Don’t look now, but the 2023/24 Premier League season is set to kick off in less than a week. The preseason has wrapped up for all teams except two: last season’s champions, Manchester City, and runners-up Arsenal FC, who face off on Sunday at Wembley Stadium for this season’s Community Shield.
Most seasons, this match-up would feature the previous season’s title winners and FA Cup winners, but, since City pulled off the treble and won both, the second spot defaults to the league runners-up. Hooray for consolation prizes, I suppose.
The match is always a bit of a weird one, in that it’s an odd mix of friendly and competitive. If you win, you get a little momentum and silverware heading into the season. If you lose, you can always frame it as instrumental prep and meaningful minutes for your squad. It’s not really a match to take a considerable amount away from.
Case in point - City has featured and lost in the last two Community Shields before going on to win the league, and have lost in three of their last five appearances. Arsenal, on the other hand, have won the last four Community Shield matches they have featured in despite having unsuccessful seasons follow those victories.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing worth playing for. Arsenal have been on an incredible upward trajectory under Mikel Arteta, culminating in last season’s title chase. Despite the growth, Pep’s City has been the one unshakeable roadblock that Arteta routinely struggles against, with his lone victory over Pep coming in Arsenal’s improbable 2020 FA Cup run, occurring in an empty stadium during the bizarre COVID season. It’s fair play to Pep, though, who has created a monster at City that has been head and shoulders above the rest of the pack for the better part of a decade. But that makes a victory over City that much more important for Arteta and Arsenal. To be the best, you have to beat the best.
Arsenal and Arteta will undoubtedly want to show that the previous season’s success was more than a one-off. The expectation by some outlets and pundits is that Arsenal will regress back to a more “realistic” form for the club. The Community Shield is not an accurate barometer for the season ahead, but a win against Arteta’s mentor would do well for the club’s mentality and stock heading into the upcoming PL campaign.
It’s largely expected that Arteta will feature a strong side after running out what looked very much like a cup competition side against Monaco during Wednesday’s Emirates Cup match. Bukayo Saka returns after an illness, and the back line will almost certainly return to it’s typical lineup, with Jurrien Timber likely to feature at left back after an impressive pre-season and Alexander Zinchenko still recovering from an injury that sidelined him for the entire summer.
The big question mark is at the 9. Arsenal are once again without the services of Gabriel Jesus after the striker needed minor knee surgery to clean out some debris, derailing a very impressive pre-season where he looked as close to his pre-surgery self as he has since he initially returned from injury in the spring. Eddie Nketiah lead the line against Monaco and was even handed the Captain’s armband, but few players had as impressive a preseason as Leandro Trossard. Arsenal were incredibly successful with him at striker in Jesus’ absence last season, and he has been playing like a man with something to prove all summer.
And then there is the issue of the midfield. Declan Rice joined for a club record fee, but Thomas Partey’s performances this summer have been reminders that, when he is healthy and on his game, there are nearly no midfielders in the world who can match his quality. Rice played at the 8 against Monaco, but Kai Havertz has been the preferred starter at that position in the preseason. Both new signings will get their minutes, and it will be interesting to see how Arteta manages the rotation.
Sunday will be Arteta’s last opportunity to tweak his lineup and tactics before next Saturday’s season opener against Nottingham Forest at the Emirates. No matter who City lines up or the circumstances, the goal remains the same: win. Arsenal have much more to prove than City after last season, and a win can be a nice boost as they look to continue their success and growth under Arteta.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Manchester Cit
WHERE: Wembley Stadium, London
WHEN: 11am EST/7am PST/4pm GMT
HOW TO WATCH: Streaming live on ESPN+
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