There was palpable excitement each time the flash of Alexis Sanchez’s orange boots – which almost matched Arsenal’s new, rather off-red Puma kit – touched the ball here today.
And although he played only one half in the Community Shield, the Chilean had his share of touches and there was plenty to get excited about, as he carried the ball forward, laid it in to feet, and raced goalwards with real pace.
Sanchez’s nickname in his impoverished youth in Chile was “the Squirrel”. No tree, apparently, was too high for him to climb to retrieve his precious football.
“Without football, I’d be pushing a wheelbarrow around on a building site,” he said in a recent interview. “My great virtue is that I had one chance and I took it.”
No golden chance came for him to take or miss today, but his virtues are wider in any case – showing he is every bit as much a maker as a taker of opportunities.
With his first touch he cut inside and played the ball through to Yaya Sanogo, creating space, opening up the pitch, rather than going one on one, a part of his game he claims to have learnt in his three years at Barcelona.
Though it is not explicitly what Arsène Wenger paid £30m for, Sanchez still had a significant role in Arsenal’s first two goals, playing a short pass in to the feet of Sanogo, who crashed – with the ball never really under control – through enough of the City defence to set up Santi Cazorla.
Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0 player ratings
Arsenal 3 Manchester City 0 player ratings
1/24 Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny
Fans’ favourite had surprisingly little to do. Dealt well with two efforts from Jovetic but was otherwise untested as Arsenal coasted to victory.6/10
2/24 Mathieu Debuchy
Could not have wished for easier “competitive” debut. Strong in the tackle – one important block on Nasri – and got forward at every opportunity.6
3/24 Calum Chambers
Another encouraging debut for the Gunners. Quiet but effective, he showed why Wenger was willing to allow Vermaelen to depart.6
4/24 Laurent Koscielny
Cool and calm but did not have much to worry about. Helped out Chambers in defence before being replaced by Monreal at the interval due to injury.6
5/24 Kieran Gibbs
Enjoyed numerous chances to get forward as Arsenal began with confidence and also dealt well with sporadic threats posed by Navas after the break.7
6/24 Aaron Ramsey
Fulcrum of Arsenal’s good work picked up where he left off last season with a goal at Wembley. A constant threat whenever he came forward.8
7/24 Mikel Arteta
Often divides opinion among fans but helped control game from middle of the park. Rarely lost possession and patrolled the area in front of defence.6
8/24 Alexis Sanchez
Multimillion-pound arrival showed pace and potential on right wing. Fine ball through to Sanogo led to second goal before he went off at interval. 7
9/24 Jack Wilshere
Seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on the ground – one such incident leading to Cazorla’s opener. Good with the ball but could do so much more.7
10/24 Santi Cazorla
Afforded time and space to come inside and test City and he showed fine composure and footwork to make space to score the opening goal.7
11/24 Yaya Sanogo
Has won plaudits for pre-season form but still yet to convince on main stage. Dragged wide but held ball up well for Ramsey to steer in Arsenal’s second.6
12/24 Olivier Giroud
Much-maligned forward replaced Sanogo and made an instant impact with a fantastic finish from distance to remind people of his qualities.7
13/24 Manchester City: Willy Caballero
Argentinian debutant was given a chance to impress in place of Joe Hart but struggled to convince. Quick off his line to block an effort from Sanchez.5
14/24 Gaël Clichy
Looked uncomfortable in an unfamiliar right-back berth before a belated return to more familiar surroundings following the introduction of Richards.5
15/24 Dedryck Boyata
Sent off against the Gunners in 2010 and again struggled against the Londoners. Cumbersome, positionally poor and to blame for Arsenal’s second goal.5
16/24 Matija Nastasic
Has struggled to convince fully in sporadic appearances. Slight deflection for Giroud’s goal. His display will not have threatened Vincent Kompany’s place.5
17/24 Aleksandar Kolarov
Unable to get forward to any great effect as City were pinned back by Arsenal. Troubled Debuchy at times before being replaced by Richards.6
18/24 Jesus Navas
Spaniard displayed tricky feet and looked for openings but was largely ineffective. Provided a cross for Jovetic to hit the post but substituted late on.6
