4 key battles ahead of Sunday's Community Shield between Arsenal and Chelsea
Widely deemed as the English campaign's curtain-raiser, the Community Shield takes to TV screens on Sunday as FA Cup holders Arsenal come up against domestic champions Chelsea, with the Gunners looking to secure glory for the second successive year. Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side have been in impressive form in pre-season, though history is on Chelsea’s side, who are unbeaten in their last six meetings with their London rivals, winning four.
With the return of top-flight domestic football upon us, we at WhoScored are understandably enthused about Sunday’s encounter, bringing you four key battles to watch out for ahead of the fixture.
Petr Cech vs Thibaut Courtois
This coming fixture is expected to be Petr Cech’s first official match in an Arsenal shirt since joining from Chelsea over the summer. The 33-year-old spent a memorable 11 years at Stamford Bridge though any sentiments will need to be shelved for this London derby. Facing Cech is expected to be the player who usurped him between the sticks for the Blues, Thibaut Courtois. Though Jose Mourinho can call on summer signing Asmir Begovic in goal, it’s the young Belgian who is expected to get the nod.
Some quarters of the Chelsea fanbase believe the Blues were too quick to rid themselves of Cech, and his league performances - as sporadic as they were - suggest they have a case.
While Mourinho’s side conceded the fewest goals (32) in the Premier League last season, the experienced Czech Republic international had a role to play in that, boasting a superior save success rate (80%) to Courtois (71.8%). Chelsea also conceded considerably fewer goals per game with Cech at the back (0.29) than his former teammate (0.94).
While it’s important to consider the long-term future of the club, at 33 years of age, Cech is still clearly a capable shot-stopper and it’s fair to say that Chelsea could end up ruing the decision to let him leave, regardless of Begovic's arrival.
Courtois is an exceptional talent, but Cech remains a world class goalkeeper, directly benefitting a rival as Arsenal attempt to return to the summit of England’s top tier. Sunday’s meeting could also go some way to determining the better goalkeeper in what should be an enticing spectacle.
Hector Bellerin vs Eden Hazard
Last season was Hector Bellerin’s breakthrough year for Arsenal having established himself as a first-team regular in Mathieu Debuchy’s absence.
The Frenchman’s return to fitness provides ample competition for his Spanish teammate, though after an impressive campaign where he secured a WhoScored rating of 7.18, many feel Bellerin is, for the time being at least, Arsene Wenger’s first choice right-back. Should he indeed start as expected on Sunday, chances are he will face the terrorising Eden Hazard.
Fresh from being praised to high heaven by Mourinho, Hazard comes into the Community Shield encounter with his morale sky high if his goal against Barcelona in pre-season is anything to go by.
The Belgian slalomed his way through the Blaugrana midfield before slotting past Marc-Andre ter Stegen, bringing attention to his statistically calculated WhoScored strength of ‘dribbling’. Hazard completed more successful dribbles (181) than any other player in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season and played the most key passes (101) in the Premier League.
Bellerin’s willingness to attack from deep could leave space on the left flank for Hazard to exploit. When factoring in Cesar Azpilicueta’s defensive solidity - the Spaniard rarely ventures forward when not needed, instead helping to cover for Branislav Ivanovic when the powerhouse Serb bombs upfield - Hazard’s defensive responsibilities are eased. Bellerin needs to time his runs forward to perfection or risk being left exposed by the Chelsea star.
Mesut Ozil vs Nemanja Matic
Following his return from a knee injury at the turn of the year, Mesut Ozil was at his tormenting best for Arsenal. The German returned to the starting XI with aplomb, pulling the strings in the final third to help the Gunners to their highest Premier League finish since the 2011/12 season.
An average of 3.1 key passes per game was the best in England’s top tier last term and a summer of rest will have done Ozil the world of good, if his Emirates Cup display against Lyon is anything to go by.
Standing between him and a defence-splitting pass, however, is the physically imposing Nemanja Matic. The Serb swiftly became a mainstay in the Chelsea XI following his return from Benfica 18 months ago, providing the necessary protection to the Blues backline. Matic made more tackles (128) than any other player in the Premier League last season and he needs to be at his best in order to limit Ozil’s influence in the final third at Wembley this weekend.
With Alexis Sanchez granted an extended leave of absence following Chile’s Copa America exploits, the creative burden falls firmly on Ozil’s shoulders against Chelsea. However, in Matic, the Blues have the perfect midfielder to ensure Arsenal’s creative fulcrum is unable to express himself close to goal.
Arsene Wenger vs Jose Mourinho
As we near the Community Shield meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea, the mind games between Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have been much of the focus in the build up to the encounter. Having previously dubbed Wenger a "specialist in failure", Mourinho once more tore into his French counterpart, accusing Wenger of trying to buy the title, stating: "If you add up the amounts clubs have spent in the last three or four years, I think maybe you will find a surprise."
"We spend when we think we have to spend and do not listen too much to what people think or say," was Wenger’s retort. The hostilities are unlikely to waver in the build up to the fixture, with Mourinho and Wenger having gone at loggerheads numerous times in the past. Mourinho’s mind games are a trump card and he’s previously utilised this mental toughness to get into Wenger’s head.
Following the forgettable 0-0 draw between the two sides back in April, Mourinho has now gone 13 games unbeaten against Wenger over his two spells in the Chelsea hot seat. If Wenger is to finally overcome his managerial Achilles heel, he needs to channel his focus on the game at hand rather than rise to Mourinho, which is what the Portuguese wants.
Should the Frenchman do so, Arsenal stand a much stronger chance of coming away victorious on Sunday. If Mourinho is successful in his war of words, though, it's highly possible that his unbeaten run against Wenger will extend to 14 games.