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Friday 8pm: Brentford v Arsenal
Sky Sports Main Event/Sky Sports Premier League/Sky One
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Mikel Arteta will very much hope Arsenal can pick up where they left off at the end of last season and avoid making the same early-season mistakes that ultimately consigned them to an eighth-place finish.
Arsenal were the second-best team in the league in the second half of last season and although their pre-season results have been overwhelmingly disappointing, Arteta has managed to strengthen areas of his squad that badly needed improving over the summer.
There is plenty of cause for optimism ahead of the upcoming season, but they need to make the best possible start with back-to-back ties against Chelsea and Manchester City on the horizon.
Brentford, meanwhile, will make their long-awaited Premier League debut after suffering play-off heartache just over a year ago. In some respects, Brentford’s devastating defeat to Fulham is a blessing in disguise as it has allowed them to celebrate such a momentous occasion in front of a boisterous home support at their (reasonably) new ground.
The Brentford Community Stadium should be bouncing on Friday as Thomas Frank’s side make their league bow and the Bees should provide a stern challenge for Arsenal after a rigorous pre-season against several Premier League sides.
Brentford gave a good account of themselves in games against Manchester United and West Ham, but competitive football is a completely different story and they just might be overawed by the occasion on Friday night.
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Arsenal may have landed Ben White during the summer, but the defensive issues that plagued parts of their Premier League campaign last season have not yet disappeared if their pre-season friendlies are anything to go by. Arteta’s side failed to keep a clean sheet in all four friendlies this summer, conceding via calamitous defending on several occasions.
It is important to remember that these disastrous mistakes were made in games that did not matter, but defensive frailties clearly remain in Arsenal’s rearguard.
Brentford, on the other hand, were the top goalscorers in the Championship last season and possess a real threat in Ivan Toney, who became the all-time top-scorer in a single Championship season last May with 31 in the regular campaign.
The Bees will want to give their fans something to cheer about and will want to look to get at what is an ostensibly vulnerable Arsenal defence.
Nicolas Pepe endured a difficult time after his club-record move to Arsenal in 2019, but began to show flashes of quality at the tail-end of last season. The Ivorian winger scored five goals in Arsenal’s last five league games as Arteta’s side finished strongly with 15 points out of 15.
Pepe’s tally of 10 league goals and 16 goals in all competitions last season was double that of the five league goals and eight goals in all competitions he scored in his debut campaign at the Emirates, and he should look to kick on again in his third season in North London.
He endured a slow start to the season last year and will surely want to hit the ground running this time around. Based on last season’s evidence, Friday night’s game offers him the perfect chance to do so. Pepe scored eight of his ten league goals against sides who ultimately finished in the bottom half of the table, where Brentford will likely finish, while he also scored six of his ten goals away from home.
He will have benefitted from a summer off and should be looking to improve on what was a mediocre sophomore season in England for a player who cost £72 million.
Ivan Toney was undoubtedly Brentford’s star performer last season, more than making up for the combined loss of Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma as Brentford booked their place in the Premier League. Toney’s 33 goals across league and play-offs were unquestionably pivotal in Brentford’s promotion and he will likely be crucial to their bid to stay in the Premier League.
He will naturally be keen to get up and running on the opening day of the season and will not be shy of trying his luck.
Toney averaged three shots a game in 47 league and playoff appearances last term, with 1.5 shots on target. At home he averaged 3.2 shots.
He will get chances against Arsenal on Friday. The Gunners have not been at the races during pre-season and kept just 12 clean sheets in the league last season. They will struggle to keep a highly-charged Brentford – and Toney – quiet on Friday night.
Arsenal to Win
Both Teams to Score
Nicolas Pepe to Score Anytime
Ivan Toney to Have Two or More Shots on Target
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