A guest post from @foreverheady
All Community Shields matter, but some matter more than others.
You’d certainly wish you were playing, rather than just watching, given you only get the traditional curtain-raiser invite if you’ve won either cup or league the season before. Other countries glamorise such ties with titles like Supercup, but the UK settled first with Charity, and then Community (reflecting a more politically correct age) to highlight the fact that for once the riches on display might help those who are a long way away from any such wealth.
Some of these games are little more than a stroll in the Wembley park, a last opportunity to put the finishing touches to the long pre-season process, especially when the previous year’s Cup has thrown up an unlikely winner, such as Wigan or Portsmouth. I suspect yesterday’s affair would have been one such game had Aston Villa done what many predicted and beaten The Arsenal in May. But of course they didn’t, and what we were left with was a Premier League marketing dream.
A London derby.
Chelsea v Arsenal. Jose v Wenger.
You see, every so often the Charity Shield throws up a game that really does matter, and which has significance far beyond the actual result.
Liverpool and Leeds in ’74 is the first I remember, the animosity between the teams palpable, but in later years Liverpool and Manchester United, Manchester United and Arsenal, Chelsea and City. Heavyweight contenders, Bull elephants circling each other, marking territory, establishing dominance. At times all that seems missing is the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough, so primal are the encounters.
Last year’s Shield proves the point in reverse somehow; with several of the players still in post-World Cup drowsiness, and City clearly not rating their opponents, Arsenal secured a bloodless win that surprised one and all and which seemed at the time almost an irrelevance, such was the sense that the real title contenders were keeping their powder dry. And so it proved: although City and Arsenal eventually proved comfortably better than all the rest, the Premier League title was Chelsea’s well before Christmas.
It wasn’t like that yesterday, not like that at all. In the second half of last season’s League campaign, Wenger’s Arsenal emerged as a side to be reckoned with, a side that many felt could prove to be genuine contenders once more. Although they never got close enough to land a proper blow, the celebrations of the Chelsea team on securing a goalless point at The Emirates in April suggested that they too had begun to see Arsenal as credible and feared opponents.
But something else was happening too I think, namely the increasing intensity of the animosity between Wenger and Mourinho.
The English game has lacked a proper feud for a while. Clough and Revie ages ago; then Clough and just about anyone; Ferguson and Keegan; Ferguson and Wenger for a while, but then, not much – to be honest the last few years have been positively beige. Van Gaal can’t be taken seriously, Pellegrino seems hardly bothered, and Arsene has not really had the team for anyone to reckon it be worth spending too much time on mind games. But it has been clear for a while that there is something about Wenger that really rankles Jose, and the feeling, it would appear, is delightfully mutual. Taunts in Press Conferences, measured and barbed responses, touchline scuffles, cold shoulders and faint praise. It has all been escalating very nicely, and if anyone thinks that as the managers led their teams out yesterday they were treating it as a friendly then I would respectively suggest that not only do they not really understand football but they haven’t a clue about human nature either.
Certainly the full-studded stamps of Ramariez on Cazorla, Ivanovic’s scything’s of Ozil and the heaviness of Coquelin’s challenges in the first several minutes suggested that pre-season was well and truly over, as did the intensity of Arsenal’s forward surge immediately after kick-off. This was a contest, and although essentially even, with both sides enjoying plenty of the ball, The Arsenal always seemed just that little bit lighter on their feet, more direct in their approach.
Close matches between top teams are decided by the smallest of details, and by moments of individual brilliance. A couple of years ago I wrote this about Mesut Ozil: “great players make it seem like 11 against 10, for their vision reduces defences as surely as if a red card has been issued. Özil is a space maker and a game changer.” And he proved my words just right yesterday. Look again at the Arsenal goal. Ozil has the ball on the left hand flank, seemingly intent on attacking down that wing: in a moment he switches play to Theo in the middle, his pass cutting five defenders out of the game. Suddenly there is space, which Walcott maximises by immediately releasing Oxlade into the box, who then cuts inside and fires unstoppably with his weaker foot into the top corner.
It was the goal of a great striker, initially enabled by a master craftsman.
And in the end it proved the difference.
First Ramirez and then Hazard might have equalised, but only last ditch defending and great goalkeeping prevented Arsenal from stretching their lead too.
Both clubs will take things from the game.
Chelsea will point to the missing Costa, to a slight unpreparedness, to the ring-rustiness of Falcao and conclude that on another day things might well have gone differently. They have time between now and September to enter the market and acquire the players that will allow them to confidently defend their title, and I am sure they will. They probably need a centre-half, a defensive midfielder and a new striker as yesterday their spine looked vulnerable.
Arsenal will remember that they have Alexis and Wilshere to add to the mix, and will no doubt also look to strengthen and perhaps improve key positions.
I suspect that both managers will be looking at the same players and that after yesterday both clubs will be keen to back their manager’s choices. But most of all, both clubs will know that their next encounter will count for more than just another trophy of debatable worth, and that they will be playing for Premiership points and real bragging rights.
Saturday, 19th September will see the hottest tickets in town; the battle lines have been drawn and there won’t be any charity on offer, not even a handshake.