Arsenal’s high-profile summer arrivals have claimed the headlines in a pre-season bubbling over with goals and optimism – but it was an “old” new face who made the biggest impression when the serious business started.
Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have taken their winning mentality from Premier League champions Manchester City as they reunite with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as he tries to push the Gunners forward this season.
And while both showed quality and pedigree as Arsenal opened the season with a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace, it was 21-year-old William Saliba’s defensive performance that outshined all others to create a genuine stir among the visiting fans . .
Saliba took the scenic route to his first Premier League start after joining Arsenal from St Etienne for £27m in July 2019, taking loan spells back at his then parent club in Nice and Marseille, impressing so much there that he won full the honors of France.
He was Ligue 1 Young Player Of The Season last year and his stay away from the Emirates Stadium raised questions about where he fit into Arteta’s plans, with Marseille keen to make his loan deal permanent.
Arteta insisted he was simply handling Saliba with care until his development reached a stage where his time had come – and judging by a truly exceptional display at Selhurst Park, it has now arrived.
Jesus, who will offer Arsenal pace, movement and goals, shone as they took the lead through Gabriel Martinelli, but as the game wore on and Palace mounted a gallop at the end, Saliba delivered such calm command and controlled power that he emerged as man of the match excellent. performer.
Saliba’s central defensive partnership with Gabriel is in its infancy and there were anxious moments when Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale was called into action to save from Odsonne Edouard and Eberechi Eze.
Throughout, however, Saliba was unfazed and virtually faultless to please his manager.
It’s one game, an early call and nobody at Arsenal will get carried away by their result or performance.
However, Saliba looked such an exciting, composed talent, confirming all the background noise that this was a top-class defender ready for the Premier League, that some excitement should be allowed.
Arsenal simply brought their exciting pre-season form into this first game of the season, dominating possession and running Palace ragged in a way that suggested Arteta has put his time to good use, bolting young and established talent from last season onto his new acquisitions.
They had to survive some pressure from Palace and it took a late Bukayo Saka shot deflected off the head of Palace’s England defender Marc Guehi to seal the deal, but this was a thoroughly deserved victory.
It was all so different from the opening Friday night last season, when a Covid-stricken Arsenal were handed the unwanted task of newly promoted Brentford, who meekly sank without a trace in a terrible start to the season, with new boy Ben White, 50 million pound endured a nightmare debut, although he was not alone.
Here Arsenal showed no nerves in the sort of atmosphere Selhurst Park specialises, and could have been in front even before Martinelli opened the scoring, all Palace’s early enthusiasm giving its only outlet by chasing the ball to all parts of the pitch.
Arteta has strongly hinted that there will be more new arrivals before the end of the transfer window, with Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans constantly linked, and while Manchester City and Liverpool are hotly tipped to complete another two-horse title race, Chelsea are in a condition. of flux and Arsenal could easily mount a top four challenge.
The Arsenal manager has taken a bit of flak for his style in the latest All Or Nothing all-access documentary, but the opening credits suggest he’s been doing some smart work this summer.
Fabio Vieira, £34m the midfield signing from Porto, will be an asset when fit, while there was the welcome sight of Kieran Tierney, restored to full health and coming on as a substitute, ready to restore his influence.
Arsenal fans will be wary of jumping to conclusions too quickly, but the powerful manner in which Saliba swept through a game that always presents a test, even with Palace missing their best, will have only added to that feelgood factor brought about by the addition of proven, winning quality in the form of Jesus and Zinchenko.
The jubilant Gunners fans chanted “top of the league” in the closing moments – tongue in cheek, of course, but loud confirmation that this was a much more enjoyable experience than their last opening Friday night of Premier League action .