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Arsenal and Chelsea serve up an appetiser

I was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop as I waited with bated breath for the start of the Community Shield – an event that normally heralds the start of a new Premier League season. Wembley as usual looked in pristine conditions and although you could spot gaps in the crowd, the atmosphere was no less raucous than you’d expect it to be for a season opener.

For the fourth time this year Arsenal and Chelsea went head to head and gave us a glimpse of what to expect in the Premier League this season. Bobby Madley’s shrill whistle had hardly punctuated the din at the stadium when Hector Bellerin lunged into a tackle on fellow Spaniard Marcos Alonso that immediately dispelled any notions that this was indeed going to be a far more competitive encounter than either side were willing to admit in the lead up to the game.

Arsenal looked the sharper side as they passed the ball around in diagonal patterns and new £46.5 million signing Alexandre Lacazette in the absence of Alexis Sanchez did his burgeoning reputation no harm at all when he curved an effort that looked destined to nestle at the back of the net rebound off a lick of paint on the woodwork.

Chelsea are nothing if not resilient but they harried and hustled without being particularly menacing. So it was a bit of a surprise to see them take the lead at the start of the second period when Victor Moses took advantage of some slack defending by Arsenal to ghost into the area and rifle past Petr Cech.

The Gunners who so often lose their fizz when the chips are down just did not let their pints go flat this time around. They kept pushing and probing with every opportunity as they looked for the crucial equalizer.

Pedro had only just been introduced to the game when a cloud of red mist washed over him. His tackle on Arsenal’s Elneny was the type that would have made him a villain in a Sunday school playground and despite spending an age on the deck stroking his screaming hamstrings, was summarily sent to the dressing room for an early shower by an impassive Bobby Madley who was having a rather impressive afternoon.

From the ensuing free-kick, Kolasinac’s looping header beats a hapless Courtois to level the scores with just ten minutes left of regulation time. Chelsea suddenly found themselves in pretty much the same spot they were two months ago in the FA Cup finals when they had to hold on with ten men. In the end, Arsenal couldn’t take advantage playing with the extra man and Chelsea held on for penalties.

For the first time in a Community Shield encounter, penalties were played in an ABBA format and I’m still struggling to see how it’s an improvement on the previous routine. It felt a bit absurd seeing players from the same team take two in a row but it’s also hard to argue that the confusion of the system derailed Chelsea’s rather lacklustre attempts at finding the back of the net from six yards. In the end, Arsenal deservedly won the game and you have to wonder if this serves as an indication of how well they’d perform this season or could one be reading too much into what a lot of people would consider as just another meaningless friendly?

As the players dawdled and waited for the medals and shield to be handed out after the game, it was Wenger who looked the happier of the two managers as he walked on to the pitch to congratulate his players but a keen observer, would also have noticed another player who has been in the news lately.

Alexis Sanchez cut a rather inscrutable figure on the sidelines as he watched his teammates do the business against Chelsea. If his exclusion from this game raised any eyebrows, it would certainly have been his body language and that ‘goodbye’ wave to fans at the end of the game that would have had a few Arsenal hearts fluttering with uncertainty. Could the wave be suggestive of a player on the cusp of departure?

The Community Shield did not disappoint and if it is the hors d'oeuvre to what I expect will be a really exciting season, then I simply can’t wait for the first game to kick off on the night of 11 August 2017 when Arsenal take on Leicester City. Catch all the action right here on SuperSport.

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