The winner does not take it all, certainly not with only the Community Shield at stake, but after Arsenal won the first penalty shoot-out on these shores under the new ‘ABBA’ system, the unbridled celebrations spoke volumes as to how much it means to Arsene Wenger as he prepares to fire-fight his way through another long campaign.
For Antonio Conte, also, with Chelsea, the champions, losing and the manager cutting an unhappy figure on the touchline as he raged against a series of perceived injustices. The cracker-jack Italian said last week that he wanted to avoid a “Mourinho season” – with Jose Mourinho sacked a few short months after bringing the Premier League title back to Stamford Bridge – but it has started as one. Two years ago Mourinho lost the Community Shield. And lost it to Arsenal. By December he was gone.
That is the doomsday scenario and, of course, far, far too much can be read into this feisty game where ring-rust remained, squads need to be finalised, players were at different levels of fitness and many key performers were sat on the bench, in the stands or not even at Wembley. Maybe there were four expected starters absent apiece with Arsenal missing Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey – both injury doubts also for the first league match at home to Leicester City this Friday – Laurent Koscielny and wantaway Alexis Sanchez, who donned his shades and, nevertheless, joined in the cavorting at the end.
Chelsea were also depleted. No Diego Costa, on his extended holiday/exile until he leaves, Eden Hazard, of course, nor Tiemoue Bakayoko while both Alvaro Morata and Antonio Rudiger started on the bench. Both came on – and both made inauspicious starts with Morata, the record signing for a fee of up to £70 million, missing the target completely from the spot in the shoot-out, as did goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, while Rudiger was caught out as Arsenal forced the late equaliser. Chelsea’s sense of angst was heightened by the identity of the scorer: Sead Kolasinac who they tried to sign themselves only last January. The Bosnian on a Bosman from Schalke looks like a good acquisition for Arsenal.
The defender’s headed goal came with Chelsea down to 10-men, also, and Conte’s anger will be fuelled by that sense of grievance – he really must feel fate is conspiring against him as he fulminates over the club’s transfer dealings – with Pedro sent off and Willian booked for diving when it could be argued he should have had a penalty instead.
Conte did not hold back in his complaints about referee Bobby Madley, making the point, furthermore, that it was the second Wembley match in a row against Arsenal that Chelsea had finished with 10-men after Victor Moses was sent off during last May’s FA Cup Final. There could be no dispute, however, over that dismissal – Moses received a second yellow card for diving – while, here, Pedro appeared to catch Mohamed Elneny, raking his studs down the back of the midfielder’s calf.
It was from the free-kick for that offence, taken by Granit Xhaka, that Kolasinac was not tracked by Rudiger and was able to power a close-range header past Courtois. Until then it appeared that Arsenal would be Arsenal-y – playing well, creating opportunities, hitting the post through their own record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, who looked lively when he, rarely, managed to break clear of David Luiz’s shackles, before conceding a soft goal.
That came early in the second-half with Xhaka ballooning the ball woefully up into the air, then reacting slowly to challenge Gary Cahill as it dropped from the sky with the Chelsea captain’s header being latching onto by Moses who stole in ahead of Rob Holding to chest it down and side-foot past Petr Cech. The wing-back celebrated with a swallow dive – a reminder of that red card just 71 days ago.
By then Arsenal had lost Per Mertesacker, with a cut to his head and, with Koscielny out and Shkodran Mustafi only just returning to training after the Confederations Cup, they were left with only 21-year-old Holding as a recognised central defender. Cue more questions, then, over Arsenal’s soft centre. But it helps when you have a replacement whose nickname is ‘The Tank’ and Kolasinac certainly has some rugged qualities that Arsenal so often are accused of lacking.
Not that anyone can accuse them of not playing attractive football and that was best illustrated in an opening quarter in which Lacazette, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck combined as an athletic, quick front three. It culminated in a move initiated by Lacazette who found Hector Bellerin who returned the ball to the striker who then exchanged passes with Welbeck to take a touch and bend his right-footed shot around Cahill only for it to cannon back off the post.
Mertesacker’s departure unsettled Arsenal and after Pedro stung Cech’s palms there came the penalty incident as Bellerin challenged Willian, his knee catching the Brazilian, who also appeared to clip himself, before he hit the turf. Was it a penalty? Was it a dive? Maybe it was neither but Willian was the only one who was punished as were Chelsea, again, when Pedro was dismissed and Arsenal capitalised.
There was no extra-time. Instead it went straight to penalties under the new ‘ABBA’ system – with the teams not simply going one after the other but following the sequence used in tennis – and Arsenal converting all four of those with comfort as Chelsea carelessly missed twice. It was substitute Olivier Giroud who converted the decisive kick which sparked those celebrations. As ever with Arsenal it left them open to the accusation of making too much out of limited success but the manner of this win, a comeback against the champions, more than the win itself, will feel important.