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Arsenal vs Chelsea: Community Shield Thoughts

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The Community Shield isn’t really a game and, as such, this isn’t really a preview.  It’s entertaining because it represents the beginning of the new domestic season and we will all watch it because we’ve spent the Summer being starved of competitive football.

Still, Wembley is Wembley and Arsenal against a Chelsea is a big game in any context - so here are some loose thoughts ahead of this afternoon and the season as a whole.

- Danny Welbeck is injured and unavailable and that’s an unfortunate beginning to a season which might well determine his big club future.  Welbeck is a good player and his offensive skill-set is usefully eclectic but, in moving between Manchester United and Arsenal, he appears to have traded one peripheral role for another.

Alexis Sanchez blocks his natural starting position and, even if Arsene Wenger does see him as a natural central-forward - which he almost certainly doesn’t - he doesn’t hold any kind of clear advantage over either Olivier Giroud or the fit again Theo Walcott.

The irony here is that Walcott would probably have been an excellent signing for the Arsenal of five years and had he arrived before the club’s financial reach was extended, he would have become a very valuable part of the side.

- An interesting afternoon ahead for Hector Bellerin, who goes up against Chelsea’s lethal left-side.  Bellerin was one of the pleasant surprises of 2014/15 and his speed, touch, and ability to drive both in-field and down the touchline makes him the perfect modern full-back.

But, while his good form across those 17 Premier League starts certainly suggests that he’s ready to be the week-to-week first-choice, Mathieu Debuchy’s recovery from injury complicates the issue.  Twelve months ago, Arsenal probably under-estimated Bellerin’s development and had they been aware of how first-team ready he actually was, Debuchy would probably never have been signed.

So, with a genuine contest now developing in that area, today’s game is actually of extra importance to Bellerin: there is no greater test in the division then facing Eden Hazard and a good, solid showing against the Belgian would put his rival in a very awkward squad position.

- Theo Walcott obviously signed his new contract this week, so it will be intriguing to see how he’s used this afternoon.  Going forward, Walcott’s role will likely be situational.  He’s not quite reliable enough to command a regular place in this Arsenal team - or, at least, none of Sanchez, Ozil or Ramsey are likely to be left out to accommodate him - so expect his 2015/16 to be characterised by selective deployment.

The size of that new contract belies that he’s become a situational player and someone who will be used - either at forward or in a wide role - as and when his pace is most pertinent.  Arsenal’s absentee list means that he’ll almost certainly start today and he’s another one who could really benefit from a fast start to this year.

- Chelsea are Chelsea and, because they’re so settled, there’s very little conjecture surrounding their squad.  Radamel Falcao has joined on-loan, Asmir Begovic has taken over the back-up goalkeeper role from Petr Cech and, really, that’s it.

- Still, there are some questions which have been carried over from last season and, clearly, the future of Juan Cuadrado is one of them.  The Colombian is a good player and has been judged far too quickly.  History documents the perils of moving club mid-season and Cuadrado was further evidence of why, if possible, big budget deals should always be concluded in the Summer.

Even when Jose Mourinho spends large sums of money, he’s not afraid to hesitate before giving that player a long-term role.  The issue with Cuadrado is likely one of trust and understanding and, given that he was bought to occupy one of the wide-midfield roles which are so tactically imperative at Stamford Bridge, it’s not overly surprising that his minutes were rationed between January and May. Between those months, Chelsea were competing in the latter stages of multiple cup competitions and also looking to secure a league championship, so that wasn’t really the time to conduct some trial-and-error with a new player.

Maybe he will ultimately prove to be a failure in England, but now is not the time to make that determination.

- The club’s public interest in John Stones should make Gary Cahill feel very insecure.  Cahill is now 29 and approaching his theoretical prime as a defender, but Mourinho’s intention to pay up to and beyond £30m for Stones suggests that that prime might not be spent in the Chelsea first-team.

Arsenal may not boast quite the same attacking strength of Manchester City or of one of the continent’s other elite teams, but they will provide a stern examination of the space between and to the side of Cahill and John Terry.  The latter will captain and lead the team for as long as he’s physically able, but the former looks increasingly replaceable and so, on a big stage against a Premier League title-contender, he dare not have a bad game.

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