It is only the Community Shield but Arsenal will regard the way they came back to defeat the champions Chelsea as a significant marker for the forthcoming season. Certainly their celebrations spoke of more than just a final pre-season curtain-raiser after substitute Olivier Giroud stroked his spot-kick past goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as Arsenal won a penalty shoot-out 4-1.
That shoot-out came under the new ‘ABBA’ system and capped a bizarre afternoon for Chelsea who appeared destined to win but tasted defeat instead as Courtois – strangely – and record signing Alvaro Morata both missed from the spot. Both missed the goal entirely, in fact.
The shoot-out, after no extra-time, was forced by Sead Kolasinac with a close-range header and the identity of Arsenal’s scorer will fuel Chelsea’s sense of injustice and events conspiring against them: claiming a penalty when Willian went down in the first-half, only for the Brazilian to be booked for simulation, to feeling Pedro was harshly dealt with when he was dismissed for apparently raking Mohamed Elneny’s calf with a rash challenge. Chelsea tried to sign Kolasinac last January but instead he punished them as he met Granit Xhaka’s free-kick following Pedro’s foul. The Bosnian on a Bosman appears a fine acquisition for Arsenal.
Chelsea appeared destined to win, through Victor Moses’ goal, until those two mad-cap minutes deep into the second-half. Sent off in the FA Cup Final, as Arsenal, in fairness, won that trophy, just 71 days ago, with his second yellow card coming for blatant simulation, he celebrated here with a swallow dive after tucking the ball past Petr Cech.
It came when Arsenal failed to clear a corner with Xhaka hoisting the ball high into the air only to lose the resultant header to Gary Cahill. It broke to Moses, stealing in ahead or Rob Holding, to chest the ball down and steer it into the net. By then Holding, just 21, was Arsenal’s only recognised central defender with captain Per Mertsacker having gone off with a head injury and neither Laurent Koscielny nor Shkodran Mustafi available.
They were not the only absentees. It felt almost as much about who was not playing as who was which made the assessments all the more difficult. For Chelsea there was no Tiemoue Bakayoko or Eden Hazard with Morata on the bench before coming on with 16 minutes to go and Diego Costa on his vacation/ exile before he leaves later this month. For Arsenal there was no Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil. No Koscielny or Aaron Ramsey either. So that was seven definite starters missing between the two sides with Anthony Rudiger also among the substitutes making it, probably, an even four apiece.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte wants even more new faces, complaining about the summer recruitment, the apparent thinness of his squad and so on and the champions do look short of the resources to attempt to retain their title and mount a Champions League challenge. He was, as ever, a jack-in-the box here especially during the first-half of the first-half when Arsenal were dominant.
The early thrusts belonged to Arsene Wenger’s side with Alex Iwobi working his way past David Luiz, only to fire the ball at, rather than to, record signing Alexandre Lacazette and Xhaka then picking out Danny Welbeck who could not gain enough power on his header to guide it past Courtois. The goalkeeper was again called into action as Iwobi and Elneny exchanged passes for the former’s cross-shot to be palmed away by Courtois. Their supremacy culminated in a sweeping move which was started and ended by Lacazette as he struck the goal-frame. The striker turned smartly, feeding the ball wide to Hector Bellerin before regaining possession and finding Welbeck who teed him up. Lacazette took one touch and bent his right-footed shot beyond Courtois with it cannoning back off the post. It proved the highlight of Lacazette’s contribution as he was otherwise shackled by David Luiz before being substituted.
Chelsea were loose; disjointed with Conte’s unhappiness all too evident but they profited when Arsenal were unsettled by the loss of Mertesacker, after he suffered a cut when he was challenged by Cahill. Kolasinac replaced him, with Wenger maintaining his back three and Nacho Monreal shuffling across into the middle. It took time to adjust with Cech turning away Moses’ angled shot with his legs before having to also react quickly to beat out Pedro’s left-foot drive. There was controversy with Willian booked for simulation by referee Bobby Madley as he tumbled under Bellerin’s challenge – but did the right wing-back’s knee catch the forward or did the Brazilian trip himself? Chelsea wanted a penalty; Willian got a card.