By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea (Arsenal win the penalty shootout 4-1)
In the weeks leading up to the 2017 Community Shield clash between Arsenal and Chelsea, the media focus had not been on the clubs’ pre-season preparations, but on one of the craziest transfer windows in football history. Both this fixture’s competitors broke their transfer records this window, to make strikers Alexander Lacazette (£52m) and Alvaro Morata (£58m potentially going up to 70m) the most expensive Arsenal and Chelsea players ever.
Both clubs had also experienced problems holding on to key players. Chelsea top scorer Diego Costa and midfield linchpin Nemanja Matic were out of the squad, one waiting to be sold the other transferred to a direct rival. The club had also sold and loaned out eighteen other squad and youth players, but with only four replacements signed by kick off for this game. Arsenal had their own problems getting top players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to commit to new contracts.
Arsenal started without Sanchez, Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey for the Community Shield, while Chelsea were without Eden Hazard and Tiemoue Bakayoko, recovering from injury and surgery respectively. Arsene Wenger picked new man Lacazette to start up top, but Chelsea manager Antonio Conte continued to show an ability to make the hard choices, leaving Alvaro Morata on the bench for the first significant tie of the season.
Cech, Bellerin, Holding, Mertesacker (Kolasinac), Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elneny, Xhaka, Welbeck, Iwobi (Walcott), Lacazette (Giroud)
Subs Ospina, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Nelson, Walcott, Giroud
Courtois, Moses, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Alonso (Rudiger), Fabregas, Kante, Willian (Musonda), Pedro, Batshuayi (Morata)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Rudiger, Boga, Scott, Musonda, Morata
Arsenal tested Chelsea’s defence quite a few times early on in the game. New man Lacazette narrowly missed a low Iwobi pass just across the face of goal. Danny Welbeck headed another great cross straight at Chelsea keeper Courtois. Cesar Azpilicueta got caught in possession by Welbeck, who then went down under pressure from the full back, earning Azpilicueta a yellow card on thirteen minutes. Bellerin was also booked shortly after for a late, studs up challenge on Marcos Alonso.
Chelsea weathered the storm though, and began to make a few opportunities themselves – Pedro, Batshuayi and Willian getting into good positions but being crowded out by Arsenal’s defence, not quite getting their shots off. Arsenal then hit back on the counter, creating their best chance of the first half. Bellerin found Welbeck out on the left with a cross-field pass. Welbeck advanced and should have cut in and taken a shot himself, but unselfishly laid up the ball for Lacazette, who curled a shot round Cahill and Courtois, but only struck the post.
During a Chelsea corner about halfway through the opening period, Gary Cahill unintentionally caught Mertesacker in the face with an elbow. After some treatment for a bad cut above his eye, Mertesacker came off the pitch for new signing Sead Kolasinac.
On 35 minutes Chelsea almost caught the Arsenal defence off guard, Willian finding “lone ranger” Pedro unmarked out wide on the left. Rather than squaring for Batshuayi though, Pedro decided to try for goal himself, but only forced a save from Petr Cech. In the next exchange Willian intercepted the ball twice in Arsenal’s last third but got booked for simulation after appearing to trip over his own feet in the box.
After one final counterattack from Arsenal, Iwobi’s shot well saved and held by Courtois, both teams went in goalless at the break. It had been a good first half of football, but both sides were quite clearly suffering the absence of their best players. Overall, Arsenal had edged the first half of play, mostly negating Chelsea’s efforts by crowding the box when out of possession, then breaking forward at speed.
Arsenal 0 – 1 Chelsea
Knowing Antonio Conte though, the Chelsea players would come out of the break with a flea in their ear. And so it was that they blazed into the lead just 49 seconds after the restart. Sead Kolasinac had put the ball out, and Arsenal thought they had cleared the resulting corner. The ball fell to Gary Cahill however, who headed it back into the box. Victor Moses then got to the ball first, beating Arsenal’s offside trap, and rounding former teammate Cech to make it 1 – 0.
