Friday, September 29, 2023

Declan Rice is key, Mikel Arteta at it again, while Erling Haaland in worrying form – Things we learnt from the Community Shield

There was something of a surprise result in the season’s curtain-raiser with Arsenal coming out on top against treble winners Manchester City. The Gunners claimed victory from the jaws of defeat as they netted an equaliser in the 11th minute of stoppage-time before winning on penalties. Cole Palmer appeared to have given City the win with a wonderful strike on 77 minutes, but an effort from Leandro Trossard, which took a big deflection off Manuel Akanji, took the match to penalties. Fabio Vieira sealed Arsenal’s win in the shootout.

“It feels great. I don’t think it gets much better than winning a trophy at Wembley against the best team in the world, and especially the way we have done it,” added Arteta. “It’s great if the players are convinced they can beat every team. I think we showed a real determination and fight to win the game. The reason why we are here to win trophies for this club and make it successful. I have seen so many happy and proud people.”

Having worked as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at City, Arteta knows that football does get better than winning a Community Shield. But that’s not to say we can’t learn things from what unfolded on Sunday afternoon and has picked out six takeaways from Arsenal’s triumph ahead of the 2023/24 season’s serious business.

New rules:
Leandro Trossard was able to get the equaliser several minutes due to the Football Association’s drive to rid time-wasting from the game. Referee Stuart Atwell handed yellow cards to Thomas Partey and Julian Alvarez for fairly minor time-wasting incidents that were once simply seen as part of the game. The attempts at time-wasting will also be recorded and subsequently included when adding on time at the end. Atwell and his assistants showed that these rules are here to stay.

Arteta antics:
Another in the Arsenal camp to receive a yellow card was manager Arteta, who was cautioned after imploring Atwell to book City midfielder Rodri for a challenge on Kai Havertz. It’s hardly the first time Arteta has been noticed for his touchline antics having most notably needed to be separated from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp during a Premier League encounter at Anfield during the 2021/22 season. On his yellow card, Arteta added: “I cannot change my behaviour in three days and I can’t say tomorrow that we play with no offsides and what is the linesman doing? I try my best.” Arteta has six days to change his behaviour in time or risk getting punished when it really matters in the Premier League.

Rice, Rice baby:
He didn’t get a goal, an assist, or take a penalty, but England star Declan Rice showed why Arsenal broke the bank to bring him in. Playing a more advanced role than we’ve usually seen him in his career, Rice covered the ground very well and played a key role in Arsenal’s press which on a couple of occasions almost led to City goalkeeper Stefan Ortega giving the ball away in dangerous positions. Roy Keane suggested pre-match that Arsenal have paid too much for Rice but the ex-West Ham star’s workmanlike efforts impressed England legend Stuart Pearce. He said on commentary for talkSPORT: “He’s going to be a major asset to Arsenal, there’s no doubt. “You wouldn’t say he’s really eye-catching but he does certain things and blocks certain attacks, he nullifies potential threats on your goal around the halfway line. “He’ll get better and better and I’m pleased to see him further up the pitch.”

Another Haaland nightmare:
The Norwegian hotshot had a stinker in last year’s Community Shield, missing a number of easy chances in City’s defeat to Liverpool – but the 52 goals the PFA Player of the Year scored last term show that was more or less a one-off. However, Haaland went into the game in something of a lean patch and the way the 64 minutes he spent on the pitch simply passed him by will be a concern for City. Haaland hasn’t scored in his last six competitive appearances – a tally which takes on added significance given that he’d never previously gone more than three games without scoring for the club. The 23-year-old also failed to attempt a shot for the second time since joining City, the previous occasion being during a defeat to Tottenham in February.

Havertz still struggling:
But Arsenal have their own woes up front with summer signing Havertz’s time in north London yet to kick off. The former Chelsea man lacked composure in front of goal on two occasions in the first half – converting those chances could’ve spared Arsenal the nerve-jangling penalty shootout on their way to victory. It’s led to fresh doubts about the German’s ability to lead the line for a side bidding for a first league title in 20 years, a concern given Gabriel Jesus will miss the opening couple of weeks of the season.

The title race is on:
Yes, it’s just the Community Shield, and yes, Trossard’s goal had more than an element of luck to it, but to win in that manner will have sent a strong statement to City, who are chasing a fourth league title on the spin. It would be easy for Arsenal to spend the summer licking their wounds after coming so close to being English champions, but their transfer business and willingness to fight until the end shows this is a team that’s willing to go again this term. On Arsenal’s triumph, Pearce said at full-time: “Yeah I think it does [make a statement] personally. “They’ve spent a lot of money, they’ve bolstered the squad, they had a really good tilt in the Premier League last year, just fell short through injury and one or two other things. If Guardiola didn’t know he was in a title race with Arsenal before, he certainly does now.”
The 2020-21 English football season kicked off in dramatic fashion, with Arsenal winning the Community Shield after a penalty shoot-out against Liverpool. While both teams had their chances during the game itself, the key moment came when Arsenal’s Declan Rice fired his penalty judiciously past Liverpool keeper Alisson to put his team ahead.

It was a moment that highlighted why Mikel Arteta had completed an ambitious move to sign Rice from West Ham earlier in the summer. With his positional awareness, strength, and passing ability, he is now seen as a key part in Arsenal’s midfield three.

Another moment of the match that shone a light on the future were Arsenal’s three substitutions late on. The returning Thomas Partey was an obvious one, but it was the introduction of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe that really caught the attention. Both players had shown immense promise before the pandemic, and it looks certain that they will be playing an increasingly important role in the Gunners’ squad this season.

Unfortunaltely, the game also featured worrying signs for one of the biggest names in world football. Liverpool’s Erling Haaland looked fatigued throughout and failed to make an impression in the game. The Norwegian has seen his form dip slightly since he moved to Anfield, and it will be interesting to see whether more of his star quality will emerge in the Premier League this year.

So, in conclusion, some of the lessons we learned from the Community Shield are the importance of Arteta’s ambitious signings, the potential of Arsenal’s young talent, and the need for Liverpool to ensure that Haaland remains at the peak of his powers.

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