Yesterday’s FA Community Shield was technically a preseason game, albeit one with a large trophy. But don’t let the detractors take anything away from what Arsenal did to Chelsea in yesterday’s 1-0 win at Wembley. There are many things I could point to in order to show the meant something, but one only needs to look at Francis Coquelin’s celebration after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal. Watch that and tell me he didn’t want to win.
Nobody at this stadium treated this match like it was meaningless, with the possible exception of the ghost of Eden Hazard. The crowd of north of 85,000 was in full voice much of the game, especially around me at the Arsenal end. And where last week at the Emirates Cup the singing and chanting was a sideshow unrelated to the action, yesterday it was very much aimed at the team itself. We were one collective rooting on Arsenal, and from what I could tell, the Chelsea fans at the other end were equally loud at times. It was loud, it was festive, and it was feisty.
Arsenal’s approach to the game was quite interesting to me, as it showed tactical acumen and extreme discipline across the board. Two blocks of four were working together at all times, catching Loic Remy offside more times than I could count. And Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott lingered above, ready to pressure when the ball went back to the defenders. When possession changed, players bombed forward, but even Aaron Ramsey made sure he had sufficient cover before venturing out of position. This was as disciplined a performance as I’ve seen from Arsenal in recent years.
The goal was spectacular. In a moment of brilliance, the Ox showed the quality we’ve all known is there. But more importantly, the goal came from an efficient switch from defense to attack that caught Chelsea off-guard. It would be inaccurate to describe it as a counter-attack, but when Per Mertesacker got the ball, and sent it upfield, quickly getting to Mesut Özil, the speed of the move had Chelsea disorganized and on their heels. By the time the ball was switched to the Ox on the right, Arsenal had created a chance from very little. And he sure took that chance. The celebration in the stands was befitting the goal I might add.
Santi Cazorla was quieter on the wing, but either he or Ramsey had to be there, so it was a toss-up of sorts that worked out in the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change as the year goes on, but it’s the first sign that Wenger likes the midfield combination of Ramsey and Coquelin. And while Olivier Giroud impressed straightaway when he was brought on for the largely invisible Walcott, I thought it was a great choice to play Walcott up front. Although Arsenal can’t send in crosses when he’s in the middle – thus largely negating Hector Bellerin’s impact – he does create more space for Özil and the Ox.
The defenders looked great. Laurent Koscielny especially caught the eye with endless amounts of clearances and tackles. He was my man of the match. And though he had one particularly bad giveaway, Bellerin dealt with Hazard well. Behind them, Petr Cech was superb. He instills the sort of confidence that Wojciech Szczesny never did. Already, his calming presence is on display as the defense stayed organized throughout. That people are calling his save of Oscar’s free kick ordinary shows just how good a goalkeeper he is, because with anyone else, that type of save is top-notch.
With Jack Wilshere missing through injury, the bench felt strangely thin, especially given how much we’ve talked up the squad depth. But that appears to be nothing too serious, which is good. As a show of how seriously he wanted to win, Wenger opted not to use half of his six allowed substitutions, sticking with the defensive introductions to tighten things up. Mikel Arteta was especially impressive in his short time on the field, which is encouraging.
Chelsea it must be said, were unimpressive. Without Diego Costa due to injury as they’ll likely be for many times this year, they had nobody of quality to turn to. And with Hazard off his game, they failed to create much of anything despite having the majority of the possession in Arsenal’s end. John Terry and Gary Cahill still look like the best pairing in the league, but apart from that, this team appears very beatable this year.
With the shield safely in stow, the preseason is behind us. With only successes to their name and three preseason trophies, Wenger must be smiling to himself this week. He’s built himself quite a team. And he’s gotten the monkey off his back by beating Jose Mourinho. Right now, Arsenal is riding a wave. The question is when the pressure piles on, can they keep it up. West Ham offers the first test, though that home game shouldn’t be too tough with the Hammers in transition right now. At this point, the sky is the limit.
We are now only five days from the start of a fun year. I’ll have my EPL preview up soon.
What did you think of yesterday’s performance? Please comment below.