If you were in any doubt that the new football season was imminent, the traditional warning signs were apparent this week: Arsene Wenger saying Arsenal are finally ready to challenge for the title, Jose Mourinho taking cheap pops at other managers.
It’s only right, then, that Arsenal and Chelsea contest the season’s traditional curtain-raiser.
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This is, of course, something of a glorified friendly, a final pre-season warm-up before the Premier League campaign starts next week. It’s not unusual for opposing managers to take this game with differing levels of seriousness – sometimes you find one side playing their best XI, the other side using half a reserve team, and making multiple half-time changes.
In that respect, it can be difficult to predict the outcome – Arsenal’s comfortable victory over then-champions Manchester City this time last year was a good example.
That said, it’s difficult to imagine either team taking this one lightly. Wenger still has that unwanted record hanging over his head – he’s never defeated Mourinho – while Mourinho himself is a fiercely competitive manager who strives to win every trophy up for grabs. This should be a highly competitive game.
Arsenal looked extremely dangerous during their Emirates Cup victory last weekend, particularly in the 6-0 thrashing of French runners-up Lyon. With Mesut Ozil excelling between the lines and Aaron Ramsey back in his favoured central midfield role, the Gunners played dynamic counter-attacking football and could look to hit Chelsea quickly at Wembley.
Mourinho’s side are much more vulnerable when attacked with pace, and are comfortable when they can get two banks of four behind the ball, defending on the edge of their own penalty box.
That said, Arsenal’s central striker will probably be Olivier Giroud, who lacks pace and has rarely caused Chelsea problems over the past three seasons.
Mourinho could be forced to cope without a couple of regulars. Diego Costa is an injury doubt with a hamstring injury, as he seemingly was throughout much of last season, while Gary Cahill could also miss out after a nasty head injury sustained last week – which would be particularly frustrating for him, as he seeks to retain his first-team place ahead of Kurt Zouma and potentially John Stones this season.
Costa would be used primarily as a counter-attacking striker in a game against Arsenal, which means Loic Remy would be the obvious replacement. Either way, expect Chelsea’s forward to roam the channels and attempt to sprint in behind the Arsenal defence, perhaps in the zone patrolled by Per Mertesacker.
The other obvious threat is Eden Hazard, who has been typically charging inside from the left flank very dangerously throughout pre-season – although impressive young Spanish right-back Hector Bellerin coped nicely against him in these clubs’ 0-0 draw back in April.
Mourinho’s key decision is where to use Cesc Fabregas – the selection dilemma which effectively defined his side’s approach last season. If Fabregas is used as a number 10, it means two defensive midfielders and a more structured side, whereas the team will play with more fluidity if Fabregas is deeper, alongside Nemanja Matic.
The Serbian holding midfielder would struggle to cope with Arsenal’s multiple attacking midfielders, though, and therefore the more defensive format seems likely.
I’m going to plump for Arsenal here, simply because they might be in better physical condition. The Emirates Cup last weekend will have helped settle the Gunners down into a good rhythm, whereas Chelsea have only just returned from their pre-season tour, having faced Barcelona in Washington on Tuesday night.
That’s a quick turnaround from a relatively long journey, and Arsenal might be sharper at Wembley this weekend.
2.96 for a Gunners victory seems generous.
The Betfair Trader’s view – Alan Thompson
This is the first time that a club from Manchester hasn’t been represented in the Community Shield since 2006 and the last time we had a London derby in the game was when these two clubs met in 2005 with Chelsea running out 2-1 winners that day. There have been plenty of goals in this game recently with five of the last six producing over 2.5 goals and in four of the last five one of the sides has scored exactly three goals in the game.
Neither side have really flexed their financial muscles in the summer transfer window with Arsenal acquiring the services of ex Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Cech for £10m. Chelsea covered that gap by bringing in Asmir Begovic for an undisclosed fee from Stoke City as well as taking a chance on Radamel Falcao who can only be described as a failure last season at Manchester United. It will be interesting to see if Jose Mourinho can get the best out of him.
The Blues wrapped up their USA tour with a victory on penalties over a Messi-less Barcelona midweek while the Gunners were also victorious, in their own stadium, winning the Emirates Cup scoring seven goals and conceding none against Wolfsburg and Lyon.
When these two met last season both fixtures produced a result under 2.5 goals and the game at the Emirates ended 0-0, so will the trend of high scoring Community Shield games end with these two – the market is also undecided with both options in the 2.5 goals market trading around 2.00, so I can’t see any opportunities there.
In their last 12 league meetings Arsenal have run out victors on only two occasions, there have been three 0-0 draws and Chelsea have won five of the remaining seven to nil. The way Chelsea play may be boring to some, but its effective and normally very professional.
I will be taking Chelsea to win the Community Shield at 2.56.
It’s a London derby in the traditional curtain-raiser for the new campaign, the Community Shield at Wembley. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle, while Alan Thompson provides expert betting lowdown.