Community Shield: Key talking points as Man City face Arsenal in season curtain-raiser

Premier League rivals set for Wembley showpiece

Manchester City and Arsenal renew their rivalry with a Community Shield clash at Wembley on Sunday. Reuters
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Last season’s treble winners Manchester City face Premier League runners-up Arsenal on Sunday in the FA Community Shield at Wembley (7pm UAE).

Here we look at five key talking points ahead of the traditional curtain-raiser for the English top-flight season.

Who will fill the Gabriel Jesus-shaped hole in Arsenal’s attack?

The Gunners were rocked this week when it transpired leading striker Gabriel Jesus needed minor knee surgery and will now miss the opening weeks of the season.

That raises the question of who will deputise for the Brazil international, who last term contributed 11 goals and seven assists in 26 league games – a goal or an assist every 115 minutes.

Typically, in 2022-23, it was Eddie Nketiah who stepped up, but the academy product is without a goal in almost 10 hours of competitive football dating back to January.

A popular solution for supporters would be shifting Gabriel Martinelli into the middle and starting Leandro Trossard – the Belgian has sparkled in pre-season – on the left of the attack.

New signing Kai Havertz performed the central role frequently for former club Chelsea and could do so again here. Folarin Balogun, who scored 22 times on loan at Reims last season, is a wild card but his exit seems ever more likely with Inter Milan set to firm up their interest.

City’s stellar cast of supporting actors

As Arsenal shuffle the pack to cover their central striking position, there are no such issues for City, who will again look to the totemic Erling Haaland.

Around him, though, the Blues' creative hub could be set for a refresh. Riyad Mahrez has left for Saudi Pro League Al Ahli while Ilkay Gundogan has joined Barcelona, a club who continue to covet Bernardo Silva. Meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne, a doubt for today’s game with a hamstring injury, at 32, could see his game time more carefully managed.

All of that should lead to increased opportunities to start for Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez, two players who will hope that 2023-24 is the season they earn the ultimate trust of Pep Guardiola.

Top Guns and statement signings

City were absolutely ruthless in overhauling Arsenal during last season’s run-in, but there’s no doubt the Gunners’ lack of depth played a part as they unraveled down the stretch.

Arteta and sporting director Edu have sought to remedy that with three major signings, headlined by Declan Rice’s club record £100 million move from West Ham.

Such has been the excitement over Rice’s arrival, it has been overlooked that he has big shoes to fill. Granit Xhaka, who has left for Bayer Leverkusen, completed his redemption arc with possibly his best season for Arsenal and