In the final act before the curtain rises on the new English Premier League season, EPL champions Chelsea will face Arsenal in the FA Community Shield on Sunday at Wembley.
The Community Shield is an annual super cup competition that pits the League champion against the FA Cup winner. This year’s edition brings two teams who’ve seen a lot of each other lately face-to-face yet again.
Arsenal beat Chelsea by 2-1 in the FA Cup final back in May. More recently, Chelsea pasted the Gunners 3-0 in a preseason friendly.
Both teams have received mixed reviews for their activities on the transfer market this summer. While Arsenal have secured the services of French striker Alexander Lacazette, speculation over the future of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez remains ongoing. Sanchez in particular has been heavily linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium with Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City the most likely destinations.
In addition to Lacazette, the Gunners have also brought in left-back Sead Kolasinac from Schalke 04. But having finished outside the top four for the first time since Arsene Wenger took charge, over 20 years ago, it’s far from clear that the Gunners have taken appropriate measures to ensure that last season’s failure to qualify for the Champions League was a one-off.
As underwhelming as Arsenal’s transfer activity has been, Chelsea’s has arguably been even worse. Last season’s leading scorer Diego Costa is on the outs with manager Antonio Conte. But despite links to Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and the Chinese Super League, the Brazilian-born striker is still on the books.
In the meantime, the Blues have signed Spaniard Alvaro Morata as a replacement for Costa. Although with Conte recently having remarked that Morata is not yet up to the level of fitness the Italian taskmaster demands, he may opt to start Michy Batshuayi who bagged a brace in last month’s friendly win.
Meanwhile, midfielder Nemanja Matic has left to join Manchester United in a move that could leave the Blues shorthanded in the center of the park unless they’re able to close the deal on Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater they’ve been linked with.
This pattern of inactivity on the transfer market following a title win is something we’ve seen before from Chelsea. Two years ago, when Jose Mourinho led the Blues to the 2015 title, the club went into the fall season with exactly the same team they’d finished the previous season with. That year, Mourinho was sacked by the club – for the second time – and finished in mid table.
While Chelsea have tended to have the upper hand over Arsenal in the league lately, the Community Shield is a competition the Gunners have tended to excel in. Wenger’s men have lifted the trophy two out of the last three seasons, beating Chelsea and Manchester City respectively.
Despite this summer’s inactivity, Chelsea still possess the most proven squad in the Premier League. It’s tempting to call them favorites, but despite their foibles last season, Wenger’s Arsenal showed surprising resilience against Conte’s Blues; handing them the early season defeat that prompted the tactical shift that won them the league, and beating them in the FA Cup final.
A win for the Gunners could be unifying and help bring want-away stars like Sanchez, Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while giving confidence to new signing Lacazette.
Looking ahead to the Premier League season, which kicks off on Friday August 11 as Arsenal welcome Leicester City to the Emirates, Chelsea haven’t gone about their business like a team intent on defending its title at all costs. Beyond the Costa situation, relations were frayed with Conte earlier in the summer and apart from Danny Drinkwater, there aren’t many players being linked with a move to the Bridge.
With the two Manchester teams engaged in a multimillion pound arms race, Chelsea’s lackadaisicalness is risky.
The same can be said of Arsenal. After dipping below the 4th place finish standard that, in addition to the occasional FA Cup, has become Wenger’s measure of success. That he failed to maintain his European qualification record but still kept his job surprised some. While Lacazette was a hopeful signing, there’s a simmering level of dissatisfaction that’s only cooled slightly over the summer. A poor start to the season could bring tensions to a head quickly. Arsenal must start the season strong or risk open dissent from fans and another likely season in which they’ll struggle to compete for a top 4 place against the Manchester teams, a rejuvenated Liverpool and Tottenham, who’ve been the best team in the Premier League over the past two seasons.
Tune in as Arsenal face Chelsea in the FA Community Shield this Sunday, August 6 at 9:00 a.m. EST on Fox Sports 1.
Watch Arsenal’s Premier League opener against Leicester City, next Friday, August 11 at 3:00 p.m. EST on NBCSports.