Poetry in motion. A Granit Xhaka masterclass saw the Gunners fight back from a goal behind to win comfortably on penalties on a sunny London afternoon. Dread plagued the minds of many, with the absence of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Sead Kolasinac and Laurent Koscielny from the starting XI prompting meltdown and anxiety among the Arsenal faithful.
The early stages of this intense London derby settled any such fears that were prevalent. The Gunners seamlessly adapted to the games demands, with slick movement between left wing-back Oxlade-Chamberlain and young Nigerian wide-man Alex Iwobi on the 6th minute setting the tone for how the Arsenal, sporting the famous red jersey, intended to go about the encounter against the Champions of England. The first chance of the game came a mere minute later, with a delicately floated delivery from man of the match Granit Xhaka, but Danny Welbeck’s header lacked the venom required to beat a resolute Courtois.
The Gunners continued to dominate the opening stages, forcing Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta to cynically bring down the Gunner’s left forward Danny Welbeck as he looked to instigate a counter attack, bringing the Chelsea defender a yellow card. Referee of the day Bobby Madley had a relationship with his cards only paralleled by a 1970’s romance, seeking to show to the 83,000 onlookers that he was the power. The Englishman stamped his mark upon the game, quickly following up his booking of Azpilicueta by booking Arsenal’s very own Spaniard Hector Bellerin. The early pressure from the Gunners eased as the half progressed, with 20 minutes gone, the Blues fought and succeeded in attaining more possession. Arsenal number 9, record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, had different ideas. Cushioning a Danny Welbeck cut-back expertly, the Frenchman’s foot wrapped around the ball, caressing it with grace and care. As though destined to be united with the net, the ball mesmerise the spectators, continually curling inwards. Alas, the ball was not the be rifled home, rebounding off the post.
Soon after the Lacazette chance Gunners captain Per Mertesacker was forced off the pitch with a head injury following an accidental elbow from Chelsea captain Gary Cahil, and on in his place came Bosnian Sead Kolasinac. Immediately the former Schalke man settled into the back three of Arsenal, and throughout the game was to be a consistent performer. Flashbacks of the FA Cup final pulsated through the crowd, as desperate Chelsea celebrations came as Brazilian international Willian pathetically threw himself to the floor, tripping himself up, but to no avail, once again, as Moses was in May, receiving a caution for his cowardice. No more action proceeded, as the teams entered on the half time whistle at level-pegging, a half on the most part controlled by Arsenal.
Any control and assertion that the Gunners had built up in the first half was ripped to shreds by shambolic defending in the opening minutes of the second half. Gary Cahil’s header found its way passed all the Arsenal men stationed in the box, allowing Victor Moses to wander through and tap home past Petr Cech. After such dominance on the most part in the first half, the Gunners struggled to rebuild any momentum. Egyptian international Mohamed Elneny slicing a left footed shot wide, and forcing a smart save from Courtois from a tight angle being the two chances of note.
Granit Xhaka. Wow. What can be said about him? In the midst of a Gunners side struggling to reassert themselves, the Swiss international stood up, and controlled the encounter. Winning the ball back and dictating the tempo of the game, the 24-year-old painted a work of art on the Wembley canvas, completed 100% of the 98 passes he attempted in the 90 minutes. This resilience from Xhaka was accompanied by the introduction of Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott for Alex Iwobi and Alexandre Lacazette. The latter can be proud of the performance he put in, despite the absence of a goal, his movement, hold-up play and tactical awareness was a joy to watch. Soon after Conte looked to switch things up also, bringing on 70 million pound man Alvaro Morata for Michi Batshuayi.
The Gunners continued to crank up the pressure, with catalyst for recovery Granit Xhaka forcing a save from distance from Chelsea’s Belgian keeper. Then, the mistake, the catastrophic mistake. Conte’s men exposed their hand, or more specifically, Conte’s man. Idiotically, Spaniard Pedro horrifically went in studs up onto the Achilles of Elneny, who was lucky to escape unharmed. Bobby Madley, still in a committed relationship with his cards, justly brandished a red for the Chelsea forward, leaving the Blues with ten men for the last 10 minutes of the 2017 Community Shield. Man of the day, Granit Xhaka steps up. Floating the ball into the box, it penetrates the air surrounding it, blessing the sky with its presence as it bamboozles the frantic Chelsea defence. Greeting the ball from its journey through the air is Kolasinac, who himself wishes all the best for this ball, delicately heading it home to its final destination, the back of the Chelsea net. 10 minutes to go, 1-1.
Substitutions were made, time passed, and the following minutes were plagued by inaction. The Gunners had one last chance, a beautifully weighted 30 yard pass from Xhaka found the electric Theo Walcott, who did the pass justice with an exquisite touch, however, he was unable to convert. The full-time whistle blew, both sides were level pegging. Penalties it was..
Chelsea captain Gary Cahil got the Blues off to the best possible start, ruthlessly smashing home to Petr Cech’s right, leaving the Gunner’s 33 little chance. Theo Walcott, not t be outdone, bent his effort top right, sending Courtois the wrong way. Contrary to years past, the new ‘ABBA’ rule was implemented, aimed with the intention of preventing any potential psychological advantage, meaning Nacho Monreal stepped up next. Like Walcott, sending Courtois the wrong way. Then.. Well.. Goodness me. What can only be described as comical, Courtois balloons his penalty over the bar, giving the Gunners an advantage. Not to be outdone, Chelsea record signing Alvaro Morata skews his effort wide, with assistance of the post. The Gunners, not to bottle under pressure, had Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud finish the job with ease.
Arsenal, 2017 Community Shield winners. Arsenal, 9 consecutive Wembley victories.
Player Ratings: Cech (6), Holding (7), Monreal (7), Kolasinac (8), Bellerin (6), Elneny (6.5), Xhaka (9), Chamberlain (7), Iwobi (7), Lacazette (8), Welbeck (6). Mertesacker (N/A), Walcott (6), Giroud (6), Nelson (N/A).