The 2021-22 Premier League season gets underway at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday night, as the newly-promoted Bees play host to London rivals Arsenal.
Thomas Frank’s men are plying their trade in the English top flight for the first time since 1947, while the Gunners prepare for a rare campaign without European football.
Some supporters may be apprehensive about travelling to watch their beloved Brentford on Friday the 13th – not the best omen for either side – but fans will undoubtedly return to the stadium en masse as the new season begins with open doors to the public.
The Wembley turnstiles did open for a limited number of Brentford and Swansea City supporters during their playoff final on May 29, where the Bees’ agonising 74-year wait for top-flight football came to an end thanks to goals from Ivan Toney and Emiliano Marcondes.
Understandably overcome by emotion come the final whistle, manager Frank had achieved exactly what he had set out to do when taking the reins back in 2018, and his side have gone toe-to-toe with some of the big boys in pre-season.
A 1-0 defeat to West Ham United was a minor blot on the notebook, but the Bees claimed victories over fellow top-flight outfits Watford and Valencia – as well as claiming a highly impressive 2-2 draw with Manchester United – while Cambridge United, Southend United, Wimbledon and Boreham Wood were all no match for Frank’s men.
Brentford amassed a nine-game unbeaten home run during the business end of the Championship season and hold the honour of being the 50th different team to play in the Premier League, but none of the nine London teams before them managed to win their first ever game in the competition.
The 2021-22 season will also be one like none other for several Arsenal supporters, who witnessed their team fall short in their bid to qualify for European competition last season for the first time in 25 years.
Neck-and-neck with arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur on the final day for a place in the inaugural Europa Conference League, Arsenal seemed set to pip the Lilywhites to seventh place having got the job done against Brighton & Hove Albion, but Spurs produced a stunning turnaround against Leicester City to finish above the Gunners again.
The jubilation of leading Arsenal to their 14th FA Cup triumph after six months in charge has quickly dissipated for Mikel Arteta, whose Emirates future could very well be determined by how well his side perform for the rest of the calendar year, but they at least managed to win their final five Premier League games last season.
However, Hibernian, Chelsea and Spurs have all condemned Arsenal to defeat during a demoralising pre-season period for the Gunners, who can take solace in the fact that they are unbeaten in seven games away from home during the opening weekend.
Not since May 1947 have the Gunners paid a visit to Brentford in league action – a game which ended 1-0 in Arsenal’s favour – and while their respective trophy hauls differ somewhat over the past 74 years, Brentford are certainly not here to make up the numbers.
Despite understandable interest from other top-flight outfits, star striker Toney – who fired Brentford to promotion with 33 league goals last term – remains at the club, and Frank is optimistic that he will be fit to start this game.
Goalkeeper David Raya – previously linked with Arsenal – will be barking orders from the penalty box, and the three-man defence in front of him could comprise Pontus Jansson, Ethan Pinnock and new signing Kristoffer Ajer.
Former Arsenal youngster Josh Dasilva will not get the chance to face his old club due to a hip problem, but the hosts are otherwise well-stocked for this momentous occasion.
Meanwhile, Arteta has been dealt another blow with injury-hit midfielder Thomas Partey, who is set to miss the rest of the month with an ankle injury sustained in pre-season action against Chelsea.
Centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes remains out with the knee problem that forced him to withdraw from the Olympics, while Rob Holding is short of fitness, so Pablo Mari and new arrival Ben White should line up in the back four.
Eddie Nketiah is also sidelined with an ankle issue but was never going to challenge for a start up top, while Albert Sambi Lokonga will hope to edge out Mohamed Elneny for a start in midfield.