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AFTER Kai Havertz saved his bacon with the late winner, Aaron Ramsdale cupped his ears to the Brentford fans.

Moments earlier, the away supporters had just struck up another chorus of “You’re just a s**t David Raya”.

Ramsdale would have heard that taunt in his nightmares if Havertz’s goal had not returned Arsenal to the top of the league.

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Back in the team for one night only because on-loan Raya was ineligible, the England goalkeeper had gifted Brentford striker Yoane Wissa an equaliser deep in first-half stoppage time.

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The two fine saves Ramsdale made in the second half would have counted for nothing.

The home supporters would have left the stadium cursing the man who was once a fan favourite and reflecting that Mikel Arteta had been totally justified in dropping him.

Instead Havertz had his own moment of redemption after missing a golden first-half chance.

Opening goalscorer Declan Rice swung in a cross and the German’s header was too powerful for Raya’s replacement at Brentford, Mark Flekken.

The Emirates exploded with joy and relief.

Even if their team were unconvincing at times in an increasingly frustrated second half, the home fans deserved this victory.

They stopped believing only for a few seconds after the Wissa goal and from then on maintained the noise that they had brought from the start.

Ramsdale was perhaps guilty of trying too hard.

In a dominant opening by his team, he was the only player falling short.

As if desperate to prove that his distribution skills were as good as Raya’s, he tried two long balls that sailed through harmlessly to opposite number Mark Flekken.

His third attempt, a long throw down the middle, was excellent, but Leandro Trossard did not have the pace even to get a shot off before being closed down.

It mattered not. While some Arsenal fans were still screaming for a penalty for Christian Norgaard’s challenge on fellow captain Martin Odegaard, Rice broke the deadlock.

Ben White crossed and Rice was far too strong for Mads Roerslev as he rose to power home an excellent header.

Who needs a “proper” centre forward when you have midfielders who can do that?

Although a ruthless striker would probably have made more of the two chances that subsequently fell to Havertz, who was leading the line.

First the German sent a tame shot at Flekken. Then, having been played through one-on-one by Jorginho’s brilliant pass, he clipped the ball over the Brentford ‘keeper but well wide.

Brentford had offered virtually nothing going forward and would have been grateful to reach the break only one behind, such was the hosts’ domination.

Instead they went in level. There seemed little danger as Gabriel played the ball back to Ramsdale.

But that assessment reckoned without the ‘keeper’s dithering and the pace of Wissa, who gambled and hit the jackpot when he slid in and deflected the attempted clearance into the net.

The Emirates fell silent apart from the supporters cursing former favourite Ramsdale.

Arteta turned on his heel in the technical area and started preparing one of his most important team talks of the season.

Odegaard waved his arms, exhorting the fans to do their bit, and within a minute of the restart swung at a shot that was well off target.

Arsenal were going to need more patience and composure than that to come through this test.

Ramsdale showed little of the latter when meeting Brentford’s first corner of the second half with an unconvincing punch.

He redeemed himself a little a few minutes later. Out of nothing, Toney tried something spectacular from more than 40 yards but the retreating ‘keeper palmed the ball away to prevent what would have been a goal-of-the-season contender.

Otherwise, Arsenal were all over Brentford again.

They forced a number of corners, from one of which Gabriel headed goalwards only for Vitaly Janelt to stop it close to the line.

Referee Robert Jones, relatively inexperienced as a top-flight official, was the target of home fans’ abuse as he declined to call fouls on Arsenal players inside and outside the box.

There were howls of frustration when VAR Paul Tierney, after a brief check, saw nothing too untoward when Roerslev seemed to pull back Trossard at neck height.

And the feisty atmosphere on and off the pitch went up another notch when Havertz was guilty of a dive in the penalty area.

For all Arsenal’s pressure, they were yet to force Flekken into a second-half save.

Arteta sent on Gabriel Jesus with 20 minutes left, but almost immediately Ramsdale made another fine stop, although Nathan Collins should have done better with a free header from close range.

Rice hit the junction of bar and post with an effort from range, but still Arsenal were struggling to work Flekken.

But with time ticking away, Rice at last found the right pass and Havertz provided the finish.

If Arteta believes Ramsdale was one of the reasons why his team failed to win the title last season, here was vindication.

But in the way his team came through to win, thanks to summer signings Rice and Havertz, there was also good reason to believe they will go one better this time.

 

 

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