If definitive opinions had to be formed based on this game, then Arsenal are going to win the league, they do not need any more signings, Olivier Giroud might just be the best striker in the world, Manchester City are a disgrace, Manuel Pellegrini should be sacked, Fernando is a budget Fernandinho and Yaya Touré is taking early retirement. All of which shows that it is unwise to jump to conclusions at this stage in proceedings. Be patient. Sit back, enjoy the ride and all will become clear in time.
Reaching a consensus on the significance of the Community Shield is not easy. For the winners it is important; for the losers it is a glorified friendly, a chance for Dedryck Boyata to make a rare appearance and for Scott Sinclair to sit sadly on the bench, wondering where it all went wrong. City were without nine senior players, five of whom would start in Pellegrini’s strongest team, and that must be factored into the praise for Arsenal, who nonetheless offered a tantalising glimpse of things to come.
This was a new experience for most of their players. Mathieu Flamini was the sole survivor from the last time Arsenal were in the Community Shield, when they lost 2-1 to a Didier Drogba-inspired Chelsea in 2005, and there have been times since then when it has been a challenge to maintain the belief that Arsène Wenger knows best.
Arsenal’s failure to keep their leading players and replace them adequately fuelled the suspicion that the club was content merely to keep finishing in the top four. They rubbed shoulders with the elite but did they truly belong? Nine years without a trophy suggested otherwise and Wenger, the man who transformed Arsenal, found himself accused of holding them back.
Winning the FA Cup last season has lifted the club. The players are more sure of themselves and Wenger is happier. He was in a playful mood at Arsenal’s press day last Thursday, joking about meeting someone in Brazil who wants to bring beach football to Britain – “they will have to play it on the M25” – and poking fun at Frank Lampard’s move to City via New York. Wenger’s professeur image and obsession with football means that he has a reputation for seriousness but he does not mind letting the world see his sense of humour when he is in the mood.
This has been Arsenal’s calmest summer for years. Bacary Sagna, who joined City on a free transfer, was swiftly replaced by Mathieu Debuchy, Thomas Vermaelen has signed for Barcelona but was surplus to requirements, a big future awaits Calum Chambers and there will be many clubs casting envious glances at Alexis Sánchez. After Mesut Özil last summer, convincing Sánchez to sign for Arsenal is another sign of their enhanced ambition.
Some have argued that Arsenal do not need Sánchez and there is a case of classic Wenger stubbornness at play here. He cannot help himself when it comes to mischievous, darting little creative players and there is a hint of indulgence when one considers that Arsenal could so still do with signing a centre-back, someone to stop them getting overrun in midfield and a top-class centre-forward. Equally Sánchez was precisely the kind of player Arsenal were crying out for after Theo Walcott injured his knee in January, with his intelligent movement, dribbling ability and eye for goal.
Sánchez will take time to settle. Positioned on the right yet allowed to scuttle inside, he was occasionally wasteful in possession and was substituted at half-time. Yet he played a crucial part in Arsenal’s second goal and could have had a debut goal if a through-ball from Yaya Sanogo had been a touch lighter.
Sanogo is intriguing. He often gives the impression that he is learning on the job – slowly – and he is yet to score for Arsenal. When a chance came his way in the first half, he scuffed it wide. Scuffing shots wide is a Sanogo speciality. Yet he had an inadvertent hand in Santi Cazorla’s opener, stumbling over his own feet and spreading confusion in the City defence, and then laid on a clever assist for Aaron Ramsey to double Arsenal’s lead. He might be raw but he is a gangly handful and, if he could add some composure to his game, then perhaps Wenger’s faith in him will be justified.
Wenger has been rewarded for his faith in unfancied players many times in the past. Take Ramsey, once the scorn of the Arsenal support, now arguably their greatest asset. Ramsey has bulked up over the summer; here he dominated midfield and his goal was a peach. The performance of Jack Wilshere was also encouraging and the three German World Cup winners return on Monday.
On this admittedly murky evidence, Arsenal can be genuine contenders but Wenger still has holes to fill in the spine of his team. Although he says that Mikel Arteta will be his captain, a more forceful midfielder is required to ensure there is no repeat of last season’s embarrassments against Chelsea and Liverpool. Chambers was promising at centre-back, other than the moment Edin Dzeko raced past him in the first half, but he is inexperienced. And again might, say, Loïc Rémy give them a sharper edge in attack?
However, Arsenal appear to be on the right path. The angst is gone and, even though it was only the Community Shield against an underpowered City, they are developing a taste for trophies.