in attack.

Lacazette has taken on extra responsibility following the departure of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Barcelona, but he struggled in front of goal again, just as he did at Wolves last time out.

So, not for the first time this season, it was down to Arsenal’s youngsters to make the difference in the final third.

Smith Rowe’s fine strike was his 10th goal of the season in all competitions but the England international has had to bide his time in recent weeks, such has been the fine form of Gabriel Martinelli.

However, with the Brazilian suspended due to his red card at Wolves, Smith Rowe came back into the side and once again showed his killer instinct.

The goal calmed the tension that had been building throughout the first half and allowed the hosts to navigate the remainder of the second half relatively calmly.

Brentford did try to mount a rally late on, but just as it looked like there could be a nervy finish in store for Arsenal, Saka killed the game off with an excellent second.

The 20-year-old now has seven goals for the season and the way he drilled Thomas Partey’s pass in off the far post demonstrated how much he has improved in and around the box.

Brentford did pull a goal back through Christian Norgaard in the closing seconds after a scramble in the box, but it was no more than a consolation for the visitors, who had been thoroughly outplayed.

The win moves Arsenal to within one point of Manchester United in fourth, but they still have two games in hand on Ralf Rangnick’s side.

With 15 games to go, they have Champions League qualification firmly in their own hands.

They are now entering the stage of the season where big players have to step up and drag them over the line.

And in this young Arsenal side, there are no players bigger than Smith Rowe and Saka – as Brentford just found out.