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Gabriel Martinelli gets Gunners firing on opening night of new Premier League season

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Marc Guehi of Crystal Palace is challenged by Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal at Selhurst Park.

Marc Guehi of Crystal Palace is challenged by Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal at Selhurst Park.

Marc Guehi of Crystal Palace is challenged by Gabriel Jesus of Arsenal at Selhurst Park.

A new season, a couple of new central characters, and a suggestion that this reality show may be on track for a sturdier but no less exciting ride this campaign. A Brazilian named Gabriel did indeed open Arsenal’s Premier League account and although it may have been Martinelli who was the match-winner after finishing off a smart set-piece routine, the front line led by Jesus sparkled in this early examination of Mikel Arteta’s side.

Another recent arrival – although signed three years apart – was just as key. William Saliba made his long-awaited Premier League debut and the 21-year-old was solid in defence as Crystal Palace increased the pressure and Selhurst Park rose at the hope of an equaliser late on.

This was the test that had been predicted but Arsenal did not follow the script. Instead, they held firm and Marc Guehi’s own goal, deflected past Vicente Guaita from Bukayo Saka’s cross, means the Gunners are already off to a better start than last season.

A Premier League opener under the lights invariably brought back memories of Arteta’s team wilting under Brentford’s imposing pressure this time last year, but if Palace thought they could replicate the same physical approach they were met by a different proposition this time.

Just three players remained in Arsenal’s starting line-up that began what proved to be a season of boom and bust a year ago, but the way Arteta’s forwards combined in the first half, and then showed resolve and grit with their backs against the wall, spoke of an even more significant transition they have undergone since losing their hold on fourth place back in May.

Jesus was at the centre of most of their encouraging play throughout. The striker is not an imposing presence but it was his speed of thought and dazzling touches with his back to goal that led to an efficient leading of the line.

Behind him, Saliba took no risks and grew in confidence during his debut. He was excellent alongside Gabriel Magalhaes in defence.

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Palace impressed under Patrick Vieira last campaign and although they have had a disrupted pre-season, their squad almost split in two due to key players being unable to join their tour of the Far East, they eventually mustered enough of a fight to give Arsenal some nervy moments.

Arsenal, for all their positive play, could have been more incisive when space opened up late on, but their travelling fans will still crackle in excitement after their first-half display.  

Palace dropped deep to prevent their opponents space and looked to be physical to deny them time, but Arsenal were too quick and their touches in the front line were too clever.

There was more than a hint of menace behind the decision to hand Arsenal the season opener for the second year running, following the defeat to Brentford on that balmy summer evening last August. But Vieira had warned this Arsenal team were different and they were by far the more cohesive of the two teams in the opening exchanges.

A sharp run from Jesus led to a chance for Martinelli that was put wide from the angle inside four minutes and their control in tight spaces led to an early smothering of Palace.

For all of Arsenal’s smart interchanges, though, it would be a fairly simple but well constructed set-piece routine that brought the opener in the 19th minute. Saka’s deep cross to the back post picked out Zinchenko and his header back across goal found Martinelli to steer past Guaita.

Palace ambled and took their time to wake up. New signing Cheick Doucoure brought a snap in midfield but Palace were unable to offer much more until they eventually roused near half-time.

They moved the ball quicker and Arsenal dropped deeper with the concession of cheap free-kicks inside their half. From one, and almost in a carbon copy of the opener, Joachim Andersen’s knockdown found Odsonne Edouard and required a smart stop from Aaron Ramsdale. The returning Ebererchi Eze, back from a season lost to an Achilles injury, couldn’t find the far corner and instead Ramsdale saved with his legs. It would prove to be Palace’s best chance.

It had long turned into a match of resilience for Arsenal but they found a leader in Saliba, who stood up to the challenge. A perfectly-timed tackle on Wilfried Zaha in the box was the highlight of a faultless defensive performance.

Arsenal had the platform, they just needed the clincher, and Saka provided it, albeit with the help of Guehi as Arteta’s side began to shed the scars of last season with an encouraging first step forward.


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