Saliba and Zinchenko fire Arsenal’s early season hopes in opener | Barney Ronay

Yes: the rumors are true. The Premier League, which never left, is back. And it felt pretty good on a sweltering Friday night to see an Arsenal team of eager new moving parts do an excellent job of generating some tender hopes at Selhurst Park early in the season.

It was 24 degrees in south London as kick-off approached on the earliest date the English level has ever started. This was a desiccated kind of heat, the grass burnt white, the sky a deathly blue. The English summer has at least one sense of irony. To avoid the Gulf sun, the Premier League will play a heat wave in England.

All in all it was a fun and fresh start to the season. If last week’s Community Shield felt like a visit of sorts, football reimagined as a 90-minute Sopranos dream sequence, there was a touch of familiarity. A London derby. A densely combed system manager. That blue summer sun. Maybe this was real after all.

It’s a question that could also apply to Arsenal in a season that will define Mikel Arteta’s work to this point. They started with a bold initial 11, the kind of 11 that creeps into fan chats, the hopeful 11, the cake-for-breakfast 11. Saliba! Martinelli! No stuffing! Except maybe Granit Xhaka! But it’s okay, it’s okay now too!

At the end of a hard-fought 2-0 win, a scoreline that did not reflect Crystal Palace’s resilience between the goals, it looked like something might be moving here. Gabriel Jesus was good. Oleksandr Zinchenko was good for a while. William Saliba was very good, and will get more attention.

Saliba made seven walks without making an inning. His step was solid. In the end he didn’t look nervous or even very tired, a step beyond the tense, snot-stained displays of Arsenal’s centre-backs. He ran through this, joking about things seconds before inside his head. That’s good. Where has he been again?

If the game was reassuring, for opening day television viewers there were some puzzling developments in Sky Sports’ coverage. Before kick-off, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were sent in to do vox pops with the fans, a step up from going out for some milk, but a diminished role as pundit analyst. Why not go all the way and stick them in a pub somewhere?

Oleksandr Zinchenko pulls away from Jordan Ayew during an assured debut.
Oleksandr Zinchenko pulls away from Jordan Ayew during an assured debut. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters

Gaz and Carra did their best. But ruined types in replica jerseys abound outside the paywall. Graphically loaded forensic content is what people pay their subscribers for.

Then there was the strange and claustrophobic prospect of Patrick Vieira being forced to utter breathless platitudes at half-time. This was unpleasant for all concerned. Vieira doesn’t want to do that. He is not part of the show at this stage. This is still not American wrestling. Stop overproducing this thing. The game is good. trust it

And those two teams were good, Arsenal from the start. Gabriel Jesús did something brilliant with three minutes remaining, stealing the ball 40 meters from goal and producing a nutmeg and side pass. For long stretches, those pink T-shirts, the color of heat-damaged processed ham, found clean, shiny little triangles. Zinchenko was very mobile and had more touches in the opening half hour than anyone else on the field.

He had a hand in the opening goal, finding five yards of unmarked space with a looping run from the edge of the box. He has turned the ball backwards. Martinelli nodded.

Jesus was also on his feet quickly and was desperate to dribble and spin. It shows exactly what Arsenal needed: pressure, edge, authority. Maybe people have forgotten how good it is, or how good it was supposed to be. Between them, Jesus and Martinelli made eight runs and four throws in the opening half hour of the season. They played together for Brazil against Japan in Tokyo in June. They should be this good.

Palace have been depleted by injuries and the loss of players. Expectations are low, which could be a useful place to be, but Vieira really seems to know what he’s doing and which players to trust. They pressed Arsenal back either side of half-time and used Wilfried Zaha as a weapon against Ben White. But it was also an opportunity for Saliba to show his qualities. Also, Arsenal have Saka, who scored the second goal, forcing Marc Guéhi to deflect a low, hard cross into his own net.

For Arteta, the trajectory is clear from here, a time to pay back the investment in time and resources. But they have a style of play and a project. The shadow of the great Arsène has passed. The flaws here are the flaws of this team, the strengths that Arteta has grafted on. Whisper it, but it was actually quite encouraging.

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