Yeses: the rumors are true. The Premier League, which never really left, is back. And I was feeling pretty good on a steamy Friday night watching the Arsenal team, full of impatient new moving parts doing a great job, raising some soft hopes early in the season at Selhurst Park.
It was 24 degrees in South London as the start was approaching at the earliest English highest level ever began. It was a dry kind of heat, the grass parched white, the sky dead blue. English summer has at least a sense of irony. To avoid the sun in the Gulf, the Premier League will play a heatwave in England instead.
After all, it was a nice, airy start to the season. If last week’s Community Shield felt like a kind of visit, football turned into a 90-minute Sopranos dream sequence, there was something familiar about it. London Derby. Manager of densely combed systems. It’s an earthy summer sun. Maybe it was real after all.
This is a question that may also apply to Arsenal in the season, which will determine the work of Mikel Arteta so far. They started with a bold opening eleven, one you can chat with fans in chat, hopeful eleven, breakfast cake 11. Saliba! Martinelli! No filler! Maybe except for Granite Xhaki! But that’s good, it’s good now too!
At the end of a fierce 2-0 win, a result that does not reflect Crystal Palace’s resilience between goals seemed like something could move here. Gabriel Jesus was good. Oleksandr Zinchenko was good for a while. William Saliba was very good and would get the most attention.
Saliba made seven briefings without having to slide. His departure was solid. He didn’t look frustrated or even very tired towards the end, beating the terrible snot-stained performances of Arsenal’s central defenders. He went through it, teasing seconds earlier in his head. This is good. Where was he again?
If the game was reassuringly dynamic, then there were disturbing events on the first day of Sky Sports coverage. Prior to the start of the game, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher were sent to do vox-pops with fans, which was a step up from going for milk but undermining the role of expert analyst. Why not go all out and just put them in some pub?
Gaz and Carra did their best. But frowning guys in replica jerseys are in abundance beyond the paywall. People pay for a forensic subscription, with graphic-laden content.
Then there was the strange, claustrophobic prospect that Patrick Vieira would be forced to utter out of breath clichés at half-time. It was unpleasant for all concerned. Vieira doesn’t want to do this. It is not part of the performance at this stage. This isn’t American wrestling yet. Stop overproducing this thing. The game is good. Trust it.
Both of these teams were good, Arsenal right from the start. Gabriel Jesus did something brilliant with three minutes left, stealing the ball 40 yards from the goal and doing a nutmeg and dodging. For a long time these pink T-shirts, the color of heat-damaged ham, found neat, rolled up little triangles. Zinchenko was excitingly mobile, scoring more hits in the first half an hour than anyone else on the pitch.
He had a hand in opening the gate, finding five yards of clear space by making a looped run from the edge of the box. He aimed the ball back. Martinelli nodded.
Jesus was also quick on his feet and desperate to dribble and turn around. It outlines exactly what Arsenal needed: pressure, advantage, authority. Perhaps people have forgotten how good he is or how good he was meant to be. Between them, Jesus and Martinelli fired eight dribbles and four shots in the first half of the season. They played together for Brazil against Japan in Tokyo in June. They should be that good.
The palace was depleted by injury and loss of players. Expectations are low, which might just be a handy place, but Vieira really seems to know what it’s doing and which players to trust. They repelled 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 off his skills. Additionally, Arsenal have Saka who scored a second goal, forcing Marc Guéhi to rebound a strong low cross into his own net.
For Arteta, the trajectory is already clear, the investment implementation time in time and resources. But they have a style of play and a plan. The shadow of the great Arsène passed. The disadvantages here are the disadvantages of this team, the strengths on which Arteta instilled. Whisper, but it was quite encouraging.