Sterling made six starts in England's semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup and only returned to training with City on Monday.
He rewarded Pep Guardiola's faith with a lively showing and a clinically dispatched 14th-minute opener.
The first game of Arsenal's new era under Unai Emery often proved a thankless task but there were moments of encouragement before Silva settled the issue with a brilliantly taken second in the 64th minute.
Petr Cech – preferred in the Arsenal line-up to new arrival Bernd Leno – saved sharply at his near post in the ninth minute after Sterling twisted past Shkodran Mustafi.
But the veteran goalkeeper was grasping at fresh air when Sterling sashayed inside to lash home a shot from the edge of the box.
Hector Bellerin gave Ederson his first serious task in the City goal but that Arsenal foray only led to a swift counter-attack that ended with Sergio Aguero testing the side-netting.
Cech bailed out his ailing team-mates by thwarting Aymeric Laporte at point-blank range having parried Riyad Mahrez's free-kick.
50 - Raheem Sterling has scored 50 Premier League goals, with his strike against Arsenal only his third from outside the box. Bullseye. pic.twitter.com/ZNrwYRh0oa— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 12, 2018
Guardiola responded to Arsenal pressure early in the second half by sending on Kevin De Bruyne with half an hour remaining and the Belgium midfielder was furious to be denied the chance of doubling City's lead.
Matteo Guendouzi's error gave Aguero the freedom of the Arsenal half and the Argentina star shot too close to Cech as De Bruyne screamed for a square pass.
The anguish did not last long as Benjamin Mendy made his way to the byline and cut the ball back for Silva to emphatically find the top-left corner.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a goal ruled out for offside and blazed over at close quarters as late lethargy brought errors into City's game – something that will not have escaped their perfectionist manager.
What it means: City show their class, plenty of work ahead for Emery
After Liverpool's impressive close-season in the transfer market and emphatic 4-0 win over West Ham it was time for the champions to restate their own credentials. The manner in which City beguiled their hosts during the opening half hour showed they unquestionably remain the team to beat this term. Emery's men fought gamely and he will get a better read on his team when they face Maurizio Sarri's similarly embryonic project at Chelsea.
Pat on the back: Sterling back in the groove with landmark goal
Following tireless performances at Russia 2018 let down by errant finishing, Sterling will have taken great satisfaction in launching City's bid for back-to-back titles with his 50th Premier League goal. He was a menace throughout the opening exchanges, leaving Bellerin and Mustafi with twisted blood.
Boot up the backside: Tough introduction for Guendouzi
To his credit, the 19-year-old Frenchman refused to hide under the relentless midfield examination that comes with tackling a Guardiola side. But his passing was increasingly wayward and the air-kick that let Aguero through spoke of mental and physical fatigue. More support from the abject Granit Xhaka would not have gone amiss.
Key Opta stats
- Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 10 opening Premier League fixtures (W9 D1), winning the last eight in a row.
- Unai Emery is the first of Arsenal’s last six managers (including caretakers) to lose his first league game in charge of the club, since Steve Burtenshaw lost 0-1 against Tottenham in March 1986.
- Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola remains unbeaten against Arsenal’s Emery in all competitions, winning seven and drawing four of the eleven meetings.
- Stephan Lichtsteiner is the oldest outfield player to make his Premier League debut for Arsenal, at 34 years and 208 days.
- Bernardo Silva has scored five goals in his last seven Premier League starts for Manchester City after failing to score in his first nine.
The tough assignments keep rolling in for Emery, with a short trip to Stamford Bridge next weekend, while City face a Huddersfield Town team who have already suffered at the hands of "Sarri-ball".