The Community Shield match always reveals its true colours in the first minutes. At its most fierce, the passes ping, the lungs burn and the crowd, free from summer withdrawal, shimmers with relief. At its worst, the Mexican wave throbs lifelessly around Wembley before half time.
Fortunately, this was a game with teeth. Mohamed Elneny had an early nibble at Gary Cahill’s heel, Petr Cech came rushing out of his box to defuse a long ball, and Alex Iwobi danced through a gaggle of markers on his way to the goalline, just failing to find a team-mate with his cross.
Arsenal started well. Iwobi and Danny Welbeck were penetrative at the top of the pitch and, even though Arsene Wenger was without the injured Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Aaron Ramsey, as well as the suspended Laurent Koscielny and unfit Alexis Sanchez, his side opened the game at speed; new signing Alexandre Lacazette came within a post’s width of giving them the lead.
1. Arsenal aren’t solely dependent on Sanchez and Ozil
The opening 25 minutes would have been greatly encouraging for Wenger. While Arsenal are clearly a better side with Sanchez and Ozil, they’re perhaps not quite as dependent upon them as assumed.
There are caveats against Welbeck’s fitness, an asterisk or two next to Iwobi’s name, and nobody can be quite sure how well Lacazette will adjust to the Premier League – but the mechanics of Arsenal’s frontline dripped with grease at Wembley. The Community Shield may be proof of nothing and Chelsea were oddly sluggish, but there’s certainly some life beneath Arsenal’s surface layer.
2. Does Michy Batshuayi provide adequate attacking support?
The same can’t necessarily be said of Chelsea.
Eden Hazard’s absence hurts them and will continue to do so until he returns from injury in September, but Michy Batshuayi looks inadequate in an attacking system which depends on the centre-forward’s interactions with his supporting midfield. Alvaro Morata has been signed as a replacement and will start once integrated, but Batshuayi – fine finisher though he is – struggles to involve himself outside the box.
Batshuayi looks inadequate in an attacking system which depends on the centre-forward’s interactions with his supporting midfield
It’s not a pressing concern, as Hazard and Pedro are both capable of occupying a false-nine role if required, but Batshuayi certainly has his limitations within a team that attacks by committee. He improved as the game continued, and it’s worth noting that he’s had few competitive opportunities since arriving from Marseille a year ago, but he lacks the snarling, fire-from-the-nostrils presence of Diego Costa and doesn’t obviously possess the spacial awareness that Morata promises.
It was telling, for instance, that within minutes of replacing Batshuayi, Morata’s off-the-ball movement found him space at Arsenal’s back post. He missed the chance, slicing Willian’s cross into his new fans behind the goal, but the pertinence was in the run itself and the option it provided.
3. Chelsea need midfield balance – quickly
That Antonio Conte was seemingly happy to allow Nemanja Matic to join a Premier League rival was descriptive. It wasn’t a bad decision, particularly as Tiemoue Bakayoko has been signed as a replacement partner for N’Golo Kante.
The Community Shield did show, however, just how important the centre of midifeld is to Chelsea’s overall stability. Even without Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla, Arsenal’s ability to penetrate into the final third was concerning and, on more than one occasion, showed that Cesc Fabregas is beyond an age where he can realistically expect to be a defensive asset. Bakayoko should resolve that issue and allow Fabregas to only be depended upon for his creative value, but it’s a role he’ll need to grow into quickly if Chelsea are to retain their title.
4. Chelsea’s economy is their greatest commodity
There are many reasons why Chelsea are reigning Premier League champions, but most important among all of them is their durabiity. They didn’t play well at Wembley, Arsenal were superior for long periods and deserved their win, but they were – as they have often been under Conte – economical. When Victor Moses scored just after half time, it was from his side’s first proper chance of the game. Arsenal had done little wrong, hadn’t needed to withstand any concentrated pressure, but were punished ruthlessly for a fleeting lapse in concentration.
Mistakes happen in football and must be tolerated, but this game served to illustrate just how important it is to take chances against this Chelsea team. They aren’t particularly stylish – in fact they’re rather robotic – but they punish profligacy like no other. Worse, they don’t need to be playing particularly well to do it. They may have ultimately lost on penalties, but under normal conditions they would have snuck away with a draw despite being badly out-hit.
5. Sead Kolasinac solves a potential Arsenal problem
Kolasinac eventually scored the equaliser – and a fine header it was – but his more general performance was encouraging. While Arsenal players in recent years have nearly all adhered to the same willowy, technical profile, the Bosnian is a hybrid of physical size and no little technique.
Towards the end of last season, Wenger migrated away from his traditional back four and deployed a three centre-back system which ultimately proved highly successful – most notably, of course, against Chelsea themselves in the cup final.
The signing of Kolasinac would appear to suggest that to be a permanent change. He has the mobility and stamina to play full or wing-back, but clearly also the frame and attributes to occupy the left centre-back position too. Given that Wenger was initially prepared to trial Nacho Monreal in that role in late 2016/17, Kolasinac’s arrival should allow Arsenal to evolve with few growing pains.