Arsenal overcome rivals Chelsea to lift the Community Shield
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the only goal of the game as Arsenal won the Community Shield with a 1-0 victory over Chelsea.
It’s 10 years, eight months and three weeks since Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho first faced each other and finally, in their 14th meeting, Wenger has a victory. Chelsea will point out it was only the FA Community Shield, essentially a glorified friendly that says as much about the season to come as the entrails of sacrificed animals told the haruspices of ancient Rome, but if Arsenal is to mount a serious title challenge this season, a major psychological hurdle has been crossed.
''It's still preseason,'' Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker said. ''But it keeps our confidence high. I think we deserved it.''
Arsenal hasn’t won the Premier League since Mourinho first landed in London. Sunday's victory here, courtesy of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s first-half goal, will only further stoke the optimism that has been building around the Emirates since the $15 million signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea. He was as solid and commanding as ever, without really having too much to do, although he did push away one free-kick from Oscar to rapturous applause from Arsenal fans clearly desperate he should be a success. Mourinho has made it fairly clear that he was unhappy about his second-choice goalkeeper being sold to a Premier League rival, but Cech, who slipped down the pecking order when Courtois returned from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid, was afforded a warm ovation by Chelsea fans.
The real problem with using the Community Shield as a guide to the season ahead is that you’re never entirely sure what stage each team is at in its preparations. It may be that Chelsea is willing to risk a slow start for greater freshness in the spring -- and fatigue was a problem last season -- but Arsenal looked sharper. As soon as Chelsea kicked off, Theo Walcott was hounding Nemanja Matic, claiming possession and initiating a move that ended with Courtois punching a Hector Bellerin cross clear.
Wenger had hinted towards the end of last season that Walcott might be his preferred option at center-forward and it was the one he went for at Wembley, leaving out Olivier Giroud. It was, perhaps, a decision based on the opposition -- John Terry and Gary Cahill are far more susceptible to pace than muscle -- but after Walcott signed a four-year contract extension last week it may be that, if he can stay fit, he will emerge as the regular choice.
After getting across his marker to meet a Mesut Ozil free kick, only to send his header straight at Thibault Courtois, Walcott had a key role in the Arsenal opener, dropping deep to collect the ball as a move swept from left to right and then helping it on to Oxlade-Chamberlain, who jinked by Cesar Azpilicueta and slammed the ball just inside the far post.
In the balmy sunshine of early August, it would be easy to get excited by two English talents combining so thrillingly. More cynical Arsenal heads may note their respective injury records and wonder how many more games they’ll manage to play together this season. That said, it’s easy to forget Oxlade-Chamberlain is only 21, and if he can sort out his fitness issues, he could be a major talent.
Chelsea, also, was without its first-choice center-forward from last season. Diego Costa was omitted from the squad after suffering a hamstrung injury in the friendly against Barcelona. His hamstrings were a concern all last season -- as they had been towards the end of his stint at Atletico Madrid and their on-going susceptibility must be a worry for the season ahead. Loic Remy scored nine goals in 27 appearances last season, but he has never looked a natural fit for Chelsea’s style of play. He was the culprit for all four offsides in the first half and was removed at the break to be replaced by Radamel Falcao.
The 29-year-old has joined on loan from Monaco after an ineffective season at Manchester United last season and an ineffective Copa America for Colombia. The suggestion is that, after suffering a serious knee injury in January 2014, he hasn’t recovered his acceleration and there was nothing here to alter that as he huffed and puffed to no great effect.
Off the pace as Chelsea was, it had its chances. Cesc Fabregas, certainly, felt he should have had a penalty after an early clash with Mertesacker. Ramires sent a shot just wide after Bellerin had given the ball away cheaply and then, mystifyingly, put a Remy cross over after being granted a free header. Eden Hazard fired over after being slipped through by Fabregas just after the hour.
But Arsenal looked quicker and slicker and itself wasted a couple of chances on break -- most notably through Santi Cazorla and Kieran Gibbs. Wenger’s side hammered Manchester City 3-0 in the Community Shield last season and then won only two of its first eight games of the season. Winning the curtain-raiser doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but for Wenger to end his long barren run against Mourinho an only be beneficial.
''I believe that when we got out of our defense we looked dangerous to score,'' Wenger said. ''But I think maybe in our half we were a bit cautious.''
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.