With the triumph in the FA Community Shield against Manchester City yesterday (see player ratings from the match here) and with the Premier League season kicking off in under a week, there is an abundance of Arsenal news to discuss this morning.
Let’s start with yesterday. And what an awesome day it was. Anybody and everybody wants to point out that the FA Community Shield is only a preseason match, or that Manchester City wasn’t really trying. While both of those things might be true on some level, it was still meaningful that Arsenal won another trophy so convincingly. My favorite quote I’ve read comes from Arsene Wenger, who said, “If you lose it, they say you lost a trophy. If you win it, they say it’s only the Community Shield.”
But even if you don’t believe the trophy is meaningful in and of itself, consider this victory as important in other ways. For me, beating another top-4 side at the start of the season should boost Arsenal’s confidence levels tremendously. A year ago, when playing top opposition, Wenger’s men often played on the back foot, looking at times like they lacked belief. But yesterday’s result will bring that belief back into the squad. No team can win a title without believing. And no team will believe until it can beat the top sides. And Arsenal ran a top side off the field yesterday. It can only be a good thing.
On an individual level, lifting a trophy of any sort is good for morale in the dressing room. Winning not only will keep players around and attract new ones, but it will inspire those on the fringes of the team. Trophies boost the spirits of the entire squad, not just those on the field. And from yesterday’s game, a lot of players can be happy with how they played. The new boys especially should be pleased with how they fit directly into the team. That Calum Chambers was voted man of the match by the fans is a deserving welcome that should hopefully inspire him to continue on the way to great things.
And who doesn’t feel better about the team after yesterday? Chambers definitely looked like a player capable of playing center back, and playing it quite well at that. Even Nacho Monreal played well at that position in the second half. And in the midfield, Mikel Arteta’s performance should do a lot to alleviate any worries about the defensive midfield position. Going up against the power of the City midfield, Arteta held his ground, and distributed the ball as accurately as ever going forward. He may not be a flashy international, but he does the little things right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger leaves that position alone in the transfer market the rest of the way.
The biggest indication that Wenger has no desire to spend big on William Carvalho or Sami Khedira was given yesterday when Arteta was officially appointed Arsenal’s next captain after the match. Had Arteta not been a big part of Wenger’s plans going forward, he would not have made that choice. I’m sure nearly every Arsenal fan will have wanted a splashier choice for the captainship, be it Per Mertesacker or Aaron Ramsey, but none of us should be surprised at Arteta’s appointment. He is a thorough professional and a good leader on the field. He won’t be burdened by the job, and unlike many others, he doesn’t play internationally, meaning he spends more time around the club than almost anyone else. Arteta won’t be captain forever. But he’ll do the job admirably.
At vice captain, Mertesacker was the obvious choice. A year ago, he wore the band often, and I think that will happen again this year. He is a fantastic leader, and has the respect of everyone in the dressing room. Areteta has a terrific right hand man in Mertesacker.
I’ve yet to address the confirmed departure of Thomas Vermaelen. The now former Arsenal captain left this weekend for Barcelona on a £15m deal. This move was a long time coming, and it should satisfy all involved. Vermaelen gets a fresh start on his career and a chance to reestablish himself as a top class defender. Arsenal gets their wish of moving him abroad, and for a substantial fee at that. And Barcelona gets an experienced center back capable of playing their style.
There are no hard feelings on this one. Unlike the other high profile departures in recent years, Vermaelen stuck around even when it wasn’t in his best interest. He doesn’t leave for Barcelona seeking more money or more trophies. He goes seeking playing time. And we can’t fault him for that after he spent more than a full year quietly accepting his role behind Mertesacker and Koscielny. It can’t have been easy to have had to give pre-game captain’s notes every week knowing he wasn’t going to play, but Vermaelen was extremely professional throughout.
I really liked the Belgian. His marauding style of play was always fun to watch, and you could tell how much the games meant to him. When he scored a goal, he had an infectious smile. And his celebrations were always displays of pure joy. It was hard for me to watch him waste his career on the bench, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance elsewhere. My lasting Vermaelen memory won’t be of a defensive lapse or of him sitting on the pitch – it will be of him sprinting to the corner flag with the biggest grin on his face after scoring a 95th minute winner against Newcastle. Best of luck in Barcelona, Thomas.
Today also has brought the return of our World Cup winning trio to training. Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil were all smiles on their arrival this morning, and they while they are a ways off from being match fit, their presence at training is most welcome. It’s always nice to have winners around.
The Premier League season is so close I can feel it. While yesterday was great, it will be an even better feeling waking up on Saturday knowing there is an entire year of Arsenal ahead of us. I am full of cautious optimism right now. It is going to be a great season.