Arsenal out to spoil City’s party

Arsenal out to spoil City’s partyThe debate surrounding the merit or otherwise of the Community Shield is an annual tradition.

This year, however, its significance should not be underplayed.

If Manchester City win, they will maintain their quest to create a unique piece of football history.

Already in possession of the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, Pep Guardiola and his players have the chance to hold every available trophy come the final days of winter.

That would be achieved by beating Arsenal at Wembley today, defeating Sevilla in the Super Cup later this month, returning victorious from the Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia in December and then, back at Wembley on February 25, reclaiming the Carabao Cup that currently resides across town at Old Trafford.

That means just nine matches stand between City and a capacity trophy cabinet.

It would be the ultimate show of might for their Abu Dhabi owners, at a time when a growing band of state-funded rivals are trying to buy their share of the silver.

To that end, it starts here, against opponents who are worried less about the prestige of a shiny shield and more the psychological gain of putting City to the sword.

The last eight matches between these clubs have been a bloodbath, soaked in the red of Arsenal.

Eight defeats, all under the charge of Mikel Arteta, and at an aggregate score of 21-4.

The last of those, a 4-1 dismantling at the Etihad in April, was described by Mail Sport as: “An execution by City’s firing squad.”

Another City win and it would feel like confirmation of their superiority over the team who again look best equipped to challenge them this season.

Arsenal should be motivated by that assumption of inferiority, of being the submissive also-rans.

They are, remember, only playing in this fixture by virtue of finishing second in the Premier League.

That is why this game matters — it is a chance to land a pre-bout blow.

The damage inflicted on the losers could well have a bearing when the bell sounds on Friday.

Forget minutes in the legs — the modern player has hours of those banked over the summer — today will be informative.

Mail Sport columnist Martin Keown used to laugh at Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction to the result of the Community Shield.

If Manchester United won, it showed how well prepared they were for the season.

If they lost, he would claim it was insignificant.

Given United lifted the Shield 10 times under Fergie, you can guess which of those he believed to be true.

The recent Premier League Summer Series in the United States has also shown that there is no such thing as a friendly between English top-flight sides.

It did not take long, or much, for old irritations to resurface.

The games were super-competitive and laced with intrigue.

For the record, watch out for Aston Villa this year.

Today, the key fascination will be to see if Arsenal’s Declan Rice can dominate a City midfield that has lost Ilkay Gundogan, the on-field embodiment of Guardiola.

The neutral should be thankful that Rice was not Gundogan’s replacement, for his arrival at Arsenal has the potential to be transformative for the competition of the league.

Guardiola insists there are no regrets at missing out on the £100million signing of the England star.

“Declan Rice decided to go to Arsenal, the offer was incredible,” he said.

“Arsenal bought an incredible, incredible player. They didn’t buy players to make the squad bigger, they bought starting XI players,” he said.

Defender Jurrien Timber, at £34m from Ajax, and the £65m addition of Kai Havertz from Chelsea are the others Guardiola believes have improved Arsenal, while at the same time he bemoaned the ‘transfer tax’ added to his club’s targets.

City have bought only Mateo Kovacic this summer, though defender Josko Gvardiol is set to join soon.

Was this all mind games?

If so, they continued when asked about City’s trophy crusade.

“We are going to try,” said Guardiola.

“But knowing how we are right now, we finished two weeks later than Arsenal and started two weeks later.

“We are not in the best, best way. We struggle to start every season, but it is a final and, hopefully, our mentality can help us to be there and compete like we have to,” said the City coach.

Guardiola is partially right when he says City have started slowly in recent seasons.

They lost last year’s Community Shield to Liverpool — and the year before against Leicester — and Erling Haaland was mocked 12 months ago when he missed an open goal.

Still, they won 10 of their opening 13 league matches and Haaland scored 18 times.

It is goals, too, that Mail Sport’s Graeme Souness believes Rice must add to his game to justify the hype and the fee.

Souness played the same position for Liverpool in the 1980s and scored at a ratio of one every 6.4 games.

Rice’s return for West Ham was one every 16.

Arteta, though, is warning that it will take time for Rice to make a full impact.

He struggled during a 2-0 defeat by Manchester United in the States last month.

But when the enemy is City, time is not an ally.

The Arsenal boss knows as much and has laughed at the suggestion of this City team nearing the end of a cycle on the back of last season’s Treble.

“I heard that a few times in the last seven years — and they won four titles, got to 100 points and then they got to 95,” said Arteta.

“Knowing the manager and the people who work at the club, I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” he said.

And that is before you consider City’s incentive of monopolising the domestic and European honours board.

Victory in the Community Shield would sustain that hunger — we should not underestimate its importance. – Dailymail

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