“Bang bang into the room! I know you want it. Bang bang all over you! I’ll let you have it.” The staff at Wembley stadium showed good taste on Sunday by playing that Jessie J song at halftime because that’s exactly how I felt after Arsenal edged Chelsea 1-0 in the Community Shield and Wenger defeated Mourinho for the first time in 14 games.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com
There’s obviously no love lost between those two managers as they ignored each other at the end of the match to avoid the traditional handshake. You can’t blame Wenger for that mess since Mourinho is the one who attempted character assassination by labelling him a “voyeur” and a “specialist in failure.” By contrast, the rivalry between Ferguson and Wenger never reached such lows.
Chelsea enjoyed 57 percent of ball possession but the Gunners were more clinical, catching the frame with 5 of their 11 goal attempts while the Blues only had 2 of their 14 shots on target. Two years ago, Arsenal would have dominated possession and Chelsea would have been the more efficient side in the final third. The Gunners have definitely matured.
Sunday’s game was no friendly as both clubs fielded their best lineups. Wenger relied on Walcott up front, assuming his pace would create more problems for the Chelsea defense than Giroud’s link-up play. The only surprise came from Cazorla’s positioning on the left wing with Coquelin, Ramsey and Ozil starting in midfield.
Velocity and close control
Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the winner in the 24th minute, taking a pass from Walcott to cut inside Azpilicueta and fire into the top corner with his weaker left foot. In the tight games, you need top players like the Ox or Sanchez who can make the difference in one-on-one situations. Azpilicueta was so frustrated with the Ox’s velocity and close control that he was booked for a cynical foul in the 65th.
The Ox had another scoring opportunity in the 76th, but his deflected strike flew straight into Courtois’ arms. I thought the Ox fitted in nicely, taking his chance when he had to and working on the right wing when his team needed it. Giroud met one of his crosses in the 66th for a half-volley that sailed over the bar.
Giroud replaced Walcott in the 65th and made a stronger impression than the England striker. Walcott fed the Ox for the goal but that wasn’t an assist in my book since the Ox had to get the better of Azpilicueta before beating Courtois. Walcott’s only scoring chance came in the 23rd when he made a run at the near post to head an Ozil free kick straight into Courtois’ gloves.
Poor hold-up play
I’m still not convinced by Walcott as a centerforward. That option might work against weak teams like West Brom and Aston Villa, but there were too many things missing against Chelsea. Walcott killed a counterattack in the first half by playing a ball five yards behind Ramsey. His hold-up play also proved poor. Under pressure from Ivanovic in the 47th, Walcott put his team in danger by giving the ball away.
In midfield, I thought Ozil did well in the first half before completely fading in the second half. That’s the one thing which is so frustrating with Ozil: he becomes a passenger when the opponent takes control of the game. He also cheaply lost possession a couple of times, forcing Coquelin to foul Fabregas in the 19th.
In hindsight, it was a waste to play Cazorla on the left wing. Both Cazorla and Ramsey had more impact in midfield than Ozil. Their understanding was surprisingly excellent. Ramsey took a pass from Cazorla in the 39th to slide a shot into the side-netting. The Spaniard then released Ramsey down the right wing in the 70th. Giroud beat his marker to connect with Ramsey’s low cross but missed the target with a half-volley from 10 yards.
Reality of a top club
In the closing minutes, the Gunners had two great counterattacking opportunities but couldn’t convert them. Ramsey charged down the left wing in the 86th to find Cazorla, unmarked inside the area. Instead of attempting a first-time effort with his right foot, Cazorla controlled the ball and had very little room for a chip that Courtois saved. In stoppage time, Cazorla played Gibbs clean through on goal, but Courtois denied the Arsenal fullback.
For the sake of chemistry, I hope there’ll be fair competition within the squad. Any player can have an off day. What really matters is that the most in-form players get the nod. If Ozil is on fire, then the manager should bench Ramsey, Wilshere or Cazorla. Likewise, if Ramsey or Cazorla is in the form of his life, then Ozil shouldn’t be starting. That’s the reality of any top club.
Mourinho played Remy in the lone striker role since Costa is recovering from a hamstring injury and Falcao is not familiar with his new teammates yet. Remy was flagged offside four times, but the Arsenal defense ran into in trouble the only time the French striker beat the offside trap in the 36th. Remy crossed the ball for Ramires, who headed over the bar from six yards. We were really lucky not to concede an equalizer as nobody marked Remy and Ramires on that play.
7 or 15 points?
Willian proved the main threat in the first half by often drifting inside. He skipped past Monreal in the 11th to release Remy down the left wing but Bellerin cut the Frenchman’s cross. Then Matic found an unmarked Willian in the 32nd but Hazard couldn’t properly connect with Willian’s pass.
Mourinho made a tactical change in the 54th by replacing Ramires with Oscar. Fabregas played in a deeper position and had more influence in his team’s passing game. Falcao chased a long ball over the top from Fabregas in the 60th but Koscielny fended him off. A minute later, Fabregas dribbled past Coquelin to play Hazard in. The Belgian winger just had Cech to beat but fired over from 10 yards. There were two big mistakes on that play: Coquelin shouldn’t have dived in and Koscielny failed to mark Hazard.
Terry claimed Cech could save Arsenal up to 15 points in a season, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Let’s assume Cech makes 10 more saves than Ospina or Szczesny in a season. Some of those saves won’t give any point because the Gunners have a too big lead or trail by too many goals. Some will be the difference between a loss and a draw and will therefore yield one point each. And some will prevent a win from turning into a draw and will therefore give us two more points each. Therefore, I’m guessing Cech’s saves could yield seven to eight points in a season. We definitely need two more signings to seriously contend for the Premier League title this season.
On Sunday, Cech just had two saves to make. In the 69th, Cech palmed around the near post an Oscar free kick that was heading for the top corner. That was a good save but also one I believe Ospina and Szczesny would have pulled off. In the 74th, Terry redirected a Fabregas cross toward Zouma, whose header lacked power to beat Cech. That was a much easier save than the first one.
The two youngsters who broke into the first team last season, Bellerin and Coquelin, showed some of their old flaws. Bellerin made a couple of risky passes on the edge of his own area, including one that led to a curling shot from Ramires in the 33rd. It’s quite generous to build plays from the back, but when the opponent’s pressing becomes too intense, go for a basic clearance. Coquelin gave away some cheap free kicks, earning a yellow card for a poorly timed challenge on Hazard in the 67th. The French midfielder won’t last long if he gets a booking in every game.
Winning the Community Shield is good for Arsenal’s confidence, but let’s remember that the Gunners dropped four points from their first three league games last season after routing Manchester City 3-0 in the traditional curtain-raiser. We have a tricky schedule with a season opener against West Ham on Sunday, followed by games against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. If you’re a title contender, you have to win those three games.