LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 30 – Arsenal beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalties to win the Community Shield after a 1-1 draw at Wembley on Saturday.
Here AFP sport looks at three things we learned from the traditional pre-season friendly between the Premier League champions and FA Cup winners:
Ascendent Arsenal back in the groove
Just 28 days after beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final, Arsenal were back at Wembley to start the new season and once again the national stadium provided the ideal backdrop for Mikel Arteta’s side to underline their rapid improvement.
So lethargic and error-prone during the dismal reign of Arteta’s predecessor Unai Emery, the Gunners have been transformed by their former midfielder and Liverpool were the latest top side to find out just how well organised Arsenal are under their Spanish boss.
Just as Arteta out-witted Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Chelsea manager Frank Lampard with his astute game-plans in last season’s FA Cup, Liverpool chief Jurgen Klopp found himself caught in his rival’s tactical web in the first half.
Defending deep and attacking on the counter, with instructions to target Liverpool’s young defender Neco Williams, Arsenal took the lead through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s superb curler after he punished the rookie’s cautious approach.
Then, when Arsenal’s legs began to tire after just a week of pre-season training, Arteta had instilled enough competitive spirit in them to hold on for a penalty shoot-out that Aubameyang won with a nonchalant spot-kick.
Arsenal finished 43 points behind champions Liverpool last season but, while it might be too soon to label the north Londoners as title contenders, it would be a surprise if that gap isn’t a lot closer come the end of this term.
Liverpool yet to hit their stride
For a team whose manager is famous for his commitment to fierce, high tempo pressing, there was a noticable lack of intensity from Liverpool as they suffered a second successive Community Shield defeat.
Jurgen Klopp’s side set such a high standard during their relentless march to a first English title for 30 years that it is easy to interpret any drop-off as proof that Liverpool’s thirst for silverware has been quenched.
Winning the Premier League quicker than any other side just a year after they landed the Champions League would be enough for some less driven teams to rest on their laurels.
But Klopp has no reason to panic.
Not only were Liverpool without captain Jordan Henderson and influential defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, but they are only two weeks into their pre-season training schedule after the late finish to last term.
Klopp could take heart from the way Liverpool kept going to equalise through Takumi Minamino’s first goal for the club late in the second half — his champions will remain the team to beat when the title race begins in two weeks.
Promising Saka heats up
While it was the electric Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who stole the spotlight, there was also an encouraging display from emerging teenager Bukayo Saka.
Aubameyang’s future is crucial to Arsenal and Mikel Arteta said a new contract for the Gabon striker is “close”.
But it is the development of youngsters like Saka that offers Arsenal hope of long-term success.
The 18-year-old winger enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2019-20 and looks set to build on that this season.
His range of passing was on full display when he found Aubameyang with a raking cross-field pass that led to his captain’s 12th minute opener.
Only Kevin De Bruyne (22) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (15) have provided more assists for Premier League sides in all competitions since the start of last season than Saka (13).