Shield win gives encouraging signs for the season

When Santi Cazorla fired the ball into the bottom corner of Manchester City’s net on Sunday, it didn’t feel like the Community Shield was a glorified friendly. The fans at the Arsenal end of Wembley celebrated, the players understood that this was a trophy worth winning, and the performance was professional.
This was a real test of where Arsenal are ahead of the new season, and the signs were incredibly positive. The 3-0 win was about as good as fans could have hoped for, as Manchester City were kept at arms’ length for the majority of the game. Getting the shield at the end of the game was a great bonus, but the performance and the convincing win was the main positive to come from the match.
After the defeat to New York Red Bulls, Arsenal were much improved at the Emirates Cup a week later. In the Community Shield, Arsenal stepped up the intensity and level of their performance again, and looked much sharper than Manchester City. The Gunners were quicker to the ball and pinned City back during the first half. Whereas Arsenal had been the slow starters in big games last season, this time, Arsene Wenger’s team were keen to make the early running in the match.
When Santi Cazorla opened the scoring, it was fully deserved. The Spaniard showed the value of being equally as comfortable on both feet as he shifted the ball onto his left foot on the edge of the area and found the bottom corner.
As soon as Arsenal had taken the lead, Manchester City’s need to chase the game meant the Gunners had space on the counter attack. With Yaya Sanogo’s unorthodox style causing problems, alongside the pace and directness of Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal were a real threat on the break, unlike for much of the previous season. With more time playing together, Sanchez will link up better with his team mates. Mesut Ozil is still to return, and his ability to slide through balls for the Chilean will only increase Arsenal’s ability to quickly get in behind a defence.
It wasn’t a surprise to see a counter attack lead to Arsenal’s second goal before half time as Sanogo stretched the Manchester City defence once more. He got the ball back to Aaron Ramsey in the penalty area, and after a quiet pre-season in front of goal, the Welshman bagged his first goal since the FA Cup final as a fantastic first touch allowed him to fire into the far corner from a tight angle.
Following a few half time changes, Arsenal sat back slightly as Manchester City finally started applying some pressure, but when they finally managed to get a shot on target, Wojciech Szczesny was sharp to deny them.
After a lethargic performance in the Emirates Cup, Oliver Giroud was mainly using the Community Shield for some match sharpness, and coming on with the Gunners 2-0 up, there was less pressure on him. No-one expected to see him lamp the ball in from 30 yards out, but when he controlled the ball in some space, Giroud went for it and scored a belting goal to virtually secure the win. With Sanogo’s four goals from last weekend potentially in the back of Giroud’s mind, the goal will have just calmed any nerves before the season about his position in the team. It just so happened that the nerve-calming goal was the best he’s ever scored in an Arsenal shirt.
For the rest of the match, Arsenal closed the game off and never looked in too much danger of conceding. That was despite Nacho Monreal having to fill in at centre back again, alongside Calum Chambers. The new youngster was fantastic, and should have picked up the man-of-the-match award. For someone that’s so young and still learning the position, his reading of the game, speed and composure were extremely impressive. Having not really noticed him last season at Southampton, I can now see why Arsene Wenger was happy to pay £16 million for him as he looks like the real deal.
Obviously both teams were missing players, so it wasn’t like Arsenal beat a full-strength City team, and Pellegrini’s team really suffered defensively, but this was an efficient afternoon’s work from Arsenal. It has laid down a marker to the rest of the league as Manchester City never really looked like they’d win the game.
Winning is a great habit, and whilst the Community Shield is a slightly glorified friendly, the newcomers to the team will already feel like they’ve contributed something. The momentum from the cup final has continued, and feel good factor around the club has been strengthened. There’s still a centre-back shaped hole in the squad, but on the evidence of Sunday’s win at Wembley, Arsenal fans can be very optimistic for the coming campaign. That is something that hasn’t been the case going into the last few seasons.
 
Listen to the podcast following the Community Shield – Giroud with a golazo from 30 yards
 
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Shortened pre-season to be tested by City

As Germany deservedly celebrated their World Cup final win, there can’t have been a single Arsenal fan who begrudged Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil their winning moment. It came at the end of a fantastic tournament, and was a double success for the three players following the FA Cup win at Wembley a couple of months earlier. All Gooners had been German for the night and it was great.
However, it hasn’t taken long for me to be lamenting international football again. The season hasn’t even started yet and I’m doing it. While it was genuinely brilliant to see Arsenal players with their hands on the biggest prize in international football, the season is less than two weeks away (and sort of starts on Sunday with the Community Shield) and Arsenal’s German contingent are still having their necessary breaks following the exertions in Brazil. Even though, on paper, the Arsenal squad can deal with missing those three players despite Mertesacker and Ozil almost being guaranteed starters, those who have come back to pre-season after a post-World Cup rest are still getting back up to speed, potentially making Sunday’s Community Shield against Manchester City a tougher test than usual.
With the tours to various parts of Asia in recent pre-seasons, the Gunners have normally had plenty of games under their belt before the serious stuff starts, sometimes as many as seven. With the World Cup making pre-season start slightly later than normal, and with no trips to the Far East, Arsenal have only played four games in the build-up to the new campaign. One of these was an extremely gentle run-out at Boreham Wood and another included a striker-less line-up at New York Red Bulls.
With less matches, and travelling, the Arsenal squad will have been able to do more training, but the results of truncated pre-season for many will really tested at Wembley on Sunday. In the Emirates Cup over the weekend, some players, like Yaya Sanogo, looked refreshed from all the training work they’d done in pre-season, instead of playing in numerous games against random opposition. In contrast, Olivier Giroud looked knackered from the start against Monaco after an intensive first week back after the World Cup.
Less games could still play into Arsenal’s hands though, with players potentially being fresher for the early run of matches, rather than being burnt out from too many pre-season matches, some of which are often for purely commercial reasons rather than necessarily being what Arsene Wenger would want the players to be doing.
Given Arsene Wenger’s impressively decisive and quick work in the transfer market over the summer, it is a shame that the shortened pre-season hasn’t allowed much time for the whole squad to gel together before an important August starts, with a Champions League qualifier sandwiching a tough away trip to Everton. I didn’t think it’d be possible to get annoyed at such an exciting tournament, but the likely sight of Mertesacker, Ozil and Podolski in the stands for the opening day of the season means I’ll be cursing the national team game again, with three Gunners only being a week into pre-season.
I don’t really quite know how to approach Sunday’s game at Wembley. Yes, it is effectively just a glorified pre-season match, but it’s still a trip to Wembley, it’s a chance to continue the momentum we gained from winning there in May, it’s a chance to send a message to other clubs in the league that Arsenal are ready to challenge the top teams, and it’s a chance to unleash Alexis Sanchez on English football. Hopefully another good week of training will be enough to dispel any concerns about a lack of match practise. There was a marked improvement on the team’s performance in New York for the games in the Emirates Cup following the training camp in Austria, so further improvement at Wembley should be expected.
The Arsenal squad is in a much better place than it was going into last season, but there are still squad depth concerns, particularly at centre-back. Sunday should go some way to showing how deep those concerns should be, and how effective the shortened preparation has been for Arsenal.