Premier League Week 1 – Friday 13 August 2021 – Brentford Community Stadium
Arsenal Match Preview
Arsenal start the new season on Friday 13 with an away fixture to a newly promoted team; for the superstitious among us, that feels a little too ominous.
It’s been a strange summer so far with the squad still looking incomplete and certain players yet to be moved on to make room for new additions. On the plus side, the signings of Ben White, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga look like astute bits of business, but the transfer sagas involving Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin and the inability to move on the likes of Willian, Sead Kolasinac and others has been met with obvious vocal frustration by supporters. It would been nice to have a summer where the squad was ready to go by the start of the first new season, but as it stands, we may be waiting until deadline day for all the incomings and outgoings to be complete.
Putting aside the transfer market, the mood this summer has been somewhat indifferent. There’s still a bitter aftertaste from the ‘Super League’ affair, the general discontent towards the Kroenke’s management of the club and the thought of going into our first season in 25 years with any European football. If you add in the horrific abuse aimed at young Bukayo Saka following the Euro final and the indifferent form in the pre-season friendlies (3 losses, 1 draw and 1 win), it’s only understandable that some supporters are feeling underwhelmed right now.
All that said, a new campaign is always a chance to set things right, to return with renewed vigor and push our way back up the table. Expectations will be high, as is always the case with Arsenal, and without the distraction of away visits to far-flung parts of Europe, The Gunners have to aim to break back into the top 4 after five years without Champions League football. It will be a tough ask as teams around us have reinforced well, but it’s the bare minimum that Mikel Arteta should be targeting.
Grumblings over with, the task in hand will be to overcome the exciting, high-intensity, high-tempo, attack-minded football of Thomas Frank’s Brentford team; a possession based side who love to press and alternate between a 4-3-3 and 3-4-1-2 formation. Matching them across the pitch will be no small feat and it’d be all too easy to dismiss them as a newly-promoted side who we ‘should’ be beating. Brentford were mightily impressive in their march to the Premier League last season, outscoring eventual winners Norwich with 79 goals, the bulk of which came from star striker Ivan Toney, ably assisted by canny midfielders Sergi Canós and Bryan Mbeumo. They look a competent team, unfazed by what’s in front of them, capable of putting pressure on opponents all over the pitch. They have the potential to cause plenty of upsets this season and thats exactly why Arsenal need to hit the ground running.
Bernd Leno looks set to start in goal while Callum Chambers might be favoured at right-back over Hector Bellerin. The injury to Gabriel is a concern, considering he was only supposed to be out for a little while, but thankfully new signing Ben White has slotted in without fuss and Pablo Mari looks fit enough to partner him with Kieran Tierney slotting in at left-back.
In midfield, Granit Xhaka will almost certainly start and given his impressive performances in pre-season, Sambi Lokonga could play from the off or Arteta may favour the safer option by starting Mohamed Elneny. Emile Smith Rowe will be the first choice to play in the more advanced midfield role with Nicolas Pépé on the right wing and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out on the left and Alexandre Lacazette leading the attack.*
*Update: both Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are out of the game due to illness.
Probable Arsenal lineup:
4-2-3-1: Leno; Chambers, White, Mari, Tierney; Lokonga, Xhaka; Pepe, Smith Rower, Aubameyang; Lacazette
Thomas Partey (ankle), Eddie Nketiah (ankle), Gabriel Magalhães (knee), Rob Holding (doubtful) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (illness), Alexandre Lacazette (illness)