A cagey Community Shield match between Arsenal and Manchester City was settled by penalties after the match finished 1-1.
In a match of few clear chances, Kai Havertz missed the best one of the first half as 2022-23 Premier League runners-up Arsenal played with more dynamism than treble winners City.
City grew into the game more in the second half. A quieter-than-usual Erling Haaland was substituted for academy graduate Cole Palmer, and it was the City youngster who broke the deadlock, curling a delightful shot into the top far corner.
It seemed to be City’s day but a shot from Leandro Trossard in the 11th minute of added time was deflected beyond Stefan Ortega by Manuel Akanji – and so we went to penalties.
Arsenal prevailed 4-1 from the spot, after Kevin De Bruyne hit the bar and Aaron Ramsdale saved Rodri’s effort.
Mark Carey, Seb Stafford-Bloor and Thom Harris analyse the key moments…
Arsenal develop as a collective
There’s nothing to suggest that Arsenal won’t again be very good this season. Judging their summer transfer business on a player-by-player basis isn’t wrong — obviously not — but it is more helpful to look at how that spending has developed their group as a collective.
Jurrien Timber is a good example. No matter his passing and progressive qualities, he adds a level of versatility Arsenal sorely needed last season. Today for instance, he occupied a traditional left-back role and, during different phases of the match, a more advanced position both down the left and in the centre of the pitch. When Arsenal were in their attacking third, he was even seen as a receiving option in the penalty box.
The way to look at him, then, is to see another player with the utility of Oleksandr Zincheko. Someone who, in effect, exists outside the constraints of given positions. He can literally play a variety of roles, of course, and that’s helpful too – particularly with the heavier fixture load this season – but Mikel Arteta has in his possession another versatile footballer with whom he can increase the complexity of his side.
Declan Rice is another example. The question of whether he’s worth the £105million paid for him will dominate the discourse this year, but while he may ultimately have to prove his value through individual contributions, he will make Arsenal a richer symphony simply by being able to play with contrasting moods, in different ways, alongside different types of opponent and, if necessary, in different systems too.
Think of the player Rice commonly was for West Ham and the midfielder he often is for England; they’re not the same and yet he’s successful in both teams and in different ways. He can hold, he can be aggressive, he can be a foil or he can be a talisman. Consider also that England, West Ham and now Arsenal all have different playing styles and operate at different speeds, and that really speaks to the variety in Rice’s game.
It will definitely equip Arsenal for the road ahead.
Havertz will do too. Gabriel Jesus’ injury has changed his short-term role and, with everybody fit, Havertz is expected to play in midfield. But – in plainer terms, regardless of whether he’ll ever be a volume goalscorer or not – the signing of the German represents the addition of another technically gifted, tactically astute player to a team that’s already being really well coached.
It is unlikely to go badly.
Ramsdale won’t go quietly
This midweek, most people tipped their hats to Ramsdale. Rightly so, because his essay volunteered vulnerabilities that most players don’t admit to. It was also a righteous strike against the kinds of online behaviour that, in football and well beyond, only seems to be getting worse.
But it was a strange few days for him, too. The publication of his article coincided with news breaking that Arsenal were actively interested in Brentford’s goalkeeper David Raya and – with unfortunate timing – that exposed Ramsdale to a week-long conversation about his flaws.
So what a response this was; an excellent performance in context.
City were not at their best and never looked anything likely as merciless as they were when these teams last met at the Etihad in late April. Ramsdale didn’t have to stand up to the full City storm at Wembley. Nevertheless, his distribution was good and, in the second half especially, he made saves which challenged any assumption that he is a lesser shot-stopper than Raya.
He is a goalkeeper of great quality. But he is also one of character and he has proven that twice this week and in different ways. If Raya does go to Arsenal, he’ll have a fight on his hands — to the extent that you wonder whether it would actually be such a smart move for him to make.
City’s 4-2-4 offered stability but not incision
City like to keep the ball, and it looks like summer signing Mateo Kovacic will only help them to keep it more.
In truth, much of the first half today was a stalemate, as City controlled the possession and looked to lure Arsenal out of their 4-4-2 mid-block. Instead of inverting their full-backs, however, Pep Guardiola’s side opted to build up from the back with a double-pivot of Rodri and Kovacic receiving passes from the defence.
At times, goalkeeper Ortega would step up and allow Kyle Walker and Manuel Akanji to push forward down the wings, but the basic pattern persisted – instead of a centre-back moving into midfield, City were essentially playing a 4-2-4. It meant that last season’s treble winners had an extremely solid base should possession be lost, with six defensively-minded players behind the ball.
It also meant that City could dominate possession (they had 85 per cent of it in the opening 20 minutes) without carving out too many chances. It was control over free-flowing football as they looked to bed themselves into the new season against worthy competitors.
While Ilkay Gundogan often pushed high to receive the ball last season, Kovacic almost exclusively dropped deep at Wembley. As smarterscout’s comparison from the previous season shows, City’s new midfielder is a higher-volume dribbler and forward passer than Gundogan, while offering less threat himself in the attacking third.
