2022 – Crystal Palace – Arsenal 0: 2: The new “old” Arsenal signature shows the class

After a string of loan spells away from the club, centre-back William Saliba has made a brilliant start to Arsenal

Arsenal’s high-profile summer deals made headlines in a pre-season full of goals and optimism – but it was an ‘old’ new face who made the biggest impression when the serious business took off.

Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko have brought winning mentality with them from Premier League champions Manchester City as they reunite with Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as he tries to push Arsenal forward this season.

And while they both showed quality and pedigree when Arsenal opened the season with a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace, it was 21-year-old William Saliba’s defensive performance that outlasted all the rest and caused a real stir among the visiting fans.

Saliba took the scenic route to start his first Premier League game after joining Arsenal from Saint-Etienne for £27m in July 2019. Before loan spells at his parents club and then at Nice and Marseille, where he impressed enough to win full French titles.

He was the best young player in Ligue 1 last year, and his absence from the Emirates Stadium has raised questions about his suitability to Arteta’s plans as Marseille have been keen to make his loan contract permanent.

Arteta insisted that he simply treated Saliba with care until his development reached a point when his time came – and based on a truly outstanding performance at Selhurst Park, now is the time.

Jesus, who would provide Arsenal with speed, movement and goals, shone when he took the lead via Gabriel Martinelli, but as play continued and Palace ran into the finish, Saliba provided a calm progression and controlled strength to the point that he was awarded the lead of the match by outstanding artists.

Saliba’s central defense partnership with Gabriel is still in its infancy and there were moments of anxiety when Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was called up to saves from Odson Edward and Iberichi Ise.

But all the while, Saliba was unfazed and almost flawless to please his manager.

It’s a game, an early call and no one at Arsenal will be carried away by the score or the performance.

Saliba, on the other hand, looked very sexy and confident and, despite all the noise in the background, confirmed that this is a top-class defender who is ready for the Premier League and some excitement should be allowed.

Arsenal simply carried their exciting pre-season form into that first game of the season, dominating possession and driving Palace in a way that suggests Arteta has made good use of his time, decimating young and established talent from last season to newcomers.

They had to take some pressure from Palace and it took a late shot from Bukayo Saka, which was parried by English Palace defender Mark Guehy, to seal the deal, but it was a well deserved win.

It was all very different from last season’s opener on Friday night when Covid-stricken Arsenal were given the unwanted contract with newly promoted Brentford and sank meekly and without a trace of what was a poor start to the season. £50m newcomer Ben White experienced a terrifying nightmare for the first time, although he was not alone.

Here Arsenal showed no nerve in the kind of atmosphere Selhurst Park specializes in and could have moved on even before Martinelli scored the first goal, with all of Palace’s early enthusiasm finding its only expression in getting the ball through chasing all parts of the pitch.

Arteta has strongly hinted that there will be more arrivals before the end of the transfer window, with Leicester City’s Yuri Tillmans frequently linked, and while Manchester City and Liverpool head out for another two-horse title race, Chelsea are in limbo. River and Arsenal could easily contend for one of the top four spots.

The Arsenal manager was ridiculed for his style in the recent documentary All Or Nothing, but early evidence suggests he did some smart work this summer.

Porto’s £34m midfielder Fabio Vieira will be a staple when he’s fit, while Kieran Tierney has recovered and entered as a substitute to regain his influence.

Arsenal fans will be wary of jumping to conclusions, but the commanding manner in which Saliba navigates through what is always a test, even when the Palace is close to their best, will only add to the feel-good factor, which is proven by the plus. Winning quality in the form of Jesus and Zinchenko.

Jubilant Arsenal fans chanted “top of the league” in the last moments – tongue in cheek of course, but a loud admission that this was a much more enjoyable experience than last Friday night’s Premier League opening ceremony.

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