Arsenal claimed the first piece of silverware after prevailing over London rivals Chelsea on penalties in today’s Community Shield fixture at Wembley.
Goals from fullbacks Victor Moses and Sead Kolasinac ensured the match finished 1-1 after 90 minutes and as opposed to the usual extra time requirement, the encounter was settled by spot-kicks shortly after the final whistle.
A new format of ABBAABB was on display here, with Chelsea taking the first penalty – then Arsenal took two in succession and vice versa.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who made a number of important saves to keep his side ahead, surprisingly took their second strike and blazed wildly over the crossbar. Álvaro Morata, who came off the substitutes’ bench in the latter stages of the second-half, curled his effort wide of the far post and the Gunners took full advantage to win 4-1.
It was an action-packed fixture as is usually the case between the two sides and Arsenal started brightly.
Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck in particular were trying hard to create opportunities in the final third, with the latter combining well alongside £46.5m signing Alexandre Lacazette before the Frenchman looked on in frustration as his curling strike cannoned back off the far post before the half-hour mark.
Per Mertesacker had to be substituted after an accidental elbow by Chelsea captain Gary Cahill in the Arsenal box before the interval, meaning Kolasinac – signed on a free following five years at Bundesliga side Schalke this summer – was introduced as part of the Gunners’ backline.
It was a surprise to see the Bosnian international not start in truth, though he quickly went to work and was tireless in efforts to assert himself on the pitch. His physical presence is standout enough, though he accelerated forward where possible and added extra bite to Arsenal in both attack and defence.
Willian was booked for simulation just before the interval after appealing for a penalty when dueling alongside Hector Bellerín. It caused controversy as the Brazilian appeared to fall down too easily, especially with the Spaniard pulling out of an attempted challenge after initially making a mistake to begin with.
It wasn’t a turning point in the match, but was one of a few incidents that made the match more intriguing as it continued.
Moses’ goal came a minute after the restart and was slightly fortunate, though Arsenal failed to clear their lines from a set-piece convincingly and Cahill’s header back into the box was met by the Nigerian to slot home from close-range.
After being sent off in the FA Cup Final back in May, you could see that the goal meant even more to Moses, who many aren’t convinced is good enough defensively to remain Chelsea’s first-choice as a right wing-back.
He won two tackles and completed a clearance too. That might seem underwhelming over a 90-minute spell, though most of Arsenal’s attacks didn’t come from the 26-year-old’s side in fairness.
Lacazette and Iwobi were replaced shortly after the hour mark as Arsene Wenger went in search for the all-important equaliser, especially knowing that his side had performed better in comparison and deserved more.
Pedro was given a straight red card after a sloppy, dangerous sliding tackle from the back to temporarily halt a marauding Mohamed Elneny as he advanced forward towards the area.
It was a surprise that, considering the referee initially played advantage, he brandished a red – though Pedro couldn’t really have any complaints and got nowhere near the ball, instead inflicting damage on Elneny’s achilles.
To say that Granit Xhaka’s passing is excellent, is an understatement. The Swiss midfielder, heavily criticised last season, has progressively improved with time and experience in England.
Here, he won the Man of the Match award for excelling in his role as Arsenal’s midfield metronome whilst Santi Cazorla (surgery, recovering) and Mesut Özil (swollen ankle) watched on from their seats near the substitutes’ bench. It was his perfectly-weighted pass which set Kolasinac through to flick home inside the box, levelling the scoring just minutes after Pedro’s dismissal.
Just like that. The game turned on its head once more, and it was Chelsea’s turn to survive until the final whistle. A few close calls between, the penalty shootout was a comprehensive victory for Arsenal and as a result, they’ll go into the season opener with Leicester next Friday full of confidence.
They still have work to do, both on and off the pitch: resolving player contracts, signing a few players and offloading unwanted deadwood – as ruthless as it sounds – whilst this defeat will give Antonio Conte further ammunition that his Chelsea side are not yet fully equipped to mount a serious challenge on all fronts, especially with the inclusion of UEFA Champions League football returning to Stamford Bridge next month.