Arsenal: Mikel Arteta’s team analyzed after an impressive victory over Crystal Palace in the first Premier League match | football news

Starting on a Friday night, traveling across London to take on a boisterous local crowd? Arsenal had been there before.

The Gunners lost 2-0 at Brentford on the opening Friday of August last year and would finish the month bottom of the league for the first time since 1992.

Arsenal were bottom of the league table at the end of August last year.
Arsenal were bottom of the league table at the end of August last year.

Arsenal were given a tough-looking opener at Crystal Palace this year, but returned to North London with three points, so what did we learn?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s win against Crystal Palace in the Premier League

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Arsenal’s starting XI at Selhurst Park contained just three players who started at Brentford a year earlier: Ben White, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli. The great signings of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus made their debuts, as did William Saliba.

Only Ben White, Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli featured in Arsenal’s starting XI in the season-opening game against Brentford last season.

Arsenal were the youngest team in the Premier League last season. They started this season in a similar fashion, naming a starting eleven with an average age of 24 years and 219 days. Jesus and Zinchenko, both 25, were comparatively veterans. His influence was clear from the start.

Jesus didn’t score on Friday, only taking one shot in the entire game. But last season he provided eight Premier League assists for Manchester City, the joint most for City, along with Kevin De Bruyne, and his full game was shown at Selhurst Park.

Gabriel Jesus in action for Arsenal vs Crystal Palace
Gabriel Jesus in action for Arsenal vs Crystal Palace

Jesus played a key role in Arsenal’s first real start. He outplayed Jeff Schlupp, Palace debutant Cheick Doucoure and beat central defender Joachim Andersen, before his shot deflected into Martinelli’s path. Strength, skill and willingness to take on opponents and be the focal point of Arsenal.

It’s a single-game-sized showing, but Jesus’ numbers on Friday dwarfed last season’s contributions by 90 minutes from older forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

To put those numbers into more context, the last Arsenal striker to win the most away games was Alexis Sanchez in December 2017, and last season only one Arsenal player had six successful dribbles in any match (Martinelli at Tottenham in May).

Zinchenko started at left-back ahead of Kieran Tierney, who was a key player last season, but his fitness has been a long-standing concern. He missed Arsenal’s last 10 games last season: the Gunners lost five of those games and didn’t keep a clean sheet in any of them.

Arsenal needed cover at left-back, but that’s not all Zinchenko offers – his tactical flexibility gives Mikel Arteta something different.

Zinchenko tends to play in central midfield for his country, and during his time at City, he often found himself in a more central position during the preparatory game. In his debut for Arsenal, the Ukraine international alternated between giving width, especially up the pitch, and going inside.

Key players: Zinchenko (35), Martinelli (11), Xhaka (34), Jesus (9) and Gabriel (6)

As he came on, Zinchenko formed a triangle with Martinelli and Xhaka, overloading Palace’s right flank and allowing Arsenal to dominate early exchanges. In the first 20 minutes, before Zinchenko assisted Martinelli’s first goal, Arsenal enjoyed 67 per cent of possession.

Zinchenko’s heat map of the Palace game shows how centrally he plays, compared to a more conventional full-back like Tierney.


Are you no longer overcome?

Arsenal dominated the first 20 minutes against Palace, and when Martinelli’s goal came it was fully deserved. But it’s rare to get away with it for 90 minutes away from home in the Premier League, and Aaron Ramsdale made some great saves from Odsonne Eduoard and Ebere Eze when Palace applied the pressure.

Arsenal watched the game though, and that is sure to please boss Mikel Arteta, as much as the performance in those first 20 minutes.

It’s almost a cliché to suggest that Arsenal have a soft centre, but they suffered from inconsistencies last season. They lost 13 league games, including nine of 19 away games; the Gunners have only suffered more away defeats in two Premier League seasons.

Arsenal need to pick up points in tough away games if they want to finish in the top four this season.

Palace finished Friday’s game with the best expected goal tally, racking up an xG of 1.21, compared to 1.00 for Arsenal.

Last season Arsenal lost nine of 12 games when they had a lower xG than their opponents, averaging 0.58 points per game. This was a notably worse record than the other top six teams. The best and most consistent teams score points when they are under pressure.

Arsenal won 72 duels against Palace on Friday, their most in any Premier League away game since a 1-1 draw at Manchester United in November 2016. They also made 29 tackles, their most in the Premier League against a visiting public for more than seven years.

Of course, it is still early days. Arsenal made real progress last season but still had a frustrating habit of taking two steps forward and then one step back. There is more testing ahead in the coming months but, if you were on that sunny end at Selhurst Park on Friday night, you will feel much safer than you did a year ago at Brentford.

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