The 24-year-old German defender, signed on a free transfer from Schalke, has made a big impact in pre-season with his powerful runs from full-back and is already gaining cult status at the Emirates. He came on at Wembley to replace injured Per Mertesacker and scored Arsenal’s vital equaliser with 10 minutes to go. “I think he was outstanding,” said manager Arsene Wenger. “He’s physically very strong, naturally strong. There are players who are made in the gym and players who are born strong and he’s the latter of the two. Power plays a big part in the Premier League but we bought him for his attitude too.”
Antonio Conte insists Thibaut Courtois is one of Chelsea’s best penalty takers in training and defended his decision to select him to take one at Wembley. But the way the Belgian ballooned it over the bar was embarrassing — and hardly put him in the right frame of mind to face the penalties fired at him by clinical Arsenal.
Surely there must be someone else in Chelsea’s multi-million pound squad capable of scoring from the spot? Don’t expect Courtois to be taking one in the Premier League or Champions League.
The Gunners won this match without a string of big-name first-team stars such as Sanchez, Ozil, and Ramsey but manager Wenger admits he cannot keep everyone happy for the whole season, not with a squad of 33 players. “The number is too high and we’ll let some players because too much competition is not good.”
The first ever penalty competition in English football to be taken in the new A-B-B-A format received a mixed reaction after causing confusion on the pitch in the Community Shield at Wembley.
Arsenal won the shoot-out 4-1 but even their own players struggled to come to terms with it. The system, which is meant to be fairer and lessen the advantage of going first, sees team A take the first kick followed by two by team B and then another by team A.
After Gary Cahill’s opener for Chelsea was cancelled out by Theo Walcott, Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal stepped forward, correctly, to take his kick. However he was waved back by several of his team-mates, who seemed confused by the new format.
Arsenal, did however, clinch victory in the end with four clinical finishes with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud also scoring.
Conte anger at ref as Arsenal get early tonic
Arsenal struck the first blow in what promises to be one of the most brutal and combative battles for the Premier League title with a controversial victory on penalties over champions Chelsea in the Community Shield — and it looks like the tone for the season is already set.
Olivier Giroud’s winning spot-kick set off wild celebrations for those in red at Wembley after the game ended 1-1 but Chelsea were left bemoaning both an 80th minute red card for Pedro and an earlier decision by referee Bobby Madley to book Willian for diving when he could just as easily have given a penalty in the first half.
You could say of course that it’s only the Community Shield, a glamourised pre-season friendly which has no meaningful effect on the title race. But nevetheless this isn’t how the champions envisaged kicking-off their campaign, especially as they led after 47 minutes through Victor Moses and contrived to throw it away.
Sead Kolasinac’s headed equaliser came seconds after Pedro was dismissed for a poor challenge on Mohamed Elneny — and in bizarre shoot-out Thibaut Courtois ballooned a penalty over the bar before new signing Alvaro Morata, who looked short of match fitness when coming on as a substitute, scuffed his effort wide.
No wonder Chelsea manager Conte was rather tetchy in his post-match press conference, saying: “For sure there is disappointment to finish with 10 men for the second time in a row against Arsenal. We have to respect the decision of a referee but sometimes it makes you a bit angry. He tried to explain to me about his decision in the game. But there wasn’t time. I also wanted to ask him about the yellow card and the penalty — but then we’d be still at the stadium at 9pm.”
Chelsea will need to do improve ahead of Saturday’s home fixture against Burnley, particularly up front where former Real Madrid striker Morata is short of minutes, Diego Costa is being overlooked as he awaits a transfer out of Stamford Bridge — and Michy Batshuayi looks unready for the challenge.
For Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger there is no need to be defensive anymore, a welcome respite after last season’s uncomfortable atmosphere in which he had to cope with calls for him to step down.
Arsenal did it without Alexis Sanchez, deemed not yet fit enough, but the fact the Chilean joined in the on-pitch celebrations eased fears that he could be sold in the transfer window — and even Wenger, with new contract finally signed, got a cheer from the Arsenal faithful who were calling for his head not so long ago.
Wenger said: “It’s down to us to keep a positive atmosphere around the team. A lot was created by my own situation last season, maybe I made a mistake.
“But overall I believe it’s down to us. We had some bad starts in the first game of the Premier League season recently but let’s go into the Leicester match on Friday with the same discipline and spirit.
“I’m very happy today because we won the trophy and the quality of the game was very good. Even when we were 1-0 down we didn’t panic and kept control of our game. The performance is a continuation on what we did at the end of last season.”
Arsenal were without Sanchez, Mesut Ozil (who has a swollen ankle) and Aaron Ramsey (calf strain) and it’s likely they could still be missing all three of those star names when Leicester arrive at on Friday.
Per Mertesacker, who went off with a head injury sustained in an aerial challenge with Gary Cahill after 30 minutes, is expected to recover — but may face competition from the impressive Kolasinac who replaced him at Wembley and scored the equaliser.
Record signing Alexandre Lacazette, who Wenger said had an ‘interesting game’ is also expected to make his make his league debut having played 66 minutes here, including hitting the post in the first half with the score at 0-0.
For Chelsea, however, there was an uncomfortable sense of deja-vu as they succumbed at Wembley to the Gunners, just as they did in the FA Cup final and just as they did in this same fixture two years ago in what turned out to be a disastrous season for Jose Mourinho in defending the 2015 title.
Pictures of crestfallen Courtois and dejected Morata at the final whistle showed it meant more than just another friendly fixture — and this was Chelsea’s fourth consecutive defeat in the Community Shield.
They went ahead when Xhaka’s poor clearance was headed back into the area by Cahill for Moses to fire home from close range. But they lost control when Pedro’s desperately-late challenge on Elneny in the middle of the field after 80 minutes, his foot crunching into the midifelder’s ankle, was deemed worthy of a red.
With Conte still remonstrating on the sidelines, man-of-the-match Xhaka chipped in a free-kick for Kolasinac to head home an equaliser, before Arsenal won the shoot-out (run in the new A-B-B-A format) with cool finishes from Theo Walcott, Nacho Monreal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud.
It will do plenty for Arsenal’s morale the latter two of those names are players
with only a year remaining on their contract and being constantly linked with a move away from north London. Their celebrations gave no hint of dissatisfaction. Could harmony be breaking out at Arsenal just in time for a new season?
Cech 6; Bellerin 7, Mertesacker 6 (Kolasinac 33; 7), Holding 7, Monreal 6, Chamberlain 7; Elneny 7, Xhaka 8; Iwobi 7 (Walcott 66; 6), Lacazette 6 (Giroud 66; 6), Welbeck 8 (Nelson 88).
Ospina, Maitland-Niles, Willock.
Courtois 7; Cahill 8, Luiz 7, Azpilicueta 6; Moses 7, Kante 7, Fabregas 6, Alonso 6 (Rudiger 79; 6); Pedro 6, Batshuayi 5 (Morata 74; 5), Willian (Musonda 83).
Cabellero, Christensen, Scott, Boga