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August 22, 2017

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The Premier League broke with tradition to kick off its new season

LONDON — The Premier League breaks with tradition this weekend in kicking off the marathon race for the title.

Arsenal host Leicester City on Friday night, marking the first time in league history the season's first match won't be played on a Saturday.

Nine games follow over the next two days, including the start of Chelsea's title defense and the Premier League debuts of Brighton and Hove Albion, and Huddersfield Town.

"It's been a long pre-season and it's always tough," Leicester captain Wes Morgan said.

"You've got the season ahead to look forward to and everyone's raring to go.

"We've got our first game this Friday coming and we can't wait to get started."

Arsenal could be without several key players with Alexis Sanchez ruled out by injury and Laurent Koscielny suspended.

In addition, Mesut Oezil, Aaron Ramsey and Per Mertesacker are questionable as Arsene Wenger begins his 22nd season as manager.

"I cannot go into the game with too many uncertainties," Wenger said. "I think we have a good level of physical preparation.

"All our players got a decent number of minutes of good competition, so overall the preparation of the squad looks good."

Chelsea host Burnley on Saturday looking to avoid the disaster of their last title defence.

The Blues made a poor start to the 2015-16 campaign and never recovered, finishing a distant 10th as manager Jose Mourinho was fired mid-season.

That led to the hiring of Antonio Conte, who guided them back to the top of the mountain last season and expects a battle this time around.

"It won't be easy," the Italian said.

"In this league there are at least six teams that are very strong and ready to fight for the title and a place in the Champions League or Europa League.

"For us, it's a great challenge to try and retain the title."

The decadeslong quest for the Premier League ends Saturday for Huddersfield and Brighton.

Huddersfield travel to Crystal Palace having last appeared in the top-flight first division back in 1972.

"We know that we are not the favourite in the Premier League to win the title," Huddersfield manager David Wagner said.

"But we are ambitious enough to say we will work our socks off, we will try everything and make sure it's as uncomfortable as possible for opponents."

Brighton's first top-flight match in 34 years sees them host title favourites Manchester City.

"It's going to be a very tough opening game, but we have to play them at some stage," Brighton boss Chris Houghton said.

"It's a wonderful game for the club and supporters, as a first game in the Premier League, but we have to make sure it's a good day for the team as well."

Watford host Liverpool, Stoke visit Everton, Southampton host Swansea and West Brom welcome Bournemouth in Saturday's other matches, while promoted Newcastle are home to Tottenham and Manchester United face West Ham to wrap up the weekend on Sunday.

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