Starting on a Friday night, travelling across London to face a boisterous home crowd? Arsenal had been there before.
The Gunners lost 2-0 at Brentford on the opening Friday in August last year and would end the month bottom of the league for the first time since 1992.
This year, Arsenal were dealt a sticky-looking opener at Crystal Palace but returned to north London with three points – so what did we learn?
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. Big-money signings Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus made debuts, as did William Saliba.
Arsenal were the youngest team in the Premier League last season. They started this season in a similar vein, naming a starting XI with an average age of 24 years and 219 days. Jesus and Zinchenko, both 25 years old, were comparative veterans. Their influence was clear from the start.
Jesus did not score on Friday – he had only one shot all game. But last season he provided eight Premier League assists for Manchester City – joint-most for City, along with Kevin De Bruyne – and his all-round game was on show at Selhurst Park.
Jesus played a key part in Arsenal’s first real opening. He outmuscled Jeff Schlupp, nutmegged Palace debutant Cheick Doucoure, and beat centre-back Joachim Andersen, before his shot deflected into Martinelli’s path. Strength, skill and a willingness to take on opponents and be Arsenal’s focal point.
It is a sample size of just one game, but Jesus’ numbers on Friday eclipsed last season’s contributions per 90 minutes from senior forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
To put those numbers into more context, the last Arsenal forward to win more duels in an away game was Alexis Sanchez in December 2017, and last season only one Arsenal player surpassed six successful dribbles in any game (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 final 10 games last season – the Gunners lost five of those games and did not keep a clean sheet in any of them.
Arsenal needed cover at left-back, but that is not all Zinchenko offers – his tactical flexibility gives Mikel Arteta something different.
Zinchenko tends to play in midfield for his country, and during his time at City he would often position himself in a more central position during build-up play. On his Arsenal debut, the Ukraine international alternated between providing width, especially high up the pitch, and coming inside.