Just two minutes later, Chelsea threatened again off another corner. Fabregas put the ball over Cech from the by-line, but there were no Chelsea players at the far post to finish. Arsenal cleared to Batshuayi, but was obstructed by Welbeck and could only hook a weak shot straight at the keeper.
On fifty-five minutes the medical team were called on again, this time after a worrying clash of heads between Chelsea defenders Cahill and Luiz, off a Granit Xhaka corner. Both players were cleared to play a couple of minutes later though. Soon afterwards, Courtois made his first major save of the second half. Mohammed Elneny crossed from the right for Welbeck, but the ball curled dangerously inward towards the net. The Chelsea keeper had to make an acrobatic save to knock it over the bar. On sixty minutes, Elneny was involved again. This time he threaded a through ball past Chelsea’s defenders to Lacazette, but nothing came of his effort as the French striker was offside.
As play went back and forth, both Rob Holding and David Luiz did well to cut out crosses from Willian and Welbeck at either end. Azpilicueta also intercepted to divert another Arsenal cross towards Courtois, and the Belgian keeper had to make a hurried clearance to prevent Welbeck from taking advantage.
With twenty-five minutes of normal time left, Arsenal made a double substitution, Giroud and Walcott coming on for Lacazette and Iwobi respectively. Lacazette had played well to that point, but frankly Arsenal’s play had been crying out for Giroud’s height and finishing. Eight minutes later, Alvaro Morata made his competitive Chelsea debut, replacing Michy Batshuayi as central striker.
Arsenal continued to press hard, with Walcott making an early cross in from the right. The ball evaded Welbeck and almost made it all the way across to a waiting Giroud, but Moses cut it out to prevent a certain goal. Xhaka also forced another superb Courtois save with a thirty-yard howitzer. Chelsea got forward themselves on the break, Willian haring down the middle of the pitch, before making an outside-foot curler of a cross to Morata wide right. The ball was just slightly ahead of the Spanish striker though, and he could not keep his volley down and on target.
On 78 minutes Conte made another change, Antonio Rudiger on for Marcos Alonso. Rudiger slotted in at right center back, with Azpilicueta taking over from Alonso at left wing-back.
Arsenal 1 – 1 Chelsea
It looked like the game was winding down to a straightforward Chelsea 1 – 0 win, when Pedro made a late challenge from behind on Elneny, making contact with the back of the Arsenal player’s leg. The referee chose to show a red rather than a yellow, and Chelsea were down to ten men. As if that wasn’t enough drama though, Chelsea’s defence went completely to sleep on the resulting free kick. Granit Xhaka crossed for Kolasinac, who lost Rudiger on the right, then raced through to head in an 82nd minute equalizer.
Shortly afterwards, Hector Bellerin escaped being sent off as well. He had been dispossessed by Azpilicueta, before hauling the Chelsea left back down to prevent a counter. Up to that point the refereeing from Bobby Madley had been tough but fair, but it was difficult to understand how Bellerin was not sent off. Especially as the Pedro tackle got the strictest interpretation, and Azpilicueta was booked for a much lighter pull-back on Welbeck earlier in the game. Even with ten men though, Chelsea still managed to create one more good opportunity, from a Fabregas free kick in injury time, but Morata’s header was wrongly ruled offside.
And so it went to penalties. Arsenal took their penalties coolly and well, Walcott, Monreal and Oxlade-Chamberlain all placing their goals perfectly. Chelsea struggled badly though. Team captain Gary Cahill scored their first penalty, but Thibaut Courtois blazed over, and Morata sent his own attempt wide. Arsenal were 3 – 1 up and only needed one more goal to win it. The decider fell to Olivier Giroud, who made no mistake, scoring to his right as Courtois went in the opposite direction.
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Barrington Coombs/EMPICS Sport
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