City still have the option to switch back to a 3-2-5, and they finally found their moment of inspiration as Phil Foden dropped into the receiver role. One of the world’s best players on the turn, it was his excellent swivel to escape Thomas Partey that allowed him to drive into midfield and glide the length of the pitch in the move that led to Palmer’s goal.
Flexibility and positional rotations are nothing new in a Guardiola team, and it was a positive switch-up that won City the game today. A Kovacic – Rodri pairing might not be the most exciting, but it asserts the most control.
New refereeing rules and the potential for havoc
Last season, 92 players were cautioned for time-wasting in the Premier League. That equated to a yellow card for it every 8.2 games, accounting for just 6.6 per cent of all bookings across the season.
On the evidence of the Community Shield, 2023-24 will see those numbers obliterated.
Under new directives from their bosses at PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials board, League), referees will be cracking down on gamesmanship and keeping a closer eye on the clock. Any instances of time-wasting, as seen when Partey and Julian Alvarez were both booked in the opening half an hour for prodding the ball away, will be punishable offences and receive an immediate yellow card.
Other areas of contention include dissent, where any player who covers a considerable distance to confront the referee will be cautioned, while managers leaving their technical area – like Arteta today – will see much more frequent bookings. A second caution and the manager can no longer even watch the game from the stand, now banished to the changing room and permitted no contact with their coaching staff.
One idea behind the stricter ruling is to increase active game time. With celebrations, substitutions and injury stoppages being more stringently timed, expect to see bigger numbers on the fourth official’s board. Hence the 11 added minutes today.
Although there were no casualties this time, players and managers alike will be walking a tightrope to make sure that silly mistakes don’t swing games.
With Jesus’ knee injury ruling him out for the start of the season, it was Havertz — bought from Chelsea to play as a left-side No 8 — who slotted in to lead the line against City.
Irrespective of individual performances, the personnel change represents a key additional string to Arteta’s bow ahead of the upcoming campaign — flexibility.
While Arsenal were closely wedded to a 4-3-3 with a very settled starting XI in 2022-23, the reinforcements brought in during the summer window will allow them to become more unpredictable for the upcoming campaign.
While City dominated the early stages at Wembley, Arsenal adapted well with their 4-2-3-1 formation as Rice sat alongside Partey, allowing Martin Odegaard to pick up those pockets of space from which he loves to wreak havoc.
Rice was particularly effective at pressing high, with Arsenal’s man-for-man press allowing him to frequently jump in on Rodri to prevent City from building out comfortably. In possession, Rice often dropped between Arsenal’s centre-backs, allowing the full-backs to push forward — with one of their big chances coming via patient build-up from the back line.
Having such a settled side last season meant that teams often knew how to play against Arsenal, but they would often be unable to stop them.
This time, their summer recruitment will allow them to switch things up — with no drop-off in quality.
Any team playing against City know they are not going to be the favourites going into the game, but Arsenal largely contained Guardiola’s side — allowing them to dominate possession without too much penalty-box action.
In the City area, meanwhile, it is an obvious truism that you need to take your chances when they come. With Jesus out for the early stages of the season, it looks like the task of converting Arsenal’s chances will fall to Havertz.
A good chance was spurned by the German in the first half, followed by a gilt-edged opportunity where he saw his shot blocked six yards out.
Unfortunately for Havertz, he is coming off the back of a confidence-sapping season at Chelsea where he underperformed his expected goals number more than any other Premier League player (4.8 goals fewer), which won’t thrill Arsenal fans.
Arsenal have goals across the team in the forms of Odegaard, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, but in the same manner as Jesus himself, Havertz is not the sort of clinical striker who will score something out of nothing for his side — and he never has been.
A fresh start in north London will undoubtedly bring about a rejuvenated Havertz in the upcoming season, but at Wembley there looked to be a hangover in his finishing from last season that Arteta will be determined to remedy.
The beauty of Bernardo
The price Bernardo Silva has paid for being part of one of the most successful teams in history is to belong among City’s chorus of attacking players, rather than to have his own spotlight. It is interesting, for instance, how often he has been linked with a transfer away and just how little alarm that seems to cause.
Sell Bernardo? Unless he’s really desperate to leave, Guardiola and City would be crazy to allow that to happen — because where would they find a replacement? Identifying another gifted player to occupy his position would be relatively easy, particularly for a club of such means, but recruiting someone with the exact same package of abilities would be far harder: an attacking midfielder who carries as well as he passes, who receives the ball on the touchline and in the congested, internal areas too, and who so regularly attracts defenders in groups, both inside the box and outside of it.
What makes him so valuable is that, really, he’s an aggregate of the more old-fashioned playmaking abilities — passing, use of space — and the more modern traits expected of wide attacking players. Replicating that wouldn’t be a challenge to embrace — not now, and not on this evidence.
City were in a ponderous mood today, in the final third at least, and while the initial absence of De Bruyne partially explained that, it was telling that their true moments of thrust came from Bernardo.
Everybody reads too much into the Community Shield. Every year, without fail, we all do it. But with Gundogan sold this summer and Riyad Mahrez also gone, it is reasonable to wonder whether City might have trouble finding the same levels of penetration that they did a year ago.
Bernardo is an awfully useful compensation for that and, if Palmer’s goal is an indication of his trajectory, an invaluable technical role model to have while a young player matures.
(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)