Determined Arsenal begin new Premier League season with deserved win over Eagles
Crystal Palace 0 Arsenal 2
Arsenal provided both a winning start to their Premier League campaign as well as decent evidence of a stronger, more cohesive outfit for the rigours ahead.
Purse strings have been loosened at the Emirates during the summer – and three points at a venue which has been something of a stronghold for Crystal Palace last term will be especially satisfying for outspoken and demanding Mikel Arteta. The Arsenal boss has been challenging his men to show greater consistency than the fifth-place finish achieved in 2021-22.
His team showed flashes of real intent, especially in the early stages and defended well under occasional Palace siege. If the north Londoners can extract precious points like this, then the portents appear good - and a far cry from last season’s miserable start to the Premier League with three successive defeats.
In the end, all it took was a basic header from close range, executed by Gabriel Martinelli, and an unfortunate, late own goal by Marc Guehi to separate the teams in this capital derby clash, the curtain-raiser to the new league season. Palace provided the occasional squeak in terms of looking for a point, but they just lacked that piece of ingenuity when it mattered. Attendant Arsenal earned their points here.
The pre-match build up centred mainly on Arteta's claim that this is a reshaped unit, meaning business. And with a net spend in the summer transfer window of almost £100m, a new captain in Martin Odegaard, this opening salvo held real potential for the Gunners to launch.
Despite all the fanfare surrounding the acquisition of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City, William Saliba, the French prodigy, was slotting in beside Gabriel at centre half. The forgotten Frenchman, signed from Saint Etienne three years ago for a cool £27m, was finally given an opportunity following long spells blighted by injuries and loans with both Nice and Marseille. Once out of sight, but now very much in Arteta's mind.
Arsenal started with vigour. With only two minutes gone, the nifty footwork by Jesus assisted Martinelli via a flailing boot of Guehi, but the young Brazilian appeared to have first night nerves by side-footing the ball past the Palace post from an inviting angle ten yards out. He was, however, to redeem himself. Zinchenko then delivered a fierce tilt which was well palmed away by Palace keeper Vicente Guaita, all before Patrick Vieira's men had time to settle.
The Eagles, with Wilfried Zaha, as always, the focal point and orchestrator of the hopes and dreams in this part of south London, struggled to keep any possession, far less momentum. Striker Odsonne Edouard was forced deep to help out his team-mates far too often, while failing to latch on to the spartan assists coming from Zaha on the left.
It was no surprise to see the Gunners, therefore, take the lead in the 19th minute. A corner flighted in from the right found Zinchenko in acres of space at the rear of the Palace penalty area – and the Ukrainian’s header into the six yard area was nodded home by Martinelli in simple fashion. From Vieira’s perspective, a particularly bad goal to concede at this level.
Arsenal showed immense resilience, encapsulated by the work rate offered by Bukayo Saka. If the Gunner-in-vogue merits attention for his attacking instincts he was also covering plenty of ground defensively, helping break up sporadic Eagles’ attacks.
Zaha was, unsurprisingly, the man charged with trying to bring the hosts back into contention. The winger was subsequently targeted by the more forceful elements of Arsenal to, mostly, fine effect.
Eventually, Gunners’ keeper Aaron Ramsdale was drawn into action, making a smart save from an Edouard header six yards out, as Palace tentatively showed a bit more in an attacking sense, causing an animated Arteta some concern on the touchline.
The unhelpful antics of Granit Xhaka, meanwhile, continue to cause needless concern for Arsenal. The anonymous Swiss was correctly booked by referee Anthony Taylor for simulation at the end of the first half - a regrettable, early reminder of the kind of behaviour which blights English football’s top tier by indulged, self-appointed dilettantes.
Such an embarrassing episode may have been an unhelpful way to end the first period for the north Londoners, with Palace stirring, but the interval at least provided an opportunity for the visitors to reset.
Still, Ebere Eze, that most languid and occasionally maddening show pony, almost levelled for Palace in 51 minutes. Ramsdale denied the playmaker who had slipped past Odegaard – but it was a serious warning for Arsenal, who lost their impetus a little before regaining enough control.
Saka, though, should have done better than to drive past at an angle after the England international helped the visitors alleviate some home pressure in 69 minutes, although Vieira’s side, for the most part, failed to ask intricate, essential questions.
With five minutes remaining, Palace were then punished when Arsenal killed the contest in fortuitous fashion. Guehi could only nod a whipped Saka cross from the left into his own net. The cushion was accomplished.
Looking ahead, interestingly, the Gabriel-Saliba-Ben White axis appears organised and focused under examination already beyond the scope of this impressive scoreline. Overall, Arteta will have left Selhurst Park very satisfied.
Eagles: Guaita, Mitchell, Guehi, Ayew, Eze, Zaha, Schlupp, Andersen, Clyne, Edouard, Doucoure
Gunners: Ramsdale, White, Partey, Gabriel, Saka, Odegaard, Jesus, Martinelli, Saliba, Xhaka, Zinchenko