Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal revolution continues at Liverpool’s expense but deflation rather than occasion fills Wembley

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool (Arsenal win 5-4 on penalties): Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the opener before sealing victory with the final shootout effort after Takumi Minamino took the match to penalties

Melissa Reddy
Wembley Stadium
Saturday 29 August 2020 18:55
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An entire six days later, or 138 hours to slice it more exactly, a new season rolled into town - the shortest in modern times - with the fatigue of the old, longest one in living memory lingering.

Liverpool, champions of England, lined up against FA Cup holders Arsenal to contest the Community Shield at Wembley, or as Jurgen Klopp had more aptly described it: “a proper game after two weeks' preparation.”

The absurdity of having to fly out of the blocks again so soon was also underscored by Mikel Arteta, who said the teams had “no choice” but to be ready to go.

Both managers will be fully aware that too much will be read into a game that ultimately means very little beyond elevating fitness levels against elite opponents.

After a 1-1 draw, Arsenal were victors 5-4 in a penalty shootout - a result that will help further the Basque’s rejuvenation of the club.

Saturday was the simply part of preparing for the season, which Liverpool’s boss reminded will be “one of the most intense, probably, we have ever experienced in our lives because of the amount of games and the time we have for that.”

There was a sense of deflation rather than occasion around Wembley with the realisation that 2020/21 starts as the previous campaign ended: empty stadiums, heavy sanitation measures and no handshakes. The expectation, the great hope was that it would be different. Under Project Restart, there was a desperation for finality to a season that was so close to being completed before the coronavirus pandemic changed the world. Acceptance that football would not be how we knew it followed just so we could have it back in some form before some normality returned. This was not that. But, to borrow Arteta’s words, “we have no choice.”

Liverpool took control of the opening exchanges, lionising the ball with 60 per cent possession and pressuring the Arsenal defence. But on 14 minutes, they were breached against the run of play and were then stuck on the back foot for an extended period. What started as an attack for Klopp’s side with Neco Williams curling a superb cross onto James Milner’s head and the midfielder directing his effort over, ended with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrating the opener and his status as Arsenal's joint-top scorer in games played at Wembley.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang secured Arsenal victory in the Community Shield

A super crossfield ball by the gifted Bukayo Saka, shaping up as an assist machine, arrived for the Gabon international to manipulate with the luxury of time and space. Williams was left isolated covering Aubameyang and the overlapping run of Kieran Tierney without protection. The forward fed on the uncertainty and did what he excels at: driving at the youngster, nipping inside and then rocketing a sweet curler into the top right corner.

Arsenal were ahead and could have immediately swelled their advantage. Eddie Nketiah thieved possession off Joe Gomez and slid it wide-right for Saka. He was a nuisance for Liverpool and Milner in particular. The 19-year-old motored down the flank and cut back for Nketiah, whose robust strike towards the bottom right was thwarted by Alisson.

The Gunners were shading the contest, first to everything and looking more likely to affect the scoreline. Andy Roberston, meanwhile, started a supply chain of stellar balls into the box that were not maximised. He could have had a hat-trick of assists in the first half and the left-back was central to Liverpool’s first real sniff after the break.

Robertson played a long pass down the left with Sadio Mane stealing in ahead of Rob Holding, leaving him one-on-one with Emiliano Martinez. The Senegal international attempted to chip the stopper, but he smothered it.

Takumi Minamino scores Liverpool's equaliser in the Community Shield 

The changes then flowed: Bellerin off with Cedric Soares on, while Milner and Williams made way for Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita.

Gomez shifted over to right back, with Fabinho partnering Virgil van Dijk in the middle.

Those dynamic alterations for Liverpool against a tiring Arsenal brought dividends. Mohamed Salah bulldozed his way around Arsenal’s box, trying to find an angle to shoot, but with space restricted he fed the Japan international.

The ball flicked off Cedric’s hand before Minamino opened his body to direct his first Liverpool goal into the bottom right. The Reds kept the pressure on and Martinez denied Mane again before more shuffling. Arsenal swapped Tierney, Saka and Nketiah out for Sead Kolasinac, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson. Roberto Firmino was given a breather with Curtis Jones replacing him and Rhian Brewster was sent on before the shootout with Georginio Wijnaldum subbed off with the imminent shootout in mind. The striker was the only player to miss his kick from the spot, opting for power and clipping the crossbar.

Aubameyang stepped up to win it for Arsenal with all the surety in the world. The club now desperately need him to be positively decisive where it matters most now - in signing a new contract.

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