Despite the protestations from Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini that the 2014 Community Shield should be viewed as the climax of the previous season, the 2014-15 season’s curtain raiser witnessed an impressive 3-0 victory for the 2014 FA Cup winners Arsenal against last season’s Premier League Champions that was enough to suggest the Gunners will provide a serious challenge for City’s title this season. Picking up where he left off last season, the outstanding Aaron Ramsey looked fit and ready to lead that title challenge, which is seemingly increasingly credible with each passing week. Arsenal looked one step ahead of a stuttering, albeit depleted, City side for the entirety of the game and with the X Factor of £32m summer signing Alexis Sanchez’s pace on the break they kept the Champions at arm’s length and hit them with efficient attacking play to end the game as a contest within the opening hour. The Chilean, who only played the first half, looked lively and dangerous on occasion despite rarely threatening Willy Cabellero in the City goal with any clear cut attempts but can only improve when receiving the service of a returning Mesut Özil.
In the absence of the German playmaker Jack Wilshere was the deployed as the furthest forward of Arsenal’s central midfield trio and the 22 year old looked like something resembling the player his 2010-11 best had promised he would become. The 5 yard burst was back in his play and his short passing interplay was back to the one touch speed it needs to be if he is to really make his mark in this Arsenal midfield. If the number 10 can avoid injury for a significant period of time and secure a run in the starting xi then his natural talent will really come to the fore. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger may perhaps feel that Wilshere’s performance vindicated his decision to, thus far, not sign a central midfielder this summer despite the glaring need for added steal in the holding role. However, surely the need for a midfield destroyer is obvious considering how easily Arsenal were overpowered by more competitive opponents in high profile away defeats to Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton last season. Wenger may even decide to wait until the January transfer window to bring in this much needed physicality and this approach may be very beneficial in two ways. Firstly, it is usually around this time that Arsenal begin to fall away from their title rivals and a big name signing is likely to provide the same injection of momentum that the arrival of Özil brought at the start of last season, and will generate the same buzz that signing Sanchez has seemingly created this time around. Secondly, the other factor that has derailed so many Arsenal title bids since their last league triumph in 2004 is the high number of injuries to key players at important stages of the season. As it is highly unlikely that two players as susceptible to injury as Wilshere and Ramsey will survive a whole season unscathed, waiting until January to add to the squad could work in Arsenal’s favour as it will provide high quality cover at the time when the squad generally becomes increasingly jaded and injury prone.
The introduction of Nacho Monreal at centre back in the second half reinforced the desperate need to replace departing club captain Thomas Vermaelen before the Premier League season starts on Saturday. The Spanish left back did not commit any major errors but does not inspire confidence in the centre of defence, and with Per Mertesacker set to miss the opening few matches after his exploits at the World Cup, Monreal, who is rarely reliable in his natural position, cannot be the only defensive cover in the squad. Even Calum Chambers who has given a series of assured displays at centre half during pre-season, and was again impressive at Wembley, is not a tested Premier League performer never mind a tested centre back in a top four team. The signing of a natural centre back must be the absolute priority, even if Wenger buys with an eye to the future by bringing in someone who can learn from and eventually replace Mertesacker and first choice partner Laurent Koscielny rather than an ageing bench warmer such as suggested target Liverpool’s Daniel Agger.
In stark contrast to the fluid positivity of Arsenal’s performance City were lacklustre and unadventurous yet will undoubtedly improve with the additions of captain Vincent Kompany and new £32m signing Eliaqium Mangala in the centre of defence, Joe Hart in goal and returning Argentina striker Sergio Aguero in time for their clash with Newcastle on Sunday. Yet the manner of City’s first half capitulation, perhaps even more than the final score, will serve as a wakeup call for Pellegrini who, despite suggesting that this trophy lacks importance, will demand an improvement from his team in terms of focus and attitude. None more so than from captain on the day Yaya Toure whose performance epitomised his team’s as he was dominated in the centre of midfield by the free flowing passing of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Rasmey. Something was evidently amiss with the usually marauding central midfielder who looked markedly unhappy after a controversial summer at the club. Toure’s lethargy was aptly summed up by one free kick from the type of distance he would usually look to test the keeper. Instead he attempted a short free kick routine that went horribly wrong, which was fittingly symbolic of his overall performance. If the contrasting atmosphere between the two sides at the final whistle on Sunday provides any indication of the season to come it is set to be very different than the previous campaign.
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