Arsenal start the new season exactly like they finished the last one, by beating 10-man Chelsea at Wembley to claim a trophy, as this penalty shoot-out defeat after a 1-1 draw re-emphasised that Antonio Conte’s side are still some way off their own best form from last season.
Thibaut Courtois’s decisive penalty was some way off being accurate, as he farcically skied Chelsea’s second spot-kick of the new ‘ABBA’ format to hand the initiative to Arsenal as well as the shield itself, for the third time in four years.
Alvaro Morata also got his Chelsea career off to a disappointing start by missing the very next penalty on his official debut, and that was in stark contrast to goalscorer Sead Kolasinac, whose brilliant late equaliser after Pedro's red card secured a shoot-out and eventually led to Olivier Giroud scoring the winner.
Alexis Sanchez was there in a suit congratulating all of his teammates and his manager, and that was the deeper significance of this otherwise insignificant game: who wasn’t there.
The want-away Chilean did not play, while Conte still so badly needly needs more signings, especially with Eden Hazard injured. These issues hung over this match, as the contest periodically reminded everyone of them. Arsenal lacked cutting edge without Sanchez and Ozil, while Chelsea just looked short of sharpness.
Beyond their highest-profile personnel, the next biggest question for Arsenal this season concerns how they’ll actually be arranged, and whether Wenger’s belated decision to follow Conte into playing three at the back can be as transformative as it proved for Chelsea.
It did transform their run-in, and was probably the primary reason they actually beat the champions in the FA Cup final, but it remains to be seen whether that was merely the temporary benefit that any change will bring merely by being something different or if Wenger has found something deeper.
This game didn’t tell us too much more about it, because Arsenal could only temporarily play it with the trio Wenger started with, since Per Mertesacker had to go off injured for Kolasinac. It did, however, tell us a lot about the impressive new defensive signing.
Before then, Arsenal did continue the run-in’s trend of being more comfortable playing on the counter, and they initially look more composed than a conspicuously loose Chelsea as Lacazette probably should have given them the lead when he hit the post on 22 minutes.
It was Kolasinac who stayed most solid amid a few patchier periods thereafter, and was Arsenal’s best performer, offering the thrust and strength you would expect of a player with arms of that size.
Chelsea were far from at full strength with Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko injured and Morata on the bench, but it was still notable how far off last season’s slickness in the formation they were. There were even a few moments when it was difficult to work out their actual formation.
Pedro was the only Chelsea player really looking any way sharp, and threatened with one shot from a glorious take-down on the run. There was nothing glorious about his foul on Mohamed Elneny that brought a red card and Wenger’s side back into the game.
Chelsea had actually taken advantage of the remaining rough edges to that Arsenal back three to go into the lead, Moses granted so much time to fire past Petr Cech on 46 minutes after the Czech’s backline failed to clear a corner.
Wenger might well have complained of an elbow by Gary Cahill just before the ball made its way to the wing-back, but the problem for Chelsea was that they still couldn’t take control of the game. There was still a fairly unconvincing slackness to them, even when Morata and Antonio Rudiger came on for their official debuts.
That led to Arsenal getting closer and closer to goal, and to Pedro’s eventual foul. He was sent off on 79 minutes, and Wenger’s side immediately seized the initiative. Typically, given everything that had preceded it, it was Kolasinac that was responsible. He was quickest to think in the box, before guiding a deft but firm header past Thibaut Courtois into the corner.
Cahill almost followed with a header of his own, but was just wide, so it was on to penalties.
They were decided when Courtois sent the ball into the sky, allowing Wenger to yet again lift the shield to the sky.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies