LONDON: Brentford celebrated their return to the top flight after a 74-year absence by sitting on top of the Premier League after goals from Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard delivered a 2-0 win over Arsenal in front of an ecstatic capacity crowd in west London.
A below-par Gunners side missing captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette were deservedly beaten in the season’s opener.
The Bees, promoted via the play-offs last season, have finally come full circle as their last match in the top flight, in May 1947, was a 1-0 home defeat against Arsenal.
Seventy four years is a long time to wait to get your own back and the Community Stadium – which opened a year ago amidst lockdown – was rocking as 16,479 fans, most of whom were not able to witness their promotion, finally got the chance to celebrate.
Arsenal’s day started badly when Aubameyang and Lacazette went down with illness, and with Thomas Partey and Gabriel also absent, it was a far more callow Gunners side than boss Mikel Arteta had probably envisaged starting the season with.
Brentford are hardly full of Premier League experience themselves, with only Canos and Toney having played in it – for a combined total of 19 minutes for Liverpool and Newcastle, five years ago.
Toney, who scored 33 goals in the second tier last season, almost created their first in the Premier League when he sent Bryan Mbeumo racing through. Mbeumo’s angled drive beat the dive of Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno only to crash back off the near post.
Canos leads way
Brentford did not have to wait long to open their account, however. When Calum Chambers hacked the ball off the byline, it came back via Ethan Pinnock to Canos, who cut inside the defender and buried a low shot inside Leno’s near post.
Mbeumo was clearly enjoying himself on the big stage and he skipped away from both Pablo Mari and debutant Ben White in the area only to drag his shot wide.
Arsenal did not have a sniff of a chance until first-half stoppage time, and that was quickly snuffed out as Pinnock, who was playing for Dulwich Hamlet five years ago, dived in to block Nicolas Pepe’s effort.
Arteta sent on England winger Bukayo Saka on the hour to inject some life into his side, and Gabriel Martinelli immediately headed narrowly over from a corner.
But Brentford were not finished and Leno beat away another Canos shot before getting down well to deny Mbeumo.
They doubled their lead with 15 minutes remaining, but it was a dreadful goal for Arsenal to concede.
They criminally allowed a long throw from Mads Bech Sorensen to bounce in the six-yard box and Norgaard arrived at the far post to head into an empty net.
The stadium went wild, the Brentford fans’ usual self-deprecating song ‘we’re just a bus stop in Hounslow’ now being interspersed with ‘we’re top of the league’.
They might not stay there for long, but Brentford have already shown they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League this season.
** Fit-again defender Virgil van Dijk has extended his Liverpool contract until 2025.