It’s up for grabs now. Well, maybe. We go into a Community Shield clash against Man City with everything and nothing at stake. Win, and we’ve claimed two trophies before the Prem season has even begun, and, what’s more, we claimed a Citeh scalp as well. Lose, and, well, it’s just the Community Shield, a trophy that falls somewhere above the Emirates Cup but below the Carabao Cup (even if qualifying for this particular cup depends on having won the Prem or FA Cup the season before…). Can we turn this into a signal of intent?
This is one trophy that Pep has been oddly averse to pursuing, having won it just twice since taking the helm for the 2016-17 season despite winning the Prem five times in those seven seasons. Pep is a remorseless, eatin’ machine…but this is one trophy that just doesn’t get him salivating as the others on offer. More’s the pity, as he could have been boasting about a quadruple (with an asterisk) had he taken last season’s Community Shield more seriously. Ah, well, let Liverpool have their bottle.
As for this year’s Community Shield, it may just serve as a preview for the Prem season to come. Man City have been strangely quiet in the transfer market, bidding adieu to Mahrez and Gündoğan whilst signing Kovačić and now Gvuardiol. By contrast, we’ve been busy little bees, signing Havertz, Rice, and Timber in order to build a squad that can contend on numerous fronts. While this particular piece of silverware might rank quite low on each squad’s list of priorities, it might still stand as an interesting proxy war for those larger priorities, namely, the Prem itself.
Let’s be honest—Arteta’s record against Guardiola doesn’t inspire much confidence. We’ve one just once against Man City since Arteta took the reigns (not that that’s much different to previous years…). The record is harrowing: 1W 0D 8L with a combined scoreline of 23-5. That one win came of course along the way to our winning the 2020 FA Cup, which may go to show that Arteta, fielding the XI that you see below, can occasionally get the better of his mentor.
We come up against what amounts to a win-win here: win, and we can rightfully (?) claim that we scalped Citeh and earned some silverware. Lose, and we can just as rightfully (?) claim that it was only the Community Shield to begin with. As with the preseason friendly against Barca, the one that saw us thrash the Catalans quite thoroughly, the upside far outweighs the downside.
If there’s to be any tactical nuance here, it’s the setback to Gabriel Jesus. His recent procedure means he’s unavailable, but it also means that Arteta may have an ace up his sleeve. Who’ll play through the middle? Will it be Trossard, who likes to drift wide to the left? Maybe it will be Martinelli, who likes to drive straight into the heart of the defense. Maybe it’ll be Havertz, who—let’s face it—could do anything for good or evil should he be played at CF.
As you can see from the image above, the only player in this squad to have beaten Man City is Kieran Tierney. That gives the Citizens a bit of a psychological edge over us. Not only are Man City a massive monolith that looms over the Prem, they lord it over us in particular. To defeat them on Sunday, even if it’s “just” the Community Shield, could give this squad a massive confidence boost and the kind of edge it needs to sustain it over the season-long tilt at the Prem title. It’s up for grabs now.
Or not. Should we lose (as is to be expected), we can chalk it up to Man City’s massive superiority, which was earned after all through entirely ethical means. We can continue to punch above our weight while City punch downward on anyone who dares to rise up against them. I’ll stop short of engaging in any political allegories after suggesting that anyone who wrests silverware from this Man City side has done a favour to football itself.
Okay, so that last bit’s a bit overwrought, as is any coverage of the Community Shield itself. Whatever the result, any of us, regardless of affiliation, can contort ourselves into any position to serve any agenda.
Having said all of that, I do sincerely hope that we thrash our opponents six ways to Sunday.