It was only the Community Shield. Before Manchester City fans get too despondent or Arsenal fans get too excited, that is the first thing to stress. Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Wembley was thoroughly emphatic and City’s performance was sloppy enough to cause serious concern, but there are still caveats.
Only four of the last ten winners of the Community Shield have gone on to win the Premier League that season. Manchester United won the Community Shield last season, and look how that worked out. There have been players who have looked sensational in the Community Shield -- Andriy Shevchenko and Tom Cleverley come to mind -- who have gone on to be all but anonymous in the season to come.
It is one match and one match only, and perhaps not even a match like any other, given how few guarantees there are that both teams are treating the match with the same level of seriousness. This is a particular issue in World Cup years as clubs look to give those who played major roles at the tournament as much rest as possible.
But none of that that means that the Community Shield is meaningless as a barometer of the season to come. Arsenal, having taken just five points in six games against other members of the top four last season, had more to prove than City and, having ended a nine-year trophy drought in the FA Cup final last May, maintaining a sense of momentum has to be a positive. There was encouragement to be drawn as well in a number of individual displays, most notably that of Yaya Sanogo.
The center forward was derided at times last season, perhaps as much for what he seemed to represent as for what he was. With Olivier Giroud clearly fatigued and Arsenal needing another striker in January, rather than buying one Wenger opted to rely on Sanogo, a 21-year-old France youth international. Sanogo failed to score in eight league games last season. While there were occasional glimpses of quality, he looked far too raw for the responsibility he’d been given.
The four goals Sanogo scored against Benfica in pre-season hinted that he has developed, and his hold-up play was excellent against Manchester City before he was withdrawn at halftime. He had a key role in both of Arsenal’s first-half goals and also created a fine chance for Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez himself fizzed with purpose, while Calum Chambers had an assured debut in the center of defense.
City, meanwhile, can point to the absence of Vincent Kompany, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo as reasons for the performance. Yet still there were plenty of reasons for concern. In Roberto Mancini’s final season at the club, the feeling was that he had been unable to lift his side after winning the league to challenge for it again. Whether a similar lack of hunger was to blame is difficult to tell at this stage, but certainly there was a lethargy about City at Wembley.
In the build-up to the first goal, Arsenal pinged the ball about, and City showed little desire to prevent them doing so. The central pairing of Yaya Toure and new signing Fernando were dragged apart – as they were all match – creating space for Jack Wilshere. When Sanogo laid the ball off to him, a desperate challenge led to the ball breaking to Cazorla, who finished neatly.
Twice in the 20 minutes that followed, Arsenal broke to create chances and on neither occasion did City seem particularly bothered about tracking back. First Cazorla laid in Sanogo who dragged his shot wide; then Sanchez played in Sanogo who touched it off for Aaron Ramsey to score. On both occasions, when the shot was taken, there were five City players still in the opposite half of the field.
The game lost its shape amid a flurry of substitutions in the second half, but it was enlivened by a goal from Olivier Giroud, who held off the City substitute Bruno Zuculini and whipped a shot over Willy Caballero. The Argentinian goalkeeper was given the nod over Joe Hart but, without playing badly, did little to grab his opportunity. He could do little with either of the first two goals, but he seemed a little flat-footed for Giroud’s strike.
It was only the Community Shield, but City will have to be far sharper than this when it begins its Premier League campaign away at Newcastle United next week. Arsenal can take credit and confidence from a fluent display, but other opponents, even of a lesser quality, will not be so acquiescent. Still, trophies are trophies, and it can’t hurt to get players used to the taste of success.