Arsenal tore apart Premier League champions Manchester City 3-0 to win the FA Community Shield and make an emphatic statement on the eve of the new season. Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud all found the back of the net for the Gunners as the London giants wiped Man City out at Wembley.
With the result, Arsenal collected the 13th Community Shield in their history and their first piece of silverware for the year. And while it is difficult to take much away from the Community Shield -- it is a six-sub preseason friendly, after all -- on the evidence, Arsenal look to be a deeper and more competitive team than last season. If they can stay healthy, they have as good a shot as any to take the crown.
Both teams had notable absences for the match, with Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, and new signing Bacary Sagna among the many Manchester City players watching from the stands. Arsenal were without their German contingent, and the still-injured Theo Walcott. But the lack of stars like Mesut Ozil did not dent the Gunners, who came out looking slick and strong, and quickly settled into a rhythm that City simply could not disrupt. Arsenal looked very happy to pick up where they had left off at Wembley. Last May, Arsenal went down early to Hull, but were picked up by Cazorla and man of the match Ramsey to break what had been a nine-year barren spell of silverware.
With Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy rampaging down the near flank at Jesus Navas and an outclassed Dedryck Boyata, Yaya Sanogo was free to cause havoc in the middle of the Citizens' defense. Sanogo and Debuchy nearly combined after only eight minutes, with Matija Nastasic -- a rumored Arsenal target -- getting just enough on Sanogo's header to keep it away from City's net. But twelve minutes later, and after a sustained spell of pressure, Arsenal opened their account, and full deserved the lead.
The goal came off some clever passing, with Alexis keeping the play alive after Jack Wilshere was fouled by Boyata and referee Michael Oliver allowed play to continue. With Sanogo drawing the defense out, Cazorla allowed the ball to roll across his body and then fired low and hard to the bottom corner past a helpless Willy Caballero.
City tried to claw their way back into the game, with Samir Nasri seeing a shot blocked well by Debuchy minutes later and youngster Callum Chambers was very nearly caught out just before the break when Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic combined through the middle. But Chambers, whose performance was best summed up with his cool-headed backpass to keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the 35th minute to break the danger from Jesus Navas, never looked out of place back there, and while he is not speedy, he does give the Gunners some badly needed depth.
But just before the break, Arsenal made their dominance count. Wilshere swept the ball out wide to Alexis, who tore past Yaya Toure and drove the ball into the lace of Sanogo. Sanogo held the ball up well and then slotted left for Ramsey, who slotted the ball home in clinical fashion. Alexis had the chance to make it three when he broke alone only to make a poor decision in one-on-one with Caballero, allowing the keeper to sweep the ball away.
Arsenal and City both made major changes at the break, with the Gunners sending three on, and City inserting David Silva (The Community Shield allows six substitutes, a nod to its status as a friendly on steroids). And for a five-minute spell, the defending Premier League champs looked to make a game of it. Jovetic forced Szczesny to work twice in two minutes, first clipping a header off the inside of the bar that was parried out. Then, in more controversial fashion, Jovetic forced a great save off the Polish keeper that had the Arsenal players howling. Aleksandar Kolarov had sent in a fine cross -- but only after he had dribbled the ball well over the touchline. The assistant missed it -- but the Arsenal players had stopped cold in anticipation of the whistle.
But the game would be iced on the hour, when, out of nothing, Giroud smashed home a dipping strike from 25 yards. Slotted to the center by Ramsey, Giroud held off his marker, and stroked the ball up and over a stunned Caballero to ruffle the back of the net. The goal sent the local fans into ecstasy -- they turned behind the goal to perform City's famed "Poznan" celebration -- and the game went into a markedly lower gear.
Both teams will have some things to think about. Manuel Pellegrini will not be happy that City gave up so many goals, but he probably won't be truly worried given how many of his regulars were watching from the luxury boxes. Arsene Wenger will be pleased to see such sharpness early from his side, but he still has holes to fill. The Gunners do lack a pure, out-and-out striker and could use a solid holding midfielder to boot.
The next test comes on the weekend. Arsenal open their season Saturday evening at home against Crystal Palace; Manchester City travels to Tyneside to face Newcastle on Sunday afternoon. This was just a warm-up, after all.