After what seemed like the briefest of off-seasons thanks to Euro 2020, a new football season has got underway in Europe. In La Liga and Ligue 1, Real Madrid and Paris St Germain started as they meant to go on with comfortable wins. But it was to England that most of the impartial eyes were turned for the start of a new Premier League season.
Fans, pundits and bookies the world over paused what they were doing to focus on the opening matches, and even the websites specialising in sports betting in India took time to look away from the cricket for a while. Most games took place on Saturday, but the official curtain raiser was the Friday encounter between the mighty Arsenal and newly promoted Brentford. David and Goliath? You might have expected it to be so, but things panned out a little differently.
A 74 year absence
Of the three teams promoted to the Premier League this year, Brentford were the biggest surprise. Norwich are famous for yoyoing between the top two tiers, while Watford were also promoted after only a one-year absence.
Yet the last time Brentford were in the top division, it was the season when football resumed after the second world war – Brentford were relegated in 1947, and this is the first time they’ve played top-flight football since.
Rising to the occasion
An opening fixture against a big six team, and played on Friday with the whole footballing world watching was the last thing they needed – or so you might reasonably suppose. As it was, the team played with boundless confidence, energy and skill. Arsenal, however, appeared flat in the unfamiliar surroundings of Brentford’s brand new, but nevertheless modest, Community Stadium.
Brentford looked the team more likely to make things happen right from the start, and there was an air of inevitability when Spanish winger Sergi Canos slotted it inside the near post after 22 minutes. Arsenal were all at sea without Aubameyang and Lacazette, both of whom were unavailable through illness, and only Emile Smith Rowe presented any sort of challenge, forcing Brentford keeper David Raya to pull off an athletic save shortly after the break. Nicolas Pepe also had a chance to equalise late on, but again, Raya was equal to the task. When Euro 2020 hero Christian Norgaard headed one home in the 77th minute to put Brentford two ahead, the result was beyond doubt.
Exciting times ahead
It is dangerous to put too much significance on a single performance, but this really was the dream beginning to Brentford’s first-ever season in the Premier League. Next week, it’s another London Derby, this time against Crystal Palace, and they will arrive full of confidence.
For Arsenal, on the other hand, those star strikers cannot return soon enough. The Gunners will be looking for a full reset and to start the season again. With Chelsea up next, they will need to pull something special out, or it could prove to be a long and painful season.