Arsenal sink Crystal Palace after Gabriel Martinelli gives them a head start | premier league


A new season and a ruthless new winning machine called Arsenal? No one would reasonably take things to such an extreme, but this was a vast improvement over the fare they were serving just four months ago. Back then they were demolished here, losing 3-0 and just not showing up; no such charges could be made this time around and, while there was enough wobble to leave Crystal Palace feeling a draw would have been fair, the fact that they went home them safely on a traditionally turbulent hunting ground can only bode well.

As the opening matches went on, it was intense and engaging fare in which both sides fought the fight admirably. A goal in each half settled things, but perhaps the defining streak, at least from Arsenal’s perspective, came eight minutes after half-time when Wilfried Zaha was denied by the cleaner tackles from William Saliba as he turned towards the guideline. An old enemy had been defeated by a newcomer to the league and it wouldn’t be the last time; Saliba was exceptional in his first game for Arsenal, three years after joining from Saint-Etienne, and prevailed during waves of pressure from the hosts in the second half. It will now be necessary to dislodge from their central defense.

“You don’t really see that at 21 in a debut in the Premier League against this opponent where you face difficult players and [have to] resolve the situation,” said Mikel Arteta. “He did it with that composure, that calm and that presence. Big credit to the boy.

Arteta was right to believe that Arsenal’s bid was light years away from his abandoned bid in April. “We showed great resilience,” he said. “You don’t win here without it. Building that mindset and finding a way to get through those times and maintain clean sheets is going to be vital to our success. When Jordan Ayew’s eyes lit up on the edge of the penalty area as the proceedings entered the final 20 minutes, Martin Ødegaard was in a flash to clear the ball from his feet; before half-time, Zaha had snuck past the stand into right-back Ben White to find that Bukayo Saka was the last man.

It was the details that carried them through, although earlier in the game it appeared that the points could materialize more easily. Arsenal started off like a train, spinning positions in dizzying fashion while showing the sharpness and ferocious pressing that had whetted appetites in pre-season. Predictably, Gabriel Jesus was in the lead, seeing Marc Guéhi block after a slalom run, while Oleksandr Zinchenko’s deflected shot tested Vicente Guaita.

The two arrivals from Manchester City won the league together in May; Arteta has made no secret of his hope that such experiences will rub off on their new teammates.

Jesus was, in his manager’s words, “electric” at first, but it was Zinchenko who helped unlock Palace from a routine straight out of the training ground.

Marc Guéhi inadvertently heads Bukayo Saka’s cross into his own net. Photography: Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters

Saka initially appeared to have passed a corner from the right, but in fact it was a set piece of pure art: Zinchenko had made an unfollowed run to the other side of the box and there was no no doubt of intent as he bent his neck to the ball, moving significantly towards Gabriel Martinelli to time his own jump perfectly and nod to Guaita.

It was certainly an improvement on Martinelli’s start in 2021-22, when he didn’t score for three months. The striker might be pleased with his interactions with Jesus, with the pair looking like dervishes at times. Arteta lamented that Arsenal didn’t seal the points sooner after that, ceding spell control too easily, but they made sure the minutes ticked away. Balls fizzled across their six-yard box but, when Saka created a similar situation at the other end in an increasingly rare raid, his driven cross slipped from Gehi’s head and into it.

Palace, who announced Christian Benteke’s departure to DC United before kick-off, might lament that they were largely dominant between the 35th and 80th minute after such a slow start.

Aaron Ramsdale fended off Odsonne Édouard’s header from six yards before half-time and was called off early in the second half. White went for a walk and left a gaping gap for Eberechi Eze to hold on to Zaha’s pass but, with time to weigh his arrival, he allowed the keeper to block.

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“In a football match, there are important moments when you have to take risks,” explained Patrick Vieira. “The story of the match is that we didn’t score the goal to come back: that’s the biggest frustration.”

For Arsenal, the story was that they didn’t let Palace score. “They are ready, they look hungry, with the mentality that they really want to win,” Arteta said of his side. So far, it’s hard to argue.


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