Thursday 18 January 2018

Trophies for Arsenal like buses: you wait nine years and two come along at once

Arsenal's Mikel Arteta lifts the trophy on the balcony after victory over the Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium
Arsenal's Mikel Arteta lifts the trophy on the balcony after victory over the Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium

Two Wembley appearances, two wins. Arsenal could get used to this.

Two of the Gunners' FA Cup final goalscorers were on target as Arsene Wenger's men beat last season's Premier League winners Manchester City 3-0.

City clearly did not consider the FA Community Shield a trophy worth pursuing, with swathes of empty seats in the light blue end and most of their first choice XI sitting in the stands.

The champions of England started without a British player in their line-up, were lethargic throughout and clearly had an eye on next week's match at Newcastle.

Momentum was Wenger's focus ahead of Crystal Palace's visit to the Emirates Stadium, with optimism high for the season ahead.

How far Arsenal have come in 12 months, since a season-opening 3-1 home loss to Aston Villa left angry fans calling for Wenger's head.

With the trophy hex lifted by May's defeat of Hull and Wenger splashing out on talent like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in less than a year, the perennial question of whether the Gunners can mount a sustained Premier League title challenge is posed.

The Community Shield offers the weakest hint of what is to follow in the campaign ahead: David Moyes' Manchester United beat Championship side Wigan in last season's showpiece, lest we forget.

United finished seventh last term and the competition has only intensified ahead of next weekend's big kick-off.

Chelsea are reinforced in Jose Mourinho's second season of his second spell, United are expected to be rejuvenated by Louis van Gaal, a Suarez-less Liverpool have been bolstered by an influx from Southampton, while Everton and Tottenham will be determined to have a say.

The Gunners were pace-setters until the end of January last season, despite a 6-3 December reverse at the Etihad which exposed their numerous failings.

That was one of three humiliating defeats to the teams who finished above them in May.

Liverpool scored four times in the first 20 minutes of their 5-1 win in February and the greatest embarrassment followed, a 6-0 loss at Chelsea in Wenger's 1,000th game in charge in March.

The Stamford Bridge annihilation had been preceded by a barb from Mourinho that Wenger was "a specialist in failure", a taunt that lingered until the defeat of Hull.

In the nine years since Arsenal had won the 2005 FA Cup, Wenger had been ridiculed for suggesting a fourth-placed finish - and with it Champions League qualification - was as good as a trophy.

Mourinho has been among those to admit the Premier League priority has to be a top four place, but Gunners fans want more this term.

This was Arsenal's first appearance in the season curtain raiser since Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Cesc Fabregas featured in Cardiff, when the new Wembley was still being built.

City have plundered Arsenal for talent since, signing five players in five years, including Bacary Sagna, who was not included in a half-strength City line-up and the Gunners hierarchy have had to insist their ambitions remain.

Sanchez is the kind of player City have coveted in recent years but he is now in the red of Arsenal.

The Chilean scored two goals on his previous Wembley appearance - against England last November - but did not have the same impact against City.

He did not need to as Arsenal, without their three World Cup-winning Germans, sauntered to victory.

Santi Cazorla, one of the players who might find himself marginalised by the Chilean's arrival, scored after 21 minutes and Aaron Ramsey netted a second three minutes before the break.

It was no coincidence that last term, following a thigh injury to Ramsey, Arsenal's campaign suffered a near-terminal blip before the Welshman returned to score the goal which won the FA Cup.

The performances and fitness of Ramsey - again excellent - Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are key for Arsenal to challenge into the spring.

A third Arsenal goal, from Olivier Giroud, came after Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko had taken their leave in a further indication of City's indifference to the game.

Four English players were on the bench for City, including goalkeeper Joe Hart, who will need to convince Manuel Pellegrini he should be preferred to Willy Caballero.

There was the curious sight of Frank Lampard, Chelsea's record goalscorer, in a City suit in the stands following his loan move from New York to the Etihad.

It was an intriguing switch ahead of a season which is sure to feature better contests than its opening game, with one of the many questions whether Arsenal are in contention for more trophies come next May.

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