After 76 days, the Premier League is back. Once again, Arsenal find themselves playing the inaugural match of the new season. Last season, the team travelled away to Brentford and were utterly destroyed by Thomas Frank’s side. They hardly fared much better when travelling to Crystal Palace a few months ago in what turned out to be a fatal run-in for Arsenal’s Champions League hopes.
There were debuts for new boys Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus, but also for William Saliba, who made his first senior appearance for the club some three years after joining the club from Saint-Étienne.
Arsenal started very well. The key to a good performance at Selhurst Park is a fast start and Arsenal seemed to understand that, none more so than Gabriel Jesus, who bobbed and weaved through the Palace defence with increasing confidence.
Martin Ødegaard and Gabriel Martinelli began to get more and more involved, with the latter missing a sitter from one of Jesus’ deflected shots.
But it was Oleksandr Zinchenko who had the biggest impact of the first-half for the team. A looping corner was played deep over to the far side, which Zinchenko perfectly hit across the penalty area and was headed home by Gabriel Martinelli for the game’s opening goal.
However, Palace began to grow in confidence in the match and began to turn up the pressure on Arsenal.
Though they didn’t have many clear cut chances, the amount of pressure they were exerting on Arsenal was enough to have the team worried, none more so than Benjamin White, who struggled to contain the electric Wilfried Zaha.
Half-time came and went and Palace seemed to be in the ascendancy once more.
Palace seemed to be able to create more clear-cut chances and had identified Arsenal’s right-flank as being their best avenue to explore.
Arguably the best chance of the game fell to Eberechi Eze. A momentary blip in Arsenal’s defensive organisation allowed Zaha to take up residence on the left-hand flank where he played an inch-perfect ball into Eze’s feet, but the England youth international was unable to open his body up enough to bend the ball past Aaron Ramsdale, who made a good save.
In the end, Arsenal managed to punish Palace’s high line.
There had been warning signs now and again, but as Bukayo Saka drifted into the penalty area, he fizzed a shot across goal, only for it to be headed into the back of his own net by the unfortunate Marc Guéhi to seal the points for Arsenal.
Arsenal could have potentially added a third with Eddie Nketiah and Saka combining well, but Saka’s shot blazed over the crossbar a few minutes before the final whistle blew.
It would be difficult to describe the game as vintage Arsenal. Mikel Arteta’s side started well enough, but seemed to succumb to the pressure of playing away from home that so often begets the side.
There were a few stand-out performers on the night however, none more so than William Saliba, who claimed the Man of the Match award.
Saliba was utterly infallible and contained Palace so well, that they were only able to register 2 of their 10 shots on target.
Saliba’s loan to Ligue 1 side Marseille last season seems to have had the desired effect. The youngster looked composed, assured and, what’s more, he looked like he’d played there every week for the past three years.
It was also a very composed set of debuts from Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, the latter of whom notched himself an assist and the former who was unlucky not to grab himself a goal.
Sky Sports’ commentators Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville said that Jesus looked like a Manchester City player in an Arsenal side, but more than that, Jesus looked like the defining link between Arsenal’s forward line.
Both Jesus and Zinchenko have specific roles in the Arsenal set-up and it’s plain to see how key both are to maintaining the team’s shape.
If Gabriel Martinelli finds himself pressing through the middle, Jesus will swap to the left-flank – if Granit Xhaka is covering the defence from the left-hand side, Zinchenko will drift into midfield to cover the space Xhaka has left behind.
Overall, it wasn’t the greatest Arsenal performance, but it was a solid start to the season with plenty to improve upon and plenty to build-off.
Arsenal will now turn their attentions to next Saturday, when they play host to Leicester City for the club’s first home match of the season.
Crystal Palace team:
13.) Vincente Guaita
17.) Nathaniel Clyne
16.) Joachim Andersen
6.) Marc Guéhi (c)
3.) Tyrick Mitchell
28.) Cheick Doucouré (Milivojević 75’)
15.) Jeffrey Schlupp (Hughes 86’)
9.) Jordan Ayew
10.) Eberechi Eze
11.) Wilfried Zaha
22.) Odsonne Édouard
Crystal Palace subs:
21.) Sam Johnstone
26.) Chris Richards
2.) Joel Ward
44.) Jaïro Riedewald
4.) Luka Milivojević
19.) Will Hughes
23.) Malcolm Ebiowei
14.) Jean-Philippe Mateta
48.) Luke Plange
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko (Tierney 83’)
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
7.) Bukayo Saka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Lokonga 93’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Gabriel Jesus (Nketiah 83’)
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Eddie Nketiah