Arsenal bested Manchester City 4-1 on penalties after drawing 1-1 in regular time to win the club’s 17th Community Shield. People will try to tell you the trophy doesn’t mean anything, and ultimately it might not mean all that much in a vacuum, but from watching the celebrations, the win meant something to Arsenal. It’s likely not the silverware itself that matters. It’s that they beat Manchester City, who’ve gotten the better of them 16 of the last 17 times the teams have met, to lift the trophy.
On the whole, Arsenal were the better team on the afternoon and “deserved” something from the match. The expected goals difference varies depending on where you look, but pretty much all the stats sites have the Gunners ahead of City on xG. And two of Arsenal’s best chances — Gabriel Martinelli on the rebound in the first half that was blocked and Bukayo Saka swinging and missing in the second half — won’t even show up in the calculus.
So yes, Leandro Trossard’s deflection might have been lucky but on the whole, the Gunners did more than enough to get a goal in the match. And not for nothing, I think the shot was beating Stefan Ortega at the far post anyway.
The penalties were all Arsenal. I guess those preseason penalty shootouts after the friendlies helped out. Martin Ødegaard, Leandro Trossard, Bukayo Saka, and Fabio Vieira all converted for the Gunners. Kevin De Bruyne hit the bar. Bernardo Silva scored. And Aaron Ramsdale saved Rodri’s attempt, which was enough for the Gunners to win.
Jurrien Timber was the standout performer for Arsenal. He was excellent on the ball and defended surprisingly well, putting in some key blocks in the second half. Martin Ødegaard was a close second. He played like he had something to prove and wanted to send a message. He was particularly smooth on the ball, even by his own lofty standards, including sitting down Julian Alvarez so badly that the City attacker came up a bit gimpy. Leandro Trossard continued his fantastic preseason run of form. His close control and ability to dribble out of tight spaces is something special.
Ben White, who has had a middling to poor preseason so far, was excellent. He completely shut down Jack Grealish and was involved going forward. William Saliba, as expected, matched and bettered Erling Haaland’s physicality. Aaron Ramsdale made two magnificent saves a 1-0 down to keep Arsenal in the match.
Declan Rice’s role, at least today, seemed to be covering the entire field. At times, he dropped in next to Thomas Partey. He was sometimes the furthest back midfielder to receive the ball from the centerbacks. He also got in and around the Manchester City box to combine with the attackers. He had one particularly impressive defensive action where he ran down Bernardo Silva, coming seemingly out of nowhere to win the ball back easily. He’s going to give Arsenal and entirely new dimension both with and without the ball. I guess that is what £100M+ gets you.
Thomas Partey bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for the Manchester City goal. He over-aggressively pushed too far up the pitch and got turned rather easily by Phil Foden to start the break. Kieran Tierney didn’t cover himself in glory either. It’s not easy to defend 2-v-1 on the edge of the box in transition, but showing Cole Palmer the middle of the field was a mistake. That rather large blunder aside, Partey had an excellent game.
Partey has to be smarter than to step so hard like that, especially after picking up a yellow card early in the match (the card was either a soft one for an inconsequential tug back or a silly one under the new delaying the restart rules / emphasis). If he’s not on a card, he can haul Foden down, end the attack, and take his card.
Which brings me to my next point — it’s truly incredibly how Rodri manages to avoid bookings. By my count, he committed three professional, pull-back fouls to stop Arsenal attacks, all of which could and should have been booked. He also tripped Jurrien Timber outside the Manchester City penalty area after getting beat to the ball and seeing the Arsenal fullback touch it beyond him. Also a caution-worthy foul.
His last pull-back foul was particularly egregious. He grabbed Thomas Partey from behind with both hands, spun him around, and slung him to the ground. It was a tackle any NFL defensive coordinator would have loved and didn’t come close to resembling a football play. It was comical that he wasn’t cautioned.
Bookings matter. They change the way you have to play the game. Not being a mistimed challenge away from being sent off allows you to be more aggressive. You can squeeze up the pitch and press harder knowing that if you get beat, you can haul the guy down and take the card. Or in Manchester City’s case, not get the card. Because fouling when the press gets broken is part of their tactical plan. Bernardo does it. KDB does it. That’s how they’re coached. They probably benefit to the tune of 3-6 (or more) points a season from it.
As I said, a Thomas Partey foul on Phil Foden stops the Manchester City attack and prevents a goal. But he can’t give that foul because he’s one booking away from being sent off. How many more Arsenal attacks (or opposing attacks, generally) would Manchester City have to defend if their players were in the same situation?
It feels like tilting at windmills, to a degree. The refereeing isn’t likely to change, so Arsenal have to adapt. For the first time, we might have seen signs that they’re doing just that. In the first half, it felt as if Mikel Arteta had has side playing more compact and not pressing Manchester City as aggressively. The Gunners seemed content to let Manchester City progress the ball into the attacking half and have non-threatening possession. They played to avoid the big mistake -> transition -> goal.
It worked really well. The Arsenal defense limited Manchester City’s attack and didn’t concede big chances and easy goals. As I said earlier, Erling Haaland and Jack Grealish were kept particularly quiet. Martin Ødegaard, Declan Rice, and Thomas Partey seemed particularly focused on denying Rodri and Mateo Kovacic time and space on the ball in central areas. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli looked as if they were tracking back further to ensure City couldn’t overload the Arsenal fullbacks in wide areas.
It’s clear from the summer additions and different looks Mikel Arteta has set out in the preseason that he’s trying to make his team more flexible and unpredictable, less reliant on the same formula and setup to win matches. Today was a really good start towards that.