Alvin Jones, Staff Writer
Brentford striker and England International Ivan Toney celebrates the opening goal against Man City. Photo//Getty Images
With the World Cup in Qatar looming in mid-November, the Premier League played their last round of fixtures before the international break. With an unprecedented November edition of the tournament on the books, players set their sights on Qatar and a shot at football history.
Even still, the Premier League race, while still in its infancy this season, was on the minds of Man City and Arsenal. Both sides had the chance to go top before the break and stay top on Christmas Day. On Saturday, Manchester City had the early kickoff as they faced Brentford, who were coming off a five-game winless streak. The worst loss coming at the hands of fourth division side Gillingham in the league cup.
While Brentford played seven players from that embarrassing loss, it was clear in the early stretches of the game that Brentford were the better team. After applying pressure early, Ivan Toney found the opener. A wonderfully worked set piece gave the Bees a 1-0 lead.
After 18 minutes, Brentford keeper David Raya launched a free kick from Brentford’s half into City’s box. Ben Mee beat City defender Manuel Akanji to head the ball to Toney. Toney beat Aymeric Laporte in the air and headed a perfect ball over the head of Ederson.
It has been a prolific season for Toney. Despite being one of the league's most prolific strikers, he was left off of the England squad for the World Cup. Toney made a huge statement, putting his fingers in his ears in celebration after scoring against the reigning champions in their stadium. It sent a message to the England setup.
City, seeing the script flipped, applied pressure. After a series of shots, possessions, and a few unsuccessful penalty appeals, City star Phil Foden scored a half-volley. The equalizer was delivered just before half time. Foden caught a ball perfectly riffling a shot into the top of the net, making it 1-1.
The second half delivered a fascinating game, City delivered chances, the best being a 66th minute chance lifted over the bar from close range by City midfielder Ilkay Gundigan. Laporte picked up a scary head injury, halting play for several minutes. Laporte later returned, and in the 71st minute cleared a pass to a wide open Toney off of the line, stopping a certain goal.
Ivan Toney (Center) scores the game winner against Man City. Photo//Getty Images
The moment of the match came after 98 minutes on a Brentford counter-attack from a City corner. The ball was cleared to Yoanne Wissa on the edge of City’s box. Wissa beat a defender and sprinted down the pitch with support from Josh Dasilva and Toney. Wissa from the left flank found Dasilva, who played a perfect pass to Toney after driving inside the box. Toney did the rest, scoring a simple tap-in. Sealing a famous victory for Brentford and sending the away supporters into wild cheers.
Brentford had not beaten City at home since 1937; City were undefeated at home this season. Brentford had not won in five games. City had all but one player playing at this upcoming World Cup, and Brentford won. An emphatic statement was made by star man Toney. 10 goals in 19 games in the Premiership without a seat on England’s plane to Qatar. A statement win for Brentford and a statement performance from their star forward.
All eyes turned to Arsenal. Regardless of the result against Wolves, the North London club would go into the World Cup break and the Christmas holiday on top of the league. Wolves were bottom of the table, going into battle with new manager Julen Lopetegui waiting to take over. Arsenal delivered a masterclass to go five points clear on top. Central to that masterclass was Norwegian midfielder Martin Odegaard, who scored a brace.
Martin Odegaard celebrates his goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Photo//Matthew Ashton/AMA. Getty Images
It was a cagey affair in the first half, with both sides unable to put away chances. The breakthrough did not arrive until the second half, where Arsenal found a goal after a lovely piece of play. Oleks Zinchenko found a pass to Gabriel Jesus on the left flank. Jesus cut inside and delivered an inch-perfect ball into the box to new signing Fabio Viera. Viera drove towards goal, pulling Wolves keeper Jose Sa off of the goal line. Viera placed the ball into the box for Odegaard, who finished a simple tap-in beyond Wolves’ defenders, 1-0 to the league leaders.
The second goal came at minute 71. Zinchenko ran into the box from the left after a backheel from Martinelli, who pinched the ball off a Wolves defender. Zinchenko delivered a ball that found Martinelli after a deflection. Martinelli's shot was blocked, and the ball found its way to Odegaard. Odegaard blessed a shot low and put the game to bed.
Arsenal held on for a 2-0 victory, opening up a five-point cushion at the top of the table. Arsenal were last at the top of the table at the winter break in 2007. While the season is still early, Arsenal’s form has been next-level. Proof that, after years of struggle, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal may now finally be turning the corner.
Elsewhere, Manchester United found themselves in a familiar position against Fulham on Sunday. Drawing 1-1 with the London side, United were potentially looking to drop points in a second consecutive game. However, a 93rd minute winner from youngster Alejandro Garnacho sealed a win for the Red Devils. Garnacho played a lovely 1-2 with Christian Eriksen (who scored earlier) and placed a low shot past Fulham shot stopper Bernd Leno. Garnacho left his markers in the dust and scored his first PL goal at the perfect time.
Newcastle secured a top four place going into the break after a 1-0 win against Chelsea. The game winner was a rocket shot from Joe Willock, who was set up by a skillful Miguel Almoron run.
Aston Villa nabbed a second consecutive win with new coach Unai Emery, as Danny Ings’ brace secured a 2-1 victory over Brighton.
The Premier League returns on Boxing Day, with six games on tap.