An Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain strike was all that could seperate Chelsea and Arsenal in the Community Shield at Wembley, in an intriguing season-opening affair.
The starting eleven for the Blues was one that would not cause much complaint if it was the same in next week’s curtain-raiser at home to Swansea.
The back five that Chelsea fans became so accustomed to were the five that started. Courtois, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill and Azpilicueta were tasked with keeping the Arsenal attack quiet, while it was Ramires and Nemanja Matic that played ahead of them. Cesc Fabregas played in the no. 10 role, with Willian and last season’s player of the season Eden Hazard either side. Loic Remy was the lone striker.
New signings Asmir Begovic and Falcao started on the bench, while forgotten man Victor Moses also made his first appearance in a matchday squad since being an unused substitute in the 2013 Europa League final.
Petr Cech started in goal for Arsenal, debuting against his former employers – a sight that will surely take some getting used to for the Chelsea faithful.
While it is worth noting that titles are not won and lost in the first weekend of August – Wenger wore a suit, more befitting of a Wembley final, while Mourinho opted for a tracksuit, perhaps an insight into how important each manager saw this match – Chelsea fans will hoping for a better display than what was put in front of them today.
Despite going into the match hot favourites thanks to an awesome record against the Gunners, seeing us go nearly 500 minutes without conceding against them, it was indeed Arsene Wenger’s men who saw the better of the opening exchanges. There was a tempo and aggression to Arsenal’s opening 10 minutes which Chelsea appeared to struggle with – despite this, there were no chances of note before we finally got a foothold in the game and settled into our own rhythm.
In truth, there were no chances of note at all before the only goal of the game. Half-chances fell to Loic Remy and Theo Walcott as the sparring continued, but it was a good finish from England international Oxlade-Chamberlain that proved the decisive knockout blow.
Mesut Ozil played a ball inside to Walcott, who then found Oxlade-Chamberlain and cut inside Azpilicueta and blasted past Courtois with his weaker left foot.
Our biggest chance of the first half came from a Ramires header. After sterling work from a dogged Loic Remy, he lofted a lovely ball up for Ramires to nod home, who could only contrive to miss unmarked from six yards out.
Half time beckoned, and with it a debut for Falcao who replaced Remy. In truth, there was nothing really from him during his 45 minutes that showed his spell at Manchester United last season was uncharacteristic – much more will be expected from the Colombian when the season proper gets under way.
Chelsea soon squandered a gilt-edged chance for the equaliser after the break. Fabregas displayed his trademark touch when evading his marker and playing in Hazard, who blazed high over the bar.
Petr Cech made his first meaningful save on 68 minutes, with a goal-bound free kick from sub Oscar being tipped wide. It is fair to say Arsenal’s clean sheet was due more to our profligacy in front of goal rather than any mastery from our former custodian. That said, Cech’s move undeniably remains the most astute piece of business Wenger has conducted for some time, and should see them in the title picture alongside us come next May.
A tactical change saw John Terry come off for Moses, and with it came an openness at the back that was so nearly exploited by Santi Cazorla. A timely save from Courtois kept us in with a fighter’s chance with five minutes left.
Branislav Ivanovic had our final chance, heading over from a free-kick.
While the context of the game is essentially one of a pre-season fixture, Mourinho will no doubt be disappointed to see us play with such malaise against a title rival. While many Chelsea fans will expect that when we meet in the league our performance shall be light years better, it begs the question, has this result given the Gunners a psychological edge over us in the title race? Or are we merely conserving ourselves for the games that count? Time will tell.
Our next game is our final pre-season runout against Fiorentina, at the Bridge on Wednesday night.