Arsenal’s return to Europe passed smoothly in a game that will take a strange, unwanted place in history. A minute’s silence cannot have been conducted before too many other second halves but before the restart both sides’ players linked arms and stood around the centre circle to commemorate the Queen, news of her death having broken at the end of the opening period.
A section of the away support had already performed a rendition of the national anthem and the stadium staff had, to their credit, reacted quickly to show an image of the monarch on the big screens at both ends along with words of condolence.
Mikel Arteta will be pleased with how Arsenal handled their task against a limited FC Zürich and especially enthused by a revelatory debut from Marquinhos. The Brazilian winger, 19, scored their first and, after Mirlind Kryeziu had equalised with a penalty, created the winner for Eddie Nketiah. Arsenal did not overly feel the effects of seven changes and have taken early control of Group A.
What a moment the opener was for Marquinhos, who Arsenal had resisted loaning out after his arrival from São Paulo. He was visibly emotional after scoring. Nketiah had been released down the left by Fábio Vieira, who was making his first start, but his delivery needed to be perfect if Marquinhos was to have a clear chance. It was deliciously weighted and converted, on the run, with a right-footed finish into the top corner.
Marquinhos had already shown an end product, cutting on to his left foot four minutes previously and finding Gabriel Martinelli. The resulting header was wayward but Zürich were unable to heed the warning. In the period after conceding they found any kind of possession a luxury; Arsenal were dominant and Vieira, pulling the strings, lobbed on to the roof of the net. Granit Xhaka, loudly booed due to his Basel roots, saw a low drive tipped wide by Yanick Brecher.
The Swiss champions, playing 40 miles from home due to a double-booking with a Diamond League athletics meeting, were vociferously backed but offered modest opposition. Another Arsenal debutant, the goalkeeper Matt Turner, had given them a leg-up early on by presenting the ball to Tosin Aiyegun but the forward struck a post from an angle.
They began to threaten sporadically before the interval, Kieran Tierney throwing himself at Ole Selnæs’s shot, but it was still a surprise when they levelled. They had Nketiah to thank for a striker’s challenge on Fidan Aliti after a corner had not been fully cleared. It was a rash tackle and an indisputable penalty. One Kosovan defender had been fouled; another, Kryeziu, beat Turner.
Arsenal’s support were unimpressed by the hum in the home end during the minute of reflection and made their feelings clear. They then watched their team rediscover their dominance, Martinelli seeing a shot headed away by Kryeziu before Tierney and Nketiah came close. Just after the hour Martinelli hooked a difficult volley over and Zürich, whose response was a speculative attempt by Aiyegun to surprise Turner, were hanging on.
Not for long. By now another Arsenal goal was inevitable and Nketiah will have been relieved to atone for his error. It was Marquinhos, showing shades of Bukayo Saka in his ability to maraud inside and deliver accurately, who picked him out and the far-post header was planted firmly past Brecher. Their hosts huffed and puffed in response but had no answer this time and the substitute Gabriel Jesus almost made it three late on.