Sunday, August 10, 2014

Arsenal Win Community Shield 3-0 Over City!

Arsenal have now won two at Wembley on the trot, ending their nine-year wait for a trophy by winning their past two competitive matches there, and the two trophies at stake. While the FA Cup is a much more coveted piece of silverware, and they had to work substantially harder to come back from the two goal deficit to Hull last May, the win today might be just as important – dominating the title winners and setting themselves up for a season where they could very well vie for the title until the final whistle. Man City were missing key players Zaboleta, Aguero, Kompany and Sagna, but Arsenal also played without some of their stars including Mertesacker, Ozil, Podolski and Walcott. In addition, Giroud sat on the bench for the first 45 minutes, as Sanogo contributed to both first half goals.

The scoring started in the 21st minute, when a Sanogo ball came across the 18-yard line and ended up at Cazorla’s right foot. A quick fake allowed him to open himself up for a perfect left footed finish across goal that easily beat Willy Caballero (playing in the place of a saturnine Joe Hart, who might be wondering if the bench does not await him again, even after helping to lead the second half charge that won City the title). Arsenal continued to dominate the first half from there, though City did offer up some decent attacking football at times, and doubled their lead when a nice pass from Sanchez ended up at the fumbling feet of Sanogo, who was finally able to push it off to a charging Ramsey, who flared past two City defenders before pounding the ball past Caballero and into the far corner. Arsenal made three changes as the second half began, but continued to dominate the game, before a sublime goal from Olivier Giroud sealed the victory in the 60th minute; a chip from over 20 yards out that flew past Caballero on a largely forgettable afternoon for the Argentine. Arsenal looked likely to add to the lead, but largely settled in for the final 30 minutes of the game.

It was an impressive performance for the Gunners, even if the game isn’t taken as seriously as the other prizes on offer starting next week. They passed the ball around quickly and with creativity, were deadly on the run, had three great finishes and kept their shape and defensive discipline for large parts of the game. In fact, while being beaten early by Dzeko on the right hand side, new signing Calum Chambers played quite well through the middle, reaffirming Wenger’s belief that he might one day become a great CB. Debuchy was strong going forward, though occasionally slow getting back, Wilshere had a decent game (though he spent much of it on the ground, as is his tendency; and had a few head scratching errant passes), and Giroud looked refreshed and refreshing after watching young Sanogo continue his tendency to look like a bumbling clown inside the box (even as he assisted Ramsey’s goal). But it was the debut of Sanchez that might excite Arsenal fans the most, as he marauded forward, burst past City defenders and created a number of chances with pinpoint passing.

Overall, it is a victory that puts Arsenal in good stead for the season to come, particularly with such a convincing victory over another team in the top six (the key failure that cost them the title last season was the heavy defeats they suffered against all but Tottenham and Liverpool at home), and the sense that they might be a more confident team now that the trophy-drought label is off their backs. City will not be too worried, I imagine, but do have some questions to ask about lax defending and absence of real creativity on the offensive end. Aguero and Kompany will help considerably, though both have had their injury concerns in recent years. Nastasic, in particular, looked downright awful, and one wonders if he will be sold sooner rather than later.

A Few Quick Points for Arsenal
  1. Watching Debuchy run forward and cross well, but fail to get back sufficiently, reinforced my belief that we need a DM to come in that can marshal the space in front of the defense. Arteta played well and the team defended collectively with discipline and verve, but counter opportunities were there for the asking and many teams would have capitalized on them, as was the case last season with Liverpool, Chelsea and City, in games that decided the title. Flamini was decent as well, but his rash tackling means he is always a risk to be sent off, and his performance in those big games was less than stellar. 
  2. The striker question is more complex. I really question whether Sanogo is ready to be a regular backup to Giroud this season, as he looked decent in spells but gets caught under the ball, loses his composure and lacks the strength to hold up the ball well or score with any consistency. And that backup is key, as Giroud is a truly exceptional player when he gets sufficient rest. I think Arsenal have to decide if they will give time to Walcott, Podolski and/or Sanchez in the middle this season or should sign another striker who can share time with the Frenchman. Sanogo is not ready and, even after an impressive World Cup, I’m not sure Campbell is either. 
  3. Sanchez was a great signing and, together with Walcott, solve the main problem Arsenal had for much of last season – a lack of pace on the counter and in attack. Sanchez’s bursts of speed were truly something to behold, together with his technical skills and passing ability, and the return of Ozil and Walcott/Ox will only open things up more. I think this will also help Ozil, who likes to play through balls and surround himself with technically gifted players. Many failed to recognize the understanding he and Ramsey forged before the Scot’s injury, and how that seemed to affect Ozil’s drop in form. And with Rosicky and Wilshere ready to back up the German World Cup winner, one thinks he can now get the rest he needs to stay at the top of the game. 
We should never take too much from the six-sub, friendly-feeling Community Shield, which Wenger has now won five times, but it was a compelling display by Arsenal that will certainly leave their rivals on notice that they are ready to again make a run at the title, hopefully without the late season fade that has too often become their trademark (unless they are vying for fourth, in which case they finish strong). COYG!

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