Sunday, August 10, 2014

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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