Arsenal get the win they deserved over Chelsea
The game may mean little and it might tell us barely anything about the season to come but Arsenal have started the campaign in encouraging style by winning the Community Shield, beating Chelsea on penalties after the game ended 1-1 in normal time.
Goals from Victor Moses and an equaliser from Arsenal substitute Sead Kolasinac meant the teams ended the 90 minutes level in a match from which few conclusions can be drawn. Arsenal were the better side overall but in this game last season, Ahmed Musa looked like a terrific signing for Leicester City and Juan Mata threw a minor tantrum. In short, this isn’t generally a fixture with which you can make judgements about the campaign ahead.
A new season is supposed to bring new beginnings, fresh ideas and exciting additions, but there was only one summer arrival in the two teams as Arsenal’s record signing Alexandre Lacazette started up front. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were not deemed ready for what amounts to a fancy preseason sharpener, Kolasinac was surprisingly left on the bench, the same place reserved for Chelsea new boys Alvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger were. Therefore, both teams had a comforting familiarity to them in the August sun.
Arsenal certainly started looking much the brighter team, with their attacks showing the purpose that Chelsea’s lacked. Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck both caused problems with their runs from behind Lacazette, and it was the Frenchman who went closest in the opening half an hour, curling a shot onto the post after a brilliant counter-attack.
There were few other clear-cut chances in the first-half: the only significant points of interest in a predictably and understandably scrappy encounter were Willian’s booking for diving in the penalty area and Per Mertesacker being forced to leave the field after a stray and unintentional Gary Cahill elbow opened a nasty cut on his forehead. He was replaced by the vast Kolasinac, a wall of muscle in a football shirt who, if nothing else, looks like he will add some extra physicality to Arsenal.
Thankfully, the second-half started with a bang. Within a minute of the restart Chelsea had won a corner on the right, it was cleared poorly by Granit Xhaka, Cahill boomed a header back into the area and Moses, left free thanks to poor marking by Rob Holding, controlled superbly and swept home
The game meandered after that, with half-chances for both sides but little by way of a pattern. Moments of interest came when Thibaut Courtois produced a fantastic diving save from a Granit Xhaka long-ranger, and the Chelsea fans were roused by the introduction of Morata with about 20 minutes to go.
Then with 10 minutes remaining, Pedro joined the slightly curious club of players who have managed to get themselves sent off in this game, perhaps harshly on this occasion as referee Robert Madeley deemed a studs-up but hardly malicious foul on Mohamed Elneny to be worthy of a red card. Chelsea were doubly punished as from the resultant free-kick, an unmarked Kolasnic rose to guide a header inside the far post and put Arsenal level, something they probably deserved.
With no extra-time penalties ensued and for some reason, Conte selected Courtois to take their second effort: the gamble didn’t work as he blazed his effort over. That said, there’s no guarantee that a forward will be more reliable as Morata demonstrated by dragging the next kick wide. Giroud stepped up, slotted his penalty home and Arsenal claimed their seventh Community Shield of Arsene Wenger’s tenure.
Few would argue that Welbeck is a world-class individual talent, the sort that people would pay their entrance money to watch alone. There’s even the vague thought that Welbeck might be a little overrated by some because he seems such a likeable character, a footballer who appreciates and really enjoys his privileged position.
But more than that, Welbeck seems to be a player that makes teams better. His runs are smart and he seeks out space well, a welcome added consequence of which is that he creates room for others too. He’s never scored more than 12 goals in a single season and his career has been badly curtailed by a variety of injury problems, but he provided a fine example of why he’s such a valuable player to have around in this game. This was particularly clear in the first half, when he and Iwobi offered significant threat from the space behind Lacazette.
Of course, it’s unlikely that Welbeck will get a regular spot in the starting XI when the season properly starts. If this was a competitive game, there’s every chance Sanchez and Ozil would both have been in from the beginning, which is how it will be for the most part. But Welbeck is a player who serves the collective, both with Arsenal and with England, and there’s plenty of value in that.
- Should Chelsea’s thin squad be a concern?
The back of the official match programme at Wembley caused mild amusement as the lengthy list of Arsenal players seemed to present a nice metaphor for their profligacy, a triumph of quantity over quality. But more notable than the 41 names on Arsene Wenger’s side was the 24 on Chelsea’s side — 25 if you include the not-listed youngster Kyle Scott.
There is a virtue to having a smaller squad. It’s easier to keep players happy, a manager can spend more time with his charges and in theory it’s more straightforward to get a team playing in the way that a manager wants. Consistency is not a popular virtue in the modern Premier League, but a tight group of players can provide it.
There is a limit, though. Of those 25 under Conte’s control, only 19 are what you would call “senior” players.
The likes of Charly Musonda and Jeremie Boga might be fine players at some point but they probably aren’t ones that Conte would be delighted to call upon in the sort of high-stakes games Chelsea will be playing this season. But both of those were named on the bench for this game, partly because of injury issues with Tiemoue Bakayoko and Eden Hazard, while Diego Costa is in his curious state of transfer limbo, just hanging out until Atletico Madrid get round to buying him.
Bakayoko, Rudiger and Morata have come in, but out have gone John Terry, Kurt Zouma, Nemanja Matic, Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah: Costa aside, Conte’s team remains the same though the squad is lighter.
It remains a troubling state of affairs a week before the season begins in earnest, and it’s hard to escape the idea that Chelsea have at best moved sideways since the end of last season. They were frequently brilliant in winning the title, but it was a campaign that basically relied on everything going right: they had no significant injuries to cope with and no burden of European football.
The transfer window is not always a foolproof problem-solver but Chelsea need the next few weeks in the market to go well if they are to avoid a repeat of, as Conte puts it, a “Jose Mourinho season.”