On Sunday Arsenal took charge of the title race with victory over last season’s champions Manchester City in the Community Shield. While some question the cup’s impact, Arsenal may take confidence from their victory, and may look to convert their winning ways into momentum for the fast approaching Premier League season.
Arsenal dominated the game’s early play, with their pace and incisiveness proving too much for the somewhat makeshift City eleven – Manuel Pellegrini elected to omit any player who featured at the World Cup beyond the group stages, and so was without captain Vincent Kompany as well as regulars Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis, as well as ruling out newcomers Bacary Sagna and Frank Lampard. This left the game in the hands of City’s fringe players, and it was one of these players which permitted the Arsenal opener. City’s young Belgian centre-back Dedryk Boyata tangled with Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, allowing the ball to run into the gap behind him where Santi Cazorla had the time and space to pick his spot and strike the ball home.
Yaya Sanogo, who emerged in the senior side at the end of last season, was chosen ahead of Olivier Giroud to lead the Arsenal line, and was handed a gilt-edged chance to score his first senior goal, only to flash his effort wide. Soon after, however, Sanogo atoned. Sanchez charged down the right flank and pinged an inch-perfect through ball to Sanogo. Outmuscling the formidable Boyata, Sanogo wriggled free to play in an onrushing Aaron Ramsey. With plenty left to do – Sanogo’s pass ran a little short – Ramsey expertly overcame the City defence, pausing for just a moment to fool the quickly responding back line before coolly slotting home for Arsenal’s second. With his blend of technical ability and footballing intelligence, Arsene Wenger might pray Ramsey’s past fitness challenges are behind him and he can stay fit for the full season.
It was Sanogo, though, that played the role more characteristic of the technical midfielder as Arsenal again advanced on the City goal mouth. Receiving the ball barely beyond the halfway line, Sanogo turned with surprising grace for the big and occasionally ungainly striker before stroking a sublime ball into the path of Alexis Sanchez, only to find his route to goal blocked by the quickly advancing City goalkeeper Willy Caballero. With Arsenal’s pace and incisiveness coming from their wide play, the centre of their forward line more characterised by its strength, this type of move may become a mainstay of Wenger’s side, though they must be mindful of becoming overly predictable.
The scoring was rounded off by an outlandish effort from Olivier Giroud, who replaced Sanogo in the second half. Running from deep with plenty of bodies between himself and the goal, he created a pocket of space for himself before expertly lifting the ball over Caballero, such was the power, precision and unpredictability of Giroud’s effort.
While Sanogo’s energetic endeavours stood out due to his role in the scoring, another young Gunner was just as pivotal at the heart of the Arsenal back line. Calum Chambers, arriving as part of the mass exodus from Southampton for a fee in the region of £16 million, showcased his versatility by filling in at centre back (his St Mary’s senior career was spent primarily at right back), demonstrating a calmness and composure beyond his 19 years.
The significance of the Community Shield very much lies in what side of the result each team finds themselves. For an under-strength City side it may be little more than another preseason run-out, giving opportunity for the younger players to develop, the more senior players to make an impression and the manager to refine his tactics. For Arsenal it may be the first silverware of the season, a victory over a potential title rival and an important impetus for success only a week away from the season beginning in earnest.
How might Arsenal build on this early form come the start of the Premier League season?