COMMUNITY SHIELD 2020

Aubameyang cracker helps Arteta’s Arsenal to more silverware

The Gunners captain tucked away the decisive penalty to compound Liverpool’s recent poor run. Here’s what we learnt from Arsenal’s Community Shield victory.

Aubameyang cracker helps Arteta’s Arsenal to more silverware
ANDREW COULDRIDGE Pool via REUTERS

It seemed like the final act of the elongated 2019/20 campaign had barely left the stage but English football returned at Wembley Stadium on Saturday with the traditional curtain-raiser. The circumstance of the 2020 Community Shield were not ideal and both managers warned of potential sluggishness in their pre-match interviews but the game got off to a surprisingly sprightly start.

FA Cup winners Arsenal were playing at the national stadium for the second time in a month and they picked up where they left off. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored both goals in their win over Chelsea four weeks ago and he opened the scoring again, whipping home from the edge of the box after an incisive passing move that began with a short goal kick.

Liverpool edged the possession in the first half but, aside from some searching balls from Andy Robertson, struggled to make any real headway against Arsenal’s resolute backline. In truth it was Arsenal who looked most likely to score the game’s second with some strong running from Hector Bellerin and Bukayo Saka.

The champions continued to push the Gunners back in the second half but Mikel Arteta’s side looked confident in possession and negotiated the press well. With Trent Alexander-Arnold unavailable due to injury much of Liverpool’s attacking impetus came from Robertson and a long ball from the Scot found Sadio Mane running through on goal. The Liverpool winger tried to lift his finish over the onrushing Emiliano Martinez but the Argentinian goalkeeper snuffed it out.

As the game moved into its final quarter Arsenal began to tire and dropped deeper and deeper into their own box. Liverpool pounced on that surrendered territory and substitute Takumi Minamino made the break-through with 15 minutes remaining, notching his first goal for the club with a crisp finish from close-range.

The truncated pre-season was clearly taking its toll on both sides and the pace of the game dipped slightly towards the final stages. Arsenal began to show a bit more ambition on the break but Reiss Nelson could not direct a late header on target and for a third time in four seasons the Community Shield went to a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw.

Each side took two faultless penalties before Rhian Brewster, a late substitute brought on for the shoot-out, smacked his effort against the crossbar. The next four kicks were all successfully converted and it was left to Aubameyang to secure the victory with his side’s fifth and final penalty. For the fourth time this month the Arsenal forward found the back of the Wembley net and the Gunners’ captain confirmed the second trophy of Arteta’s burgeoning reign.

 

Aubameyang reiterates his worth

Arteta said in the build-up to Saturday’s game that he is positive about the chances of tying Aubameyang to a new contract having had “some really good talks with him and his agent” in recent days. Defensive reinforcements were a priority for Arsenal this summer but the retention of their top goal-scorer could be the most important deal of all. The 31-year-old does not fit Arteta’s requirements of a centre forward but he has proved to be just as potent from the left flank, isolating the full-back and cutting inside onto his favoured right foot.

Arsenal have been stung by the lucrative deal given to to Mesut Ozil (again not involved in the squad) but failure to tie down Aubameyang would be a real issue as Arteta looks to continue his rebuild.

 

Klopp’s substitutes make their mark

For all the brilliance of Liverpool’s established front three there has been a suggestion that the Reds lack the strength in depth of other top clubs. Towards the end of last season Minamino and Naby Keita put in some of their best performances in a Liverpool shirt and it was their introduction that made the difference at Wembley. Keita frequently broke through Arsenal lines with some clever running and Minamino, playing as a fourth member of the Liverpool forward line, finished coolly for the equaliser.

Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Mane have each played over 50 games in each of the last three seasons but that workload will eventually take its toll. Despite the result, Klopp will be pleased to see some progress from their understudies.

 

Arteta’s formation blunts Liverpool forward line

One of the most important decisions of Arteta’s managerial career to date was the switch to a back-three towards the end of last season. It played to the strengths of their energetic full-backs and offered greater protection for the undoubtedly talented David Luiz. At Wembley Arsenal brought a new-found fluidity to the formation with the impressive Ainsley Maitland-Niles tucking inside to add another midfield option when in possession.

Kieran Tierney, signed as a left-back but currently playing in the middle, looked comfortable pushing forward into the vacated space and provided an out-ball for his side. Maitland-Niles was named Man of the Match after the game and Arsenal fans will be hoping that rumours of a switch to Wolverhampton Wanderers are unfounded.

 

Liverpool’s poor record against top teams continues

Despite dominating the league last season Liverpool have struggled in games against their rivals throughout much of 2020. They have now managed just one win in their last five matches against the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’, losing twice to Arsenal and suffering a humbling 4-0 defeat to Manchester City since the restart. They were also beaten by Atlético Madrid both home and away as they were eliminated in the Champions League round-of-16.

With the pandemic disruption and understandable drop-off after cruising to the title it would be unfair to read too much into this trend but Klopp will be concerned about their failure to create many clear-cut chances with all their possession. With just two weeks to go until the new league season begins, there is certainly some work to do for the Premier League champions.