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Arteta Gets the Better of Guardiola – But What Does it Mean?

Updated: Feb 3

Were it not for the time of year and sight of the distinctive Community Shield being lifted high into the sultry summer air, you may have been convinced that Arsenal had lifted the UEFA Champions League on Sunday.

Despite the vigour of their celebrations, however, the Gunners’ unconvincing pre-season win at Wembley raised more questions than answers, while goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale’s subsequent description of the result as a “statement victory” seemed slightly at odds with reality.

But what should we take from this match, and do Arsenal look better equipped to challenge City in the 2023/24 EPL title race?

A Win, But an Unconvincing One

The match itself was typically slow-paced and understated, with both sides struggling for rhythm and tempo throughout. From City’s perspective, this had much to do with the side’s late start to pre-season, with their 2022/23 campaign only ending in June as a result of their treble exploits.

As for the Gunners, they fielded three debutants and appeared to lack some of the intensity and fluidity from the previous season. The combination of Thomas Partey and new signing Declan Rice in midfield was particularly interesting, as while it gave Arsenal more physical strength and dynamism in this area, the side missed the forward movement and subtle passing range of the departed Granit Xhaka.

This selection also betrayed a more pragmatic approach by the Gunners, who were overrun by City in both EPL games against City last season as they attempted to go toe-to-toe with their rivals.

Certainly, Arsenal were happy to cede possession at Wembley and counter at pace, with former Chelsea star Kai Havertz wasting the two best chances in the first half following swift breaks.

As the game wore on, City gained even more control of possession and territory, with the

introduction of Kevin De Bruyne from the bench immediately quickening the tempo and improving the crispness of the Citizens’ passing. He then set up fellow sub-Cole Palmer to curl home a sumptuous opener, while City looked the most likely to score again during the final stages.

In the 11th minute of stoppage time, however, Leandro Trossard gathered a recycled ball following a Gunners corner, before his speculative shot from outside of the box took a wicked deflection off Manuel Akanji to wrong-foot Stefan Ortega in the City goal.

The match almost immediately went to penalties, with both De Bruyne and Rodri failing with their attempts before Gunners’ midfielder Fabio Vieira converted to secure a 4-1 shootout win.

Can Arsenal Really Take Confidence From This Win?

Undoubtedly, the match and unconvincing nature of Arsenal’s win was at odds with the subsequent celebrations and analysis, with Ramsdale also suggesting that the Gunners had set a marker to “know we can go and beat Manchester City in a big game when it matters.”

He also suggested that the “mental block” had been removed when it came to overcoming City, and while this may be true to some degree, it’s hard to take too much from Arsenal’s Wembley win in the cold light of day.

After all, the Community Shield clash never came close to mirroring the intensity or meaning of a top-flight or Champions League game, while Arsenal’s selection of a more defence-oriented and pragmatic midfield suggests that they’re not confident in their ability to beat City while playing their natural game.

For much of the game, Arsenal looked cowed and lethargic, while De Bruyne’s introduction

cemented City’s burgeoning dominance and control of possession. Pep Guardiola’s team also continued to dominate and create chances in the final stages, despite rarely getting out of first gear during the 90 minutes.

Even Arsenal’s equaliser was born of luck and slapstick misfortune rather than skill or sustained pressure, with Trossard’s shot unlikely to trouble Ortega until it struck Akanji and the ball trickled apologetically past the keeper in the centre of the goal.

However, the Gunners at least capitalised on their good fortune and managed to carry the

momentum into the subsequent shootout, while holding their collective nerve to convert all four of their spot kicks and deliver the Community Shield to the Emirates Stadium.

This should not distract from the streaky nature of the win or the inescapably low tempo of the match at Wembley, while Arsenal’s desperation to seek meaning and comfort in the victory may be more worrying than reassuring ahead of the 2023/24 campaign.

The Last Word

If anything, Arsenal will have to improve and optimise the balance in their starting 11 if they’re to challenge for the EPL title once again this season, especially as they look to accommodate Rice, the enigmatic Havertz and fellow new signing Jurrien Timber.

What’s more, the Community Shield celebrations suggest that Arsenal may once again have an issue with tempering their emotions as the season unfolds. This was a significant issue during last season’s run-in, when Arsenal struggled to contain their nervous energy and a previously impressive title charge was ultimately derailed.

While some may argue that Arteta’s entire philosophy is built on passion for the cause and a

relentless intensity, this can be exhausting and must be harnessed if the Gunners are to go the distance in major tournaments.

Unfortunately, the Community Shield isn’t counted among such competitions, and attempting to seek meaning in Sunday’s win may ultimately count against the Gunners if they’re serious about winning a first Premier League title since the great ‘Invincibles’ campaign of 2003/04.

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