14:00 KO (BST), Sunday 6th August, Wembley Stadium (London, UK)
The Community Shield. It’s the last shot of vodka before heading into the frenzy of a night out, leaving an equally bitter taste in the mouths of football ‘purists’. The match sits in limbo between competitive and exhibition football, and causes as much debate on whether it matters or not as it does about football.
This year, the old ‘curtain-raiser’ throws up a repeat of last season’s FA Cup final, as Premier League champions Chelsea face their cup conquerors Arsenal. It’s the second time that the two have faced-off in the Community Shield, with a victory apiece so far: Chelsea in 2005 and Arsenal in 2015.
Whether you consider the match as significant, or simply just a gimmick, no team goes into it wanting to lose and the game should be played at a competitive pace. The friendly competitions that we’ve seen so far – in USA and Asia – have thrown up faster-paced games than we’ve ever seen in pre-season, and it’s becoming clearer that clubs are searching for that extra inch of momentum going into the start of the season.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 1-2 Inter Milan (Friendly)
Chelsea’s pre-season continued to disappoint with a flat performance against Inter Milan in Singapore. Following their 3-0 victory over Sunday’s opponents Arsenal in China, Chelsea have flattered to deceive with two tepid losses against Inter and Bayern Munich.
Whilst the Blues weren’t over-run as intensely as they were in the opening half-an-hour against Bayern Munich, Antonio Conte’s men were unable to retain any meaningful possession. His experiment to play Álvaro Morata as a left forward backfired somewhat, as the Spaniard looked lost and failed to make an impact on the game.
The game did have some freak moments: Cesar Azpilicueta gave away a penalty despite getting much more of the ball than the man; Stevan Jovetic’s subsequent penalty was saved by Thibaut Courtois, but tucked away at the second opportunity, and Inter’s Geoffrey Kondogbia scored one of the best own-goals of all time from 40-yards out.
Arsenal 1-2 Sevilla (Friendly)
Just like Chelsea, Arsenal also finished their pre-season with a disappointing 2-1 loss to a European side. In this instance, Sevilla were the opposition and the notorious Emirates Cup was the competition; Arsene Wenger’s men somehow won the trophy through goals scored, as opposed to matches won…
Unlike Chelsea, Arsenal were probably unlucky to lose and spent long periods of the game with the ball. The result can be taken with a pinch of salt, as the nature of the tournament leads to two games being played in two games. Furthermore, the game was won with a beautiful curling shot from ex-Stoke City player Steven N’Zonzi, which could only be applauded by the Emirates Stadium. The bonus for the Gunners was a first home goal for star signing Alexandre Lacazette.
Tiemoue Bakayoko will have to wait to make his debut for Chelsea as he remains injured, whilst Eden Hazard and Pedro are doubtful. Diego Costa continues his exile from the squad as he searches for a move away from Stamford Bridge. With a lack of personnel, we expect Conte to continue with last season’s 3-4-3.
Arsenal will make a late decision on the fitness of Alexis Sanchez after the Chilean was given an extended holiday for bouts of flu. Both Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are expected to be fit despite missing parts of training, whilst Francis Coquelin and Shkodran Mustafi are doubts.
Key Battle: Michy Batshuayi vs Per Mertesacker
When Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final in May, Diego Costa was limited to 37 touches of the ball; that’s fewer than Cesc Fabregas (40) who entered the game in the 60th minute. The Spaniard was feeding on scraps as a result of expert marshalling by a Gunners defence organized by Per Mertesacker.
This time around, Costa is out of the picture and the main striking role is likely to be given to last season’s under-study, Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian fan-favourite has been in hot form in pre-season, with five goals in four games, and has firmly staked his claim as Conte’s starting striker.
With new signing Morata likely to play wide-left, Batshuayi will be the focal point of Chelsea’s attack. A traditionalist with his positioning, the Belgian will likely stay central and put himself against Arsenal’s middle centre-back, who should be Mertesacker.
Can Batshuayi run the German ragged, or will the veteran control the raw striker in the way he did with Costa in May?
Striking New Boys
Morata is expected to assume a supporting role to Michy Batshuayi on Sunday, which is a role he is more than used to from his time at Juventus. The Spaniard often played as a second striker to Mario Mandzukic in 2015/16, and fared well in Turin scoring nine goals and making nine assists in all competitions. With Hazard out for the start of the season, the supporting role could kick-start Morata’s career in England.
If Morata is a versatile attacking cog, Lacazette is a one-function tool. Goals almost exclusively make-up his game, and 27 league strike last season highlight this as much as his mere three assists. People have questioned the Frenchman’s physicality – which is easy to do against Olivier Giroud – and his 44% duels won is 6% lower than Arsenal’s average.
What better test than to come up against one of the tightest defences in the country?
Can Chelsea Handle the Ox?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has proved to be quite the thorn in Chelsea’s side in the last couple of years. Last season, he was by far Arsenal’s best player in the disappointing 3-1 loss away at Stamford Bridge (with a 93% pass rate) and followed that with a stunning wing-back display in the FA Cup final (with the third most touches and the highest number of dribbles). He even scored the winner when the sides last met in the Community Shield in 2015.
Chelsea have been after the Ox this summer – that itself is no secret – and there’s still a possibility that his contract dispute could end with him in blue come September. The man he could replace – Victor Moses – had a torrid afternoon trying to handle him in the FA Cup final, making only two tackles before being sent off in the second half.
Can Moses prove to Conte that he has what it takes to control Chamberlain? Or can the Ox show Chelsea that he is worthy of their money?
Is History Repeating Itself for Chelsea?
Yes, the Community Shield doesn’t really matter, but it can certainly set a negative tone to Premier League preparations if it does go wrong. In 2015, reigning champions Chelsea topped off a disappointing summer with a stale loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield.
That summer, then-boss José Mourinho had complained about the lack of action in the transfer market, and fans weren’t convinced by the club’s recruitment. What followed was arguably one of the worst periods in the club’s recent history.
Whilst the Blues have done business this summer, it has not been the world-class names that were linked with the club at the start. Morata, Bakayoko and Rudiger are not necessarily better than the options Conte already had, and he’s been keen to voice his dissappointment at every opportunity.
The Italian will be hoping that his side can blow away the cobwebs with a win against Arsenal, and pick up the mood in the camp before their title defence.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
Although both clubs have had disappointing pre-seasons, Arsenal have had the edge over Chelsea at Wembley in recent years and the confidence from the FA Cup victory will still be strong for Arsene Wenger’s side.
For Chelsea, the negative atmosphere in the camp is evident and Conte will have a job on his hands to get them ready for revenge against their North London rivals.
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