“The last enemy that shall be destroyed”.
As I counted down the minutes left till the final whistle, the thought that it was so much more than a glorified friendly once again crossed my mind. It was Arsenal vs Chelsea, Arséne Wenger vs Jose Mourinho, empowerment vs man-management. In short, it was a battle of two completely different philosophies and the good finally prevailed. Looking at Terry’s, Fabregas’s and Mourinho’s angry, bitter and disappointed faces only reinforced my belief that the game served a purpose much more important than simply getting players ready for the new campaign. As per usual, I’ll cover the points of interest.
Sneak peek into Arsene’s thinking
When I predicted the squad ahead of the game, I made 4 changes to the side that dispatched Aston Villa in the final: Cech for Szczesny & Oxlade for Sanchez (understandable), Gabriel for Mertesacker and Wilshere for Coquelin (not position-wise, of course). Arsene made only two: Cech for Szczesny and Oxlade for Sanchez, though he did move Cazorla out wide to accommodate Ramsey in the middle.
From these choices conclusions can be drawn, in my view. We were facing the reigning champions lacking only Costa and we took the game as seriously as it gets, despite most writing it off and labelling it “a glorified friendly”. Bellerin once again did grand, Nacho was once again solid, Oxlade tore Azpilicueta (arguably the best left-back in the league) a new one, Theo was preferred to Giroud and the Ramsey-Ozil connection was deemed so important that Cazorla, a man Arsene singled out himself, had to be moved out wide.
I won’t be surprised should the same eleven players start against West Ham. Then again, taken into account Walcott was quite ineffective and Sanchez is due to return (if not in time for West Ham, then most likely for Crystal Palace), so a few tweaks may still be on the cards. But I think we’ve seen the core take shape already.
More than a trophy, certainly less than friendly
If you’ve read my preview (and you really should have), then you know I don’t consider Community Shield as a mere formality, a pre-season friendly. It may have resembled a friendly last year, when Man City put together not the strongest of squads and we started Sanogo up front; this year things were vastly different. The atmosphere of animosity between the managers, the pure joy of Arsenal players lifting the trophy and the near full-strength squads tell their own story.
It was the battle of philosophies and Wenger came out on top. Mourinho did his utmost to draw attention to his persona after the game and my disrespect towards him grew ever so slightly – mostly because he’s used up his limit a long time ago. Wenger stayed classy as always, however his remarks and post-game and most brilliant ghosting of The Classless One (from now on I’ll call Mourinho only that) were indications of a strong character. In my opinion, The Classless one doesn’t deserve a modicum of respect for his continuous disrespectful behavior towards others.
We gave Chelsea a taste of their own medicine
Needless to say, they didn’t like it. But then of course, it’s not entirely true for several reasons:
- We dominated Chelsea completely in the first half. We played them like we usually do and, while we didn’t create much, we stayed true to our style of seizing the initiative and playing to our strengths
- We defended deeper in the second half, that’s true. What is also true is that we still had better chances (two one-on-ones + two misses from Giroud) and that it’s what we usually did in 2015 when protecting the lead. There were countless occasions when we opted to protect the lead we had (West Ham, Palace, Newcastle). We just became less naive and more pragmatic in our approach
- We didn’t park the bus the way Chelsea usually does, rather, we allowed them to have the ball in the areas they couldn’t hurt us from
Cech knows a thing or two about goalkeeping
Maybe it’s a psychological effect of knowing we have a world-class goalkeeper between the sticks, however, I still feel much more confident than I ever did with Szczesny, Fabianski or even Ospina. On top of a calm and professional attitude displayed by Ospina, Cech added some spectacular saves and top performance on crosses. Moreover, is it just me or did our defense in fact looked better organised to soak up pressure and keep the opponents at arm’s length?
Do we still need strengthening in the attacking department?
I’m not only talking about a world-class striker so many Arsenal fans crave for (by the way, can Theo do the job?). I’m talking in general: we had three attackers against Chelsea. Three. Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
I fear our options won’t improve much by the time we face West Ham. Sanchez is unlikely to be fit enough, nothing was said on Welbeck and, erm, that’s it. Unless you want to count in youngsters like Iwobi and Gnabry. Akpom is already on loan…
My friend Chris rightly noted that, once Sanchez and Welbeck are back, we’ll have five options. Which, in my opinion, is one short. Look at other positions. We have at least two players in each (though some might haggle over whether Arteta is good enough to be considered Coquelin’s back up). Sure, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ramsey, even Rosicky can all do a job on the flanks, but none of these are overly convincing, two of them (Jack and Thomas) are injured while Ramsey and Cazorla will be needed elsewhere (at least one of them). Pushing either out wide will greatly diminish their output, by the way. So for me, we need another forward, whether wide one or central one.
If we wanted to lay down a marker for the coming season, this was it. Devoid of Sanchez, Wilshere, Welbeck and Rosicky we still came out on top against a Chelsea side lacking only Costa. Whether we buy an additional player is not so important: to my mind, we’ve shown the existing personnel can do the job just fine.
Roll on West Ham.