Less than a trophy, more than a friendly – the Community Hubcap

santi and theo

Worth every penny. (27 million pennies a week, btw.)

I’ll start my preview for the Community Shield game with the good news: Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have both signed new long-term contracts with the Club, worth 140k and 130k per week respectively.

Frankly, I consider these numbers reasonable. Theo becomes 2nd highest-paid (behind Ozil) and Santi is tied in 3rd with Alexis Sanchez. You could say Theo is not 2nd most important and you’d be right, but his wage is still reasonable. You can look at it this way: Theo will get roughly 2 extra million per year. By paying just 8 extra million (the contract is a 4-year deal), we got ourselves a striker in his prime, who knows the Club, been here very long & can be a proven goalscorer. Santi’s wage, meanwhile, is completely justified if we take into account his output.

As for the game, I’ll start with why I consider Community Shield a trophy:

  1. It’s a piece of silverware you can lift over your head. Not an intangible asset.
  2. A similar trophy is counted as a trophy in every other major footballing country: Spain, Italy, Germany. The system is the same there: title holder faces cup winner.
  3. It’s counted as a trophy on the honours list (starting with Wikipedia and Transfermarkt)
  4. Finally, you can only win it having won the Cup or League. So branding it “a friendly” is diminishing its importance.
Not just a hubcap.

The Community Hubcap

I’ve seen an argument which goes like “It starts and finishes on the same day”, which is stupid, as you can say it finishes after the league or cup campaign. A kind of last game.

I’ve also seen people say “you can use more than three subs”. What kind of argument is this? Rules are different for different tournaments.

I realise I probably lack two things when defending my position: historical perspective (Tim Stillman enlightened me on the matter recently) and the simple fact I wasn’t born in England. So I won’t force my opinion on you, my dear readers. I just want you to understand why I consider it a trophy.

With that sorted out, let’s finally get down to the team news.

Team news update

Bar Alexis Sanchez (who will return from holiday on the 3rd), Danny Welbeck (who has a suspiciously long injury lay-off), Thomas Rosicky (who wasn’t actually mentioned in the presser, but who should be out with an injury he sustained on international duty), everyone should be available. Ospina has a question mark hanging over his head, as he has been in training for less than a week, however, a combination of Cech and Martinez is a fine one. We’ll manage without the Colombian (who opted to stay and fight, despite receiving offers from other clubs) for one game.

cahill nose

Keeper’s Fist: 1 – Cahill’s Nose: 0

As for Chelsea, I really couldn’t care less, but it looks like they don’t have any major players out. Costa and Cahill seem to have recovered from hamstring and nose injuries respectively, their racist captain hasn’t been elbowed by Ibrahimovic hard enough for it to have any lasting effects (shame) & I haven’t heard about anyone else sidelined, so I expect a strong squad.

Squad and approach

I’ll start with Chelsea’s squad and approach – just to get it out of the way quickly.

As I’ve stated above, there seem to be no major absences from their side. That means Moaninho can field a very strong squad – and I believe he’ll do just that. Why would he do that, I hear you saying? What if he loses with his strongest squad? Better to put out a team full of youngsters and write the game off in case of defeat, saying things like “I didn’t even put out my strongest team”.

The answer is simple: Mourinho has an enormous ego. He boasts his record against Arsene Wenger, he won’t stand losing to the Frenchman in whatever game. Even if he, Arsene and everyone else views the game as completely unimportant. A good squad gives him a better chance of winning, so I expect a good squad.

As for his tactics, well, we all know what he does against big teams: he shuts shop. He’ll again park the double-decker and will look to stop us from playing rather than try playing himself. Anti-football, if you like.

So we have to find a way to break through and to defeat Chelsea. This game may not mean much in the way of prestige, but it means a lot in psychological sense.

In order to stand a better chance of winning, we too must field the strongest side possible. Arsene may be less reluctant to play a youth team, but based on experience, he won’t do that. Look at the squad he played against City last year: Szczesny – Debuchy – Chambers – Koscielny – Gibbs – Arteta – Ramsey – Wilshere – Cazorla – Sanchez – Sanogo.

Özil and Mertesacker missed last year's event. (German choir practice ran la bit long..)

Özil and Mertesacker missed last year’s event. (German choir practice ran la bit long..)

It was the strongest squad possible at the moment (bar Sanogo, who was, as you may recall, handed starts against Palace and Leicester later in the month). Mertesacker and Ozil were the only regulars missing, as both were on holiday.

The real question is not so much who we choose, but rather, what approach we adopt. I believe we should give Chelsea a taste of their own medicine and sit back. Force them to play, to dominate territory and possession and hit them on the counter.

However, I’m also quite sure Arsene won’t do that. He’ll do what he usually does: hope that his team is better than his opponent’s. He’ll gratefully accept the ball and territory Mourinho will cede, and will then try to break down two banks of five with Courtois in-behind.

In that case we are going to need width and dribblers. We can’t allow to flood the centre of the park and hope to break through there – as we found out against Swansea and Chelsea themselves, it just doesn’t work. This should be coupled with a high defensive line and ability to quickly track back to avoid being caught by a ball over the top.

Based on this, I’d put out the following team: Cech – Debuchy – Gabriel – Koscielny – Monreal – Cazorla – Ramsey – Ozil – Wilshere – Oxlade – Walcott. Yes, I would omit Mertesacker, as he can be susceptible to balls over the top and is useless with a high defensive line. Oxlade would provide width on the right with Debuchy covering and marking Hazard, while Monreal will cover for Wilshere on the left. We don’t have Alexis or Welbeck to play on the left, while Ozil is more instrumental through the centre. Jack on the left is another dribbler + him losing the ball won’t prove that costly compared to him losing the ball in central positions.

Benched - this Coq is not dribbly enough.

Benched – this Coq is not dribbly enough.

I would also omit Coquelin, as he’ll be a passenger in a passing game and he is not much of dribbler – both Ramsey and Cazorla are way better in this regard. Ramsey’s unbelievable engine and his connection with Ozil can prove really handy.

Finally, Walcott over Giroud. Giroud can easily be singled out and marked tightly when opposition parks the bus. We also won’t be able to utilise his aerial prowess much, for the same reason. Walcott has quicker feet and better overall ability when facing the goal.

The verdict

Never had we been better placed to put Chelsea to the sword. We have a big squad with options, loads of quality players who are used to each and better ability to deal with big teams. This game is of huge psychological importance to us – we should be aiming to win it.

So come on you Gunners.

P.S. By the time you read this, I will already be on vacation. I’ll try to watch games and cover them from there, but no guarantees. In worst-case scenario, I’ll be back with a review of the Crystal Palace game.

Until later…

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