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Arsenal at Brentford preview: hope springs eternal

The Gunners open the Premier League season with a trip to the newly-promoted Bees.

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Brentford v West Ham United - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

Take a deep breath. You smell that? That’s the smell of a brand new Premier League season. Possibility and potential pervade, papering-over pessimism and problems, permeating people’s prefrontal cortices with powerful prophecies of perfection.

If only for an instant, supporters of every club dare to dream that this could be the year. The season they avoid going right back down to the Championship after finally reaching the promised land of the Premier League. Or the campaign that finally gets them into Europe after years of being mired in the mid-table. Or just maybe, the side puts together a magical 38-match stretch where everything goes right and come May the Premier League trophy is bedecked with ribbons in our colors — Leicester defied the odds in 2015-16, why not us.

Arsenal kick-off the 2021-22 Premier League season with a trip to newly-promoted Brentford. It’s the Bees first time playing in the Premier League and their first time in the top flight since 1947. Thomas Frank’s side won an impressive 9-straight matches at home to close out their Championship campaign last season, but the Premier League is a different animal. Newly-promoted clubs, historically, have struggled to win their opening match of the season. But Brentford will have the strength of their home fans behind them, who I’m sure will create an absolutely fantastic, raucous atmosphere with their heroes back at the highest level of football.

There’s a good deal of pressure on Mikel Arteta and Arsenal to get a result in the opener because with home to Chelsea and @ Manchester City on deck, the Gunners could find themselves behind the eight-ball to start the season. I’d be quite happy if Arsenal manage four points from their first three matches, and getting full points against Brentford would have them well on the way.

All eyes will be on Arsenal’s £50M-man, Ben White who is stepping into a defense that allowed the third-fewest goals in the Premier League last season. He’ll be tested right away by Ivan Toney, Brentford’s star striker who scored 33 goals and added 10 assists in 52 matches in all competitions last season. Toney leads the line and triggers manager Thomas Frank’s aggressive, high press that aims to force mistakes and turnovers. It remains to be seen whether their press is organized and well-drilled enough to be successful at the Premier League level where the defenders tend to have more on-ball skill and passing ability and the attackers are much more likely to punish mistakes / a broken press.

Fun fact about Thomas Frank: he didn’t play football professionally and was studying for a Masters degree in psychology when he found his way into coaching. His unconventional path typifies the way Brentford run their club. They are extremely data-focused, basing their transfer business on advanced metrics. I read this week that Brentford could open the season 0-0-12 and Frank would keep his job if the club’s xG numbers are where they expect them to be. It appears as if he’ll have his full complement of players to open the season.

The Gunners begin the season with three players in the training room: Thomas Partey, Eddie Nketiah, and Gabriel Magalhaes. Partey sustained an ankle injury in the preseason match against Chelsea and is expected back in training at the end of August. I don’t think he’ll play against Manchester City on the 28th, but I don’t have any reasons for that beyond my gut feeling. Nketiah also has an ankle problem and won’t be back until September. Gabriel Magalhaes will also be out until early September while he recovers from knee pain and tendinitis that kept him out of the Olympics.

Be sure to check out Nathan’s Predicted XI to see how Arsenal might line up in the opener. He predicted 2-1 to Arsenal. I’m going with 3-0 to the Gunners — I have a good feeling.

WHAT: Arsenal at Brentford
WHERE: Brentford Community Stadium, London
WHEN: Friday, August 13th 12 pm PT | 3 pm ET | 8 pm BT
US TV: NBCSN. Stream on FuboTV ($$$) or nbcsports.com (TV provider log-in)

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