19/24 Yaya Touré
Ivorian powerhouse traditionally enjoys his Wembley outings but was lethargic and uninterested here. A disappointing display from such a sublime talent.5
Has not threatened the place of his near-namesake Fernandinho. Had too much to do alongside a languid Touré. Dragged wide and brought down Ramsey.6
21/24 Samir Nasri
Delighted in belittling Arsenal fans pre-match but it was his former adorers who had the last laugh. The Frenchman made no impact and lasted just a half.5
22/24 Stevan Jovetic
Has sparkled in pre-season but was given little to work with here. Hit the post before blazing over and forced Szczesny into a fine save. City’s best, though.7
23/24 Edin Dzeko
Gave Arsenal food for thought with his physicality and direct running, but only on occasion. Taken off for James Milner early in the second period.6
24/24 David Silva
Replaced boo-boy Nasri at half-time and fizzed around with imagination. Was unable to engineer the great comeback City required, though.6
The second was a similar story, except this time Sanchez carried the ball down the flank before playing a diagonal pass in to the feet of Sanogo, who in turn offloaded the ball for Aaron Ramsey to fire across the face of goal.
Wenger admitted in his programme notes that the Chilean will begin this season on the flank while Theo Walcott continues to recover from injury, but if Arsenal are to improve on last season and, who knows, go the whole way in something more illustrious than the FA Cup, it will surely have to involve Sanchez playing through the middle at some stage or other. Not least because Sanogo, for all his goals in pre-season, appears far from up to the job.
On the stroke of half-time Sanchez almost scored himself, as he raced clear and on to Sanogo’s just-too-heavy pass, but Manchester City’s on-rushing goalkeeper got there first, and that was that.
More important, in the more crucial games to come, will be how well Sanchez combines with Olivier Giroud, who replaced Sanogo at half-time, but for that Arsenal fans will have to wait and see.
On the right hand side of defence, new signing Mathieu Debuchy has replaced Bacary Sagna, as he has done in the France team, and he started brightly when his early cross was met by Sanogo’s header, which nearly found the net.
If Debuchy and Sanchez are to form Arsenal’s right flank for many games to come, the Frenchman clearly knows already how much the Chilean will look to cut inside and carry the ball towards goal. And as he does so, Debuchy is clearly happy – and more than able – to get to the byline and put in the crosses.
When Laurent Koscielny went off at half-time, to be replaced by Nacho Monreal, Debuchy found himself, in his first competitive match, probably the senior figure in the Arsenal back line, and promptly played Stevan Jovetic in on goal with a heinously misjudged back pass.
That sort of stuff only puts pressure on Arsenal’s young defence, and though £16m 19-year-old Calum Chambers from Southampton has quickly been labelled as one for the future, footballers very rarely get faster with age, even ones as young as this, and the ease with which Edin Dzeko sped past him down the right in the first half will be cause for concern. The second-string defence this might have been, especially in the second half, but the scoreline flattered, and question marks certainly remain over whether it can be relied upon.
At the other end, that on-rushing City keeper who denied Sanchez his debut goal was not Joe Hart, but Willy Caballero, the second of the City manager Manuel Pellegrini’s “two No 1 keepers”, as he described the pair before the match. The newly arrived 32-year-old Argentine played under Pellegrini at Malaga for several years, yet another reason Hart has much to be nervous about.
Though Caballero won’t have enjoyed the match, there was in reality little he could do for any of Arsenal’s goals, but he did show awareness in beating Sanchez in that race to the ball, and is evidently more than up to the job.
The £12m Portuguese defensive midfielder Fernando started, though he is likely to remain lower down the pecking order than Brazilian Fernandinho.
The captain Yaya Touré is the only truly irreplaceable part of City’s breathtaking squad, but should the most unfortunate injury of all happen, it will be Fernando’s job to replace him.
He looked comfortable on the ball, and fired in a powerful shot on the half-hour mark, but if he is the kind of player who can control a match from the deep-lying position, he did not show it at Wembley.