The high expectations surrounding Arsenal's prospects in this season's English Premier League title race were tested during a nervy home struggle against Crystal Palace.
The Gunners seemed destined to be held to a stalemate by the club who saw previous manager Tony Pulis walk out on the eve of the new season. However, a stoppage-time winner from midfield talisman Aaron Ramsey earned manager Arsene Wenger's team a 2-1 win.
Wenger's men also needed injury time at the end of the first half to answer Brede Hangeland's early headed goal. The man most at fault for that goal, centre-back Laurent Koscielny, made amends with a deftly flicked header:
Laurent Koscielny has scored more goals in the last three Premier League seasons (7) than any Arsenal defender. pic.twitter.com/W9I95jsXZ4— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 16, 2014
The win marks a pleasing fresh start for Arsenal. That's something the Gunners haven't enjoyed to begin a campaign in quite a while:
That's Arsenal's first opening day Premier League win since 2009 when they beat Everton 6-1 at Goodison Park. pic.twitter.com/M0mZfI2URk— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 16, 2014
In many ways, the game resembled the familiar pattern Arsenal have to deal with when entertaining smaller clubs at the Emirates. Palace predictably packed the middle with numbers and closed off spaces for off-the-ball runners.
They also certainly adopted a robust approach to stifling Arsenal's passing play:
The Palace tactics didn't make for appealing viewing, but they were effective. Ramsey was quick to cite how difficult Palace made things for Arsenal, per BBC Sport:
They were very hard to break down. They lost their manager earlier in the week, but you would never have known that.
Tony Pulis got them playing really well and they picked up a lot of points towards the end of last season. You could see they were well organised and it was difficult but we came away with the three points.
Wenger echoed his star man's thoughts in comments also given to the BBC:
They made it very difficult, they defended very well and took their first opportunity. After that they made it very tight, they were physically very strong and we needed to keep going. Our desire got us through.
If you look at the results today, no home team won, we were the only one so it shows in the first game it is not easy to win.
The Arsenal manager has immediately switched his focus to the upcoming UEFA Champions League qualifier against Besiktas, per the club's official Twitter feed:
The boss: 'We got the result we wanted. Let's focus now on Besiktas.' #AFCvCPFC— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 16, 2014
The Gunners chief is right to quickly turn attention to such a key fixture. In terms of what his team will look like, Wenger offered an update on the availability of German World Cup stars Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, per BBC Sport:
The Champions League qualifier is massive game for us next week against Besiktas, we have a short time to recover. Normally the German players would not play in that game. We will have to see on Sunday but only in case of emergency.
Wenger may need to rush some members of that trio into the fray, following injury issues for midfielder Jack Wilshere and left-back Kieran Gibbs. It's Gibbs who seems the main concern at this stage:
Wenger: 'Kieran Gibbs looks to have a hamstring or Achilles injury. I don't know.' #AFCvCPFC— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 16, 2014
That's another blow for Gibbs, a talented but worryingly brittle player. At least the Gunners can plug in Spanish veteran Nacho Monreal.
Wenger also has the option to turn to Czech veteran Tomas Rosicky if the equally fragile Wilshere isn't ready for the trip to Turkey:
Wenger on Wilshere: 'My main concern is his ankle but it looks like he's getting sharper every week.' #AFCvCPFC— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 16, 2014
Early issues like these are bound to test the depth and quality of Arsenal's overall squad. However, for now, the Gunners can bask in a positive start to the new season.
No such comfort exists for Palace and caretaker boss Keith Millen. He may only be operating on borrowed time as the man in charge, but ESPN FC reporter Iain Macintosh was left impressed by the way Millen guided the team under difficult circumstances:
Millen, stood confidently in shorts on the touchline, his exposed legs fearless of the late summer chill, would certainly be a popular choice with the supporters. He made shrewd substitutions and appears to have the respect of the players. Ramsey's late goal robbed him of an impressive bullet point for his CV, but you wonder whether Parish might just give him another game before he makes his choice.
Millen told BBC Sport how the players were "shocked" by Pulis' exit. But he was quick to remove that as an excuse for defeat.
However, one creditable managerial performance is unlikely to prevent an accelerated search for Pulis' replacement. BBC Sport reporter David Ornstein believes the club has already identified its top target:
There were shades of the 2007/08 season opener for the Gunners. Then, Arsenal were also entertaining a London rival they were expected to comfortably beat in the form of Fulham.
However, just like today, the opposition provided a far sterner test than many expected. Arsenal went down to an early goal and needed an injury time winner from the mercurial Alexander Hleb to win.
That result provided the springboard for Arsenal's best league season since moving from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. The Gunners finished third and just four points off the top that year, fielding arguably Wenger's most well-rounded team of the Emirates era.
Perhaps Ramsey's late heroics can spark an even better run in this year's campaign.
As for Palace, the manner of the defeat, following long periods of brave resistance, could only compound any anger surrounding the the exit of Pulis. A new manager is certain to have to deal with discontent among the squad.