EPL: Calm down, Arsenal

Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger.

If ever a single game summed up the relentless juggernaut of hype in English football, then it had to be the Community Shield on Sunday.

The Wembley walkabout has marginally more significance than a beach football contest between tourists at the Copacabana and is usually less attractive.

And yet, Arsenal are being hailed in some quarters as genuine title contenders; a team turning corners and rolling headfirst into a renaissance.

Having lifted two silver trinkets in two games, there has even been mention of the Gunners having a taste for trophies.

But the Community Shield isn't a real trophy; it's an octagonal silver slab that looks like a huge 50-pence piece has fallen from a giant's pocket.

The only difference between the Community Shield and other pre-season friendlies is the Wembley venue and the operatic pre-match rendition of the national anthem, which always sounds puffed up and overblown - a bit like the Gunners after their 3-0 victory over some strangely despondent Manchester City reserves.

Arsene Wenger spoke of creating a "positive platform" for the season, stressing the importance of a confidence-boosting win over the Premier League champions.

But the Gunners didn't defeat the champions; they brushed aside extras from The Walking Dead masquerading as the world's most expensive football club.

A team with Dedryck Boyata on the pitch and Scott Sinclair on the bench are always likely to have more in common with a comedy troupe than title contenders.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini left out nine senior players in the season's curtain-raiser; a decision that has angered City supporters who wasted a weekend to watch the farce.


In stark contrast, the Gunners' new signings - Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez - all featured and enjoyed a sunny afternoon stroll knocking over sky-blue skittles.

Without a doubt, Arsenal offered glimpses of better days to come. All three goals were stamped with quality and class, either in the build-up or their execution.

Aaron Ramsey suggested again why those who had once written off both him and his manager really should read up on Wenger's measured, patient track record of nurturing young players until they come close to touching greatness.

The Welsh midfielder has gone from erratic to irreplaceable in a single campaign; an uplifting, rare example of a club being rewarded for their loyalty to both a player's potential and the manager's vision.

Chambers should benefit from a similarly long-term relationship with Wenger. Debuchy is more likely to replicate his France form in North London than he ever was in Newcastle. And Sanchez is a raging bull who will be finessed by his French manager until he doesn't treat every fixture like a china shop.

There are obviously rough edges for Arsenal's master sculptor to work on. If Sanchez proves malleable, he will be a magnificent addition to both Arsenal and the Premier League.

But the Gunners' spine remains strangely tender.

Wenger referred to Thomas Vermaelen's dignity after the Belgian centre back completed his move to Barcelona with a welcome lack of vindictive sniping at his former club. But Arsenal are now a centre back short and in the market for a replacement.

Chambers is not expected to be an Arsenal regular immediately, but an injury to either Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny and the 19-year-old will be making the leap to manhood earlier than anticipated.

In central midfield, Mikel Arteta found himself not only promoted to permanent club captain, but also to a position of greater responsibility. He was effectively handed the role that Javier Mascherano mastered for Argentina against Holland in the World Cup.

Arteta sailed through the audition against Pellegrini's barely-conscious pedestrians. But the centre circle threatens to be a lonely place, with Ramsey and Jack Wilshere scampering forward to join in the foraging fun with Sanchez, Santi Cazorla or Mesut Oezil.

And, in the end, all roads could lead to Yaya Sanogo.

Ordinarily, they lead to Olivier Giroud, but form and fitness were often his foes last season. With Wenger favouring one man up front, Arsenal are left with the comparatively slim pickings of either Sanogo or Giroud.

Wenger is joining the dots, but there are gaps through the middle that are preventing him from painting a complete picture.

Arsenal can certainly take heart from defeating a City side they failed to beat twice last season - losing 6-3 away and drawing 1-1 at home - but Crystal Palace will offer a much sterner test this weekend.

One Wembley saunter does not make a season. All Community Shield victories must be treated with caution.

If giddy Arsenal followers require further advice, they should seek out David Moyes.


This article was first published on August 12, 2014.
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