The Premier League season got off to a pulsating start on Friday as Brentford marked their first game in the top flight for 74 years and their first in front of fans at their new stadium with an emotional 2-0 victory over a ragged Arsenal.
Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard scored midway through each half to spark wild celebrations by the home fans who have waited so long to take their place in their new 17,500-capacity home and even longer to watch top-flight football.
The win was well deserved as Brentford, revelling in their chance to take on the big boys, took the game to an Arsenal team who looked disjointed and toothless in the absence of “unwell” strike duo Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
In a satisfying symmetry, the teams’ last meeting was a 1-0 win for Arsenal at the old Griffin Park in May 1947, Brentford’s last game in the old first division as they were relegated – never expecting it would take them 74 years to get back.
It has been a tough road too, with a record nine playoff failures before they finally triumphed last season.
Given the honour of starting the new season, the sense of excitement was palpable all around the ground as fans remembered how to meet and greet.
They were rewarded with a great performance as Canos carved his name into the west London club’s Hall of Fame when he cut inside Calum Chambers and drilled a low shot inside the near post of Bernd Leno after 22 minutes to spark an explosion of joy.
Arsenal, with a new-look team struggling to gel, offered little and Brentford lifted the tempo in the second half as shots by Canos and Bryan Mbeumo were well saved by Leno.
However, the goalkeeper found himself crowded out during a long throw-in in the 73rd-minute, and with the Arsenal defenders hesitating, Norgaard leapt high to nod in the bouncing ball.
Arsenal threw on Bukayo Saka, a month after his decisive penalty shoot-out miss for England in the Euro 2020 final, and, in an uplifting contrast to the racial abuse he received after that match, the 19-year-old was given a standing ovation by the Brentford fans.
There was a bigger cheer though when home keeper David Raya made an excellent low save to deny Nicolas Pepe in the closing minutes, the final nail in Arsenal’s coffin.
After a lap of honour by players and manager Thomas Frank worthy of a cup final win, the red and white bedecked fans filed off into the night singing “we are top of the league” and though they are unlikely to stay there for long, nobody can begrudge them their moment in the sun.
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