Gabriel Jesus and Wiliam Saliba were excellent, but an Arsenal duo provided cause for concern for Mikel Arteta at Selhurst Park.
Jesus didn’t just thrive – as most of us predicted – but dominated as the main man in the Arsenal attack against Crystal Palace in their 2022-23 Premier League opening fixture. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka flanked the new signing, and played well, but seemed superfluous to proceedings, particularly early on, as Jesus drew every eye as he dropped deep, span in behind and dazzled with his dribbling skills.
After just three minutes he illustrated his strength, quick feet and determination as he shrugged off one Crystal Palace player, nutmegged the next and sidestepped a third before Martinelli fluffed the very presentable chance that had been put on a plate for him by his wired new teammate.
Jesus’ ability to travel with the ball may turn out to be the greatest point of difference between life at Arsenal compared to Manchester City. While Pep Guardiola requires his forward players to pass and move to open opposition teams up, this first showing of Jesus under Mikel Arteta suggests the Brazilian will be given a license to make something out of nothing, should he so wish.
But the old, very useful tropes of his time at City, drilled into him over six years by Guardiola, remained evident in Arsenal salmon. His movement out of possession was excellent, and too frequently ignored by his teammates, and his desire to press high and win the ball back probably should have ended in a goal as Martin Odegaard failed to pull the trigger in the box.
Fellow new arrival Oleksandr Zinchenko played in his typical midfielder-at-left-back style, while also fairly regularly literally playing from midfield, narrowing his position at will in a trait he looks set to carry with him from City. He would be better off staying in midfield on this showing.
He had more touches (55) than any player on the pitch in the first half and created the opener with a fine header across the box as a well-worked corner routine saw Martinelli shrug off his earlier miss to score the first goal of the Premier League season. But Arsenal were so on top that the Ukraine international wasn’t troubled defensively.
The second half was a different story, as Jordan Ayew took advantage of Zinchenko’s lack of pace with the ball at his feet and through runs off his shoulder. The new signing looked shellshocked as he was replaced by Kieran Tierney late on. A rethink over Zinchenko’s role may be required when faced with similar pace on the wing in future.
Excellent though Jesus was, it was the three-year Arsenal veteran, who joined the new recruits in making his Gunners debut at Selhurst Park, that had the biggest impact on the game.
Arteta’s side would not have won without William Saliba. He was aggressive when necessary but added much-needed calm to a defence which otherwise lacked serenity as Palace controlled the game after half-time.
Ben White misplaced passes early on and grew more and more frantic in his defending against Wilfried Zaha from a right-back position in which he looked less than comfortable.
Aaron Ramsdale showed the inconsistency he had managed to stamp out of his game for the majority of last season: drilling one pass 60 yards into Jesus’ feet before hitting his next attempt straight at an opposition player; making an excellent save to deny Odsonne Edouard, then dropping a straightforward cross.
It was a very even game, with Crystal Palace arguably playing just as well in the second half as Arsenal did in the first. The home side had more possession (56 per cent), and the same number of shots (10) and shots on target (2) across the 90 minutes.
Patrick Vieira’s side look as though they will be just as entertaining this season as they were last.
Wilfried Zaha was predictably brilliant, and produced the pass of the game as he slipped a ball through an impossible gap to find Eberechi Eze, who really should have equalised.
Joachim Andersen and Marc Guehi looked solid in the most part, while Cheik Doucoure looked as though he will prove to be a top signing as he roamed midfield breaking up play and making the odd crunching tackle.
And despite Arsenal taking all three points, Vieira may well be happier with the performance than Arteta, who admitted after the game his side have plenty to work on.
High up on his list of priorities will be what to do with White and Zinchenko, who are both good footballers, but did not look like good full-backs on Friday night. With Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu waiting in the wings, Arteta may have to think again.
- A football365 report