The transfer stories that dominate Arsenal and Chelsea's Community Shield showdown
For all of the usual old pre-game questions over whether the Community Shield actually matters as a match, one of the real values of the game has always been the exciting sense of watching bright new signings in shiny new jerseys ahead of a hope-filled new season, but it is precisely that issue that has given Chelsea and Arsenal familiar old problems and added a new significance to this match.
The build-up has been almost entirely dominated by trouble over transfers.
Antonio Conte has been justifiably concerned that he doesn’t have enough new signings for Chelsea’s elegant new kit in a campaign he has so ostentatiously warned will be “the most difficult” of his managerial career.
Arsene Wenger has been concerned with making sure everybody knows that Alexis Sanchez will unquestionably be staying, even if the strong likelihood he starts on the bench will only further remind everyone of the problem, as well as how Arsenal would look without him with just Alexandre Lacazette signed in attack so far.
The bottom line is that, as the new campaign comes into view, this match will not offer a very clear picture of either club’s ideal side given so much uncertainty.
Both managers sounded very certain of themselves, at least, in discussing these subjects before the game.
Conte: “Now for us it’s very important to try to improve our squad, in the numerical aspect, we have a small squad… the situation is very clear.”
Wenger: “My decision is clear: he will stay and he will respect that. it is as simple as that.”
Part of the issue with attempting to assess the Community Shield's very merits and lessons as a contest is that, no matter how hard the players consciously try, the subconscious knowledge that it’s merely an exhibition means that they can never have as much conviction as their managers did in those very pointed press conferences.
The match will nevertheless still offer some flavours of the new season, especially given that Conte himself will be want to get rid of the bad taste left from the FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal.
It is also that very May showpiece that offers a touch more curiosity to this contest, for reasons beyond simplistic revenge. One of the reasons Arsenal won that match - and went on a relatively impressive late-season rally - was because of Wenger’s belated decision to follow Conte in going to a back three. It helped them match Chelsea all over the pitch on the day, and particularly allowed the defence and Per Mertesacker to look so much more solid.
There was just a better balance that then brought out the best in so many of their players.
The lingering question with such switches, though, is whether most of the positive burst comes from just the temporary effects of any such change or - as with Chelsea - that the change actually instantly fixed so much with the team. After a summer to breathe and then a pre-season that allowed the coaching staff the preparation time to even better understand the idea, Arsenal's comfort in the system will tell a lot.
That very formation may have been transformative for Chelsea but Conte still has his own tinkering to do to it for this game. The biggest move involves how new signing Alvaro Morata will work given the injury to Eden Hazard, since it has led the manager to put him on the left in pre-season matches rather than directly replacing Diego Costa in the centre.
The Brazilian-born striker is just another of Conte’s headaches as he goes into this game, but a question that also stems from it is whether Morata - good as he is - can actually produce the same level of goal return as Costa.
Conte was even asked about the younger Spanish striker’s perceived confidence issues on the eve of the game.
“I think Morata is a really good player and he can compete with every striker in the world to try to play,” the Italian said.
“He is a young player and my task is also to help him improve, to exploit his quality because I know he has great quality and my task is this – to improve his quality to become one of the best strikers in the world.”
It would undeniably improve Morata’s confidence to score at Wembley, but that is something from this particularly fixture that can also be overplayed, given the performance of one of Chelsea’s previous record signings in it and what came next.
Back in 2006, Andriy Shevchenko seemed to instantly show why he was already considered one of the best in the world by so sleekly and assertively scoring against Liverpool… only to never really show that again in a Chelsea jersey. It is just one other reason why Sunday should not mean much.
Another reason is Arsenal’s recent history. They have won the last two Community Shields they took part in, but still never followed it by looking anyway close to winning the league.
Starting the season with victory is of course no bad thing, and the match can give many indications of what's to come, but the managers evidently have far too many other concerns to be overly bothered by defeat. They revealed that long before kick-off.
Independent News Service