Sports FOOTBALL Barney Ronay Zinchenko and Saliba shine in the sultry...

Barney Ronay Zinchenko and Saliba shine in the sultry Selhurst


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DE: The rumors are true. The Premier League that never disappeared is back. And it was quite pleasant on a sultry Friday night watching Arsenal’s squad of energetic new moving parts do a great job of instilling some tender hopes in Selhurst Park at the start of the season.

It was 24 degrees in South London when the start approached, the earliest date that the top English tournaments had ever started. It was a searing heat, the grass was scorched white, the sky was deathly blue. The English summer at least has a sense of irony. To avoid the Persian Gulf sun, the Premier League will instead play in the heat in England.

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All in all, it was a fun, fresh start to the season. If last week the Community Shield felt like a visit, a football reimagined as a 90-minute Soprano dream sequence, there was a familiar smell to it. London derby. Tightly combed system manager. It’s a painful summer sun. Maybe it really happened after all.

This question could also apply to Arsenal in a season that will determine Mikel Arteta’s job. They started with a bold starter 11, like the 11 that are discussed in the fan chats, the hopeful 11, the breakfast cake 11. Saliba! Martinelli! No filler! Except maybe Granit Xhaka! But that’s okay, he’s still good!

Towards the end of a tense 2-0 win that didn’t reflect Crystal Palace’s resilience between goals, it looked like something might just be stirring. Gabriel Jesus was good. Alexander Zinchenko was good for a while. William Saliba was very good and will get the most attention.

Saliba made seven clearances without a tackle. His departure was solid. By the end of the match, he didn’t look flustered or even very tired, a step up from Arsenal centre-backs in the past. He went through it, teasing things a few seconds ahead in his head. This is good. Where was he again?

If the game was reassuringly lively, viewers on the opening day of the Sky Sports report were in for some confusing developments. Before the start, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were sent to vox-pop with fans, which was a step ahead of the milk run, but softened the role of an expert analyst. Why not go all the way and just stick them somewhere in the pub?

Alexander Zinchenko runs away from Jordan Ayew during a confident debut. Photograph: David Klein/Reuters

Gaz and Carra did their best. But scowling guys in replica shirts abound outside of the paywall. Forensic, graphic-heavy content is what people pay their subscribers for.

Then there was the strange, claustrophobic prospect of Patrick Vieira being forced to utter breathless platitudes at halftime. It was embarrassing for all concerned. Vieira doesn’t want to do it. He is not part of the spectacle at this stage. It’s not American wrestling yet. Stop reproducing this thing. The game is good. Trust it.

And both of these teams were good, Arsenal from the very beginning. Gabriel Jesus did something brilliant with three minutes left, stealing the ball 40 yards from goal and scoring with nutmeg and stepping to the side. For a long time, these pink away shirts, the color of heat-damaged ham, found neat triangles. Zinchenko was amazingly mobile, landing more touches in the first half hour than anyone else on the pitch.

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He put his hand to the kickoff net, finding five yards of unoccupied space by looping from the edge of the box. He heads the ball back. Martinelli nodded.

Jesus was also fast on his feet and desperately tried to dribble and turn. He is exactly what Arsenal needs in the outlines: pressure, advantage, authority. Maybe people forgot how good he is or how good he was supposed to be. Together, 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 must be so good.

The palace was depleted due to injuries and the loss of players. Expectations are low, which might just be helpful, but Vieira seems to really know what he’s doing and which players to trust. They pushed back Arsenal on both sides of the break and used Wilfried Zaha as a weapon against Ben White. But it was also a chance for Saliba to show his qualities. Plus, Arsenal have Saka, who scored the second goal, forcing Marc Gaea to deflect a strong low cross into his own net.

For Arteta, the trajectory is clear from now on, it’s time to justify the investment of time and resources. But they have a style of play and a plan. The shadow of the great Arsen has passed. The flaws here are the flaws of this team, the strengths that Arteta has instilled. Whispers, but it was actually quite reassuring.

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