Wenger preaching value of consolidation over celebration

By Tim Rich
Friday 15 November 2013 03:26
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It goes without saying that in terms of silverware the FA Community Shield remains on a par with medals won in the army of Liechtenstein, but few who saw Arsenal take the Championship at Old Trafford would have expected the momentum which carried them to the title with the force of a white-water rapid to last throughout the summer.

When Arsène Wenger's side last won the Double four years ago, they celebrated too soon. The final two matches of the 1997-98 season were lost casually and without emotion and when the time came to defend their title, they failed to win five of their opening seven matches. When Manchester United eventually snatched back the Premiership by a single point, this beginning was to seem unbearably wasteful.

Not since the days of Herbert Chapman has London's leading club won back-to-back titles, which makes it easier to understand why Wenger both turned down the chance to succeed Roger Lemerre as French coach and stated that retaining the Premiership was more important than success in the Champions' League, where his record remains questionable.

Unlike in 1998, there has been no let-up. Wenger may have been stung by the fee Manchester United were prepared to spend on Rio Ferdinand, and the long-term injuries to Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg may not give his midfield the depth of Liverpool's or United's, but every pre-season friendly has now been won.

The Community Shield should have been seized more decisively than by a 1-0 scoreline and for much of the game everything seemed set up for a repeat of last year's FA Cup final, which Arsenal controlled with a flighty arrogance until the trophy was stolen from them by Michael Owen in the final minutes.

This time Owen was unable to pick Arsenal's pockets. He rates Martin Keown, even at 36, as the most awkward defender in the Premiership and that assessment was borne out in Cardiff. Owen looked jaded during the World Cup and he has not completed any of Liverpool's warm-up games, which may have persuaded Gérard Houllier to experiment with three forwards.

Had El Hadji Diouf not fallen so theatrically over Patrick Vieira's legs, the Senegal striker may have won an equalising penalty. "Just because someone makes a meal of it, doesn't mean it's not a penalty," Owen complained afterwards, although Houllier would have noted that Liverpool only settled once Diouf had been pushed out towards the right flank.

"Our full-backs did not give us enough width when we had possession," said the Liverpool manager, who has agreed to sell Stephen Wright, a fine home-grown talent in that position, to Sunderland, and bank on Abel Xavier and Markus Babbel. "We need to get more flow into our game. We are still behind Arsenal; they are the benchmark."

Sir Alex Ferguson, not involved in the season's traditional opener for the first time since 1995, would have watched a game between his least favourite club and his least favourite manager and questioned that statement. Ever since the first Charity Shield pitted Manchester United, as champions, against Queen's Park Rangers, who had won the Southern League, winning it has seldom proved anything, as Keown acknowledged.

"I wouldn't give it much importance," he said after receiving his man-of-the-match award. "Manchester United have not won it that often but have picked up plenty of titles. It might give us a psychological edge but nothing more."

That goes for the award Keown picked up. The last man to be given that trinket in a Charity Shield was Sander Westerveld and within a month the goalkeeper had been told he would not play for Liverpool again.

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