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AARON RAMSDALE’S smile is back – but it is one of sheer and utter relief.

The Arsenal keeper produced a first half disaster-class on his first Premier League start since September 3, chucked in from the cold with new No.1 David Raya unavailable against his parent club.

Brentford were unable to hold out for a draw against the Gunners.

Two clangers – one with his feet and one with his hands – should have gifted Brentford two goals and perhaps all three points on a frustrating night for the Gunners in West London.

But Kai Havertz of all people stepped off the bench with an 88th minute winner – his first from open play since arriving in the summer – to spare Ramsdale yet more stick, for now.

Ramsdale’s father, Nick, claimed last week that boss Arteta’s handling of his goalkeeping situation has cost his son his smile. It is back, however briefly that will be.

It is unlikely this performance will convince Arteta he made the wrong decision in axing Ramsdale as his first-choice keeper in favour of Raya. If anything, it will do the opposite.

But Ramsdale needed this. His first half display was one of a petrified, confidence-ridden young man who is mentally shot and in need of some love and affection.

He got it from the Arsenal fans at the Gtech, chanting his name throughout, as well as that of Kai Havertz after he sent Arteta’s men top of the Prem for the first time this season.

An opening 10 minutes for the ultimate football purist was given a spark of life as Arsenal squandered their first big chance – Trossard curling over from the edge of the box.

But just as his team were beginning to find his feet, Ramsdale’s jitters surfaced, hoofing a ball straight out for a throw-in under little pressure in his own box.

Aaron Ramsdale gave the ball away in a horror mistake.

Declan Rice spared his blushes with a superb goal line clearance.

That was nothing compared to what happened less than a minute later however, almost gifting Brentford the opener with a howler that had to be seen to be believed.

Gabriel took the goal kick, passing back to Ramsdale, who looked up to a swarm of Bees and lost the plot, stumbling over the ball in his own six-yard box with Yoane Wissa pouncing.

The ball was laid back to Bryan Mbeumo with the goal gaping and Ramsdale floundering only to be saved by Declan Rice’s block on his own line.

Wissa then somehow tapped the rebound wide. Rice punched the air. Ramsdale did not know where to look, blowing his cheeks in the cool winter mist.

Arsenal fans, sensing the desperation of their mentally battered and bruised keeper, chanted his name. it did little to ease Ramsdale’s brittle nerves.

Not long after, his attempt at a long throw up field ended calamitously. The ball appeared to stick to his glove and was launched straight into the turf.

Yet again, Brentford were unable to capitalise on the gifts that kept on coming. He may have been wearing the No.1 jersey, but Ramsdale certainly didn’t look or feel like one.

Away from their keeper’s momentum stunting mishaps, Arsenal were growing frustrated at their inability to break down a committed and gritty Brentford low block.

Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were being marked out of the game completely, forced to feed on scraps and ingenious flicks into the box.

Trossard and Gabriel Jesus wasted a few of these efforts before the pair combined to find the net just before the break before VAR reared its ugly head into proceedings.

Leandro Trossard had the ball in the back of the net in the first half before VAR ruled it out for offside.

Saka’s cute dink allowed Jesus to nip in and beat the offside trap with a header that he should have buried, instead stinging the palms of Mark Flekken for the first time in the match.

The issue arose from Trossard, who bundled in the follow-up having strayed just offside from Jesus’ attempt. A lengthy check confirmed this. Arteta stood motionless.

The Spaniard’s half-time chat livened his boys up, the visitors emerging with a renewed energy as Odegaard came close at the near post from Saka’s cross.

Ramsdale too appeared slightly more confident, despite continuing to get dogs abuse from the home end about being worse than David Raya or only being England’s fourth choice.

Arteta’s patience with the returning Jesus – fresh off a hamstring injury and off the back of a trip to South America with Brazil – ended in the 65th minute, replaced by Eddie Nketiah.

The young forward came close to nodding in the opener straight away but for a brilliant Ben Mee clearing header, and almost caught Flekken on the ball in between his own posts.

Brentford – whose first shot on target came in the 70th minute via Yehor Yarmoliuk – tried to shake things up with the introduction of pantomime villain Neal Maupay.

The Frenchman had Ramsdale scrambling with a downward header from Mbeumo’s chip to the far post but Zinchenko’s incredibly athletic block saved Arsenal’s skins.

The Gunners were beginning to look as nervy as Ramsdale with Brentford looking dangerous on the counter. Declan Rice tried to change that with a low drive skimming Flekken’s post.

But then came Havertz. On in the 79th minute, the German headed in at the far post from Saka’s fantastic cross with a few minutes to spare. A hard-earned and vital three points.

Havertz was the super-sub after coming on to grab the late winner.
Mikel Arteta’s men are now top of the Premier League


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