Saliba and Zinchenko ignite Arsenal’s early season hopes in a sultry start to the season

Saliba and Zinchenko ignite Arsenal’s early season hopes in a sultry start to the season

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Yes: the rumors are true. The Premier League, which never really went away, is back. And it was pretty cool on a muggy Friday night, watching an Arsenal squad of new and eager moving parts do a great job of raising some tender early season hopes at Selhurst Park.

It was 24 degrees in South London as kick-off approached the first date that the English top flight had started. It was a kind of dry heat, the grass burned white, the sky a deadly blue. The English summer has at least a sense of irony. To avoid the Gulf sun, the Premier League will play a heat wave in England instead.

Related: Arsenal sink Crystal Palace after Gabriel Martinelli gave them an advantage

Despite all this it was a fun and carefree start to the season. If last week’s Community Shield felt like some kind of visit, football reinvented as a 90-minute dream sequence of the Sopranos, there was a familiar flavor to that. A London derby. A densely combed systems manager. That yellow summer sun. Maybe this was true after all.

It is a question that could also apply to Arsenal in a season that will define Mikel Arteta’s work up to this point. They started with a bold starting 11, the kind of 11 that gets heralded in fan chats, the hopeful 11, the breakfast cake 11. Saliba! Martinelli! No fillers! Except maybe Granit Xhaka! But that’s okay, now it’s also okay!

At the end of a hard-fought 2-0 win, a score that doesn’t reflect Crystal Palace’s resilience between goals, it looked like something might move here. Gabriel Jesus was good. Oleksandr Zinchenko has been good for a while. William Saliba was very good and will attract most of the attention.

Saliba has made seven throw-ins without ever having to make a tackle. His disappearance was solid. He didn’t look flustered or even very tired at the end, a step up from the tense, snot-stained performances of Arsenal center-backs past. He went through it all, teasing things a few seconds early in his head. This is good. Where has he been again?

While the game was reassuring and lively, there were some disconcerting developments in Sky Sport coverage for day one viewers. Before kickoff, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were sent to vox pop with fans, a step up from going for some milk, but watering down the role of expert analyst. Why not go all the way and put them in a pub somewhere?

Oleksandr Zinchenko turns away from Jordan Ayew during a guaranteed debut.

Oleksandr Zinchenko turns away from Jordan Ayew during a guaranteed debut. Photograph: David Klein / Reuters

Gaz and Carra did their best. But frowning dudes in replica T-shirts are in abundance outside the paywall. Forensic and graphics-laden content is what people pay their subscriptions for.

Then there was the strange, claustrophobic perspective of Patrick Vieira forced to say breathless platitudes at half time. This was unfortunate for all concerned. Vieira doesn’t want to do that. He is not part of the show at that stage. This isn’t American wrestling yet. He stop making this thing too much. The game is good. Trust me.

And both of these teams have been good, Arsenal from the start. Gabriel Jesus did something brilliant with three minutes left, stealing the ball 40 yards from goal and producing a nutmeg and side step. For long periods those pink away shirts, the color of heat-damaged processed ham, found small, neat, snappy triangles. Zinchenko was remarkably mobile, receiving more touches in the first half hour than anyone else on the pitch.

Related: Crystal Palace – Arsenal 0-2: the Premier League season starts, as it happened

He had a hand in the first goal, finding five yards of unattended space by making a ring run from the edge of the area. He directed the ball back. Martinelli nodded.

Jesus was also quick on his feet and desperate to dribble and turn. He describes exactly what Arsenal needed: pressing, advantage, authority. Maybe people have forgotten how good he is or how good he was meant to be. Between them Jesus and Martinelli had eight dribbles and four shots in the first half hour of the season. They played together for Brazil against Japan in Tokyo in June. They should be that good.

The palace was impoverished by the injury and the loss of players. Expectations are low, which might just be a useful place to be, but Vieira really seems to know what he’s doing and which players to trust. They pushed Arsenal back on both sides of the interval and used Wilfried Zaha as a weapon against Ben White. But it was also an opportunity for Saliba to show his qualities. Plus Arsenal have Saka, who scored the second goal, forcing Marc Guéhi to deflect a hard low cross into his own net.

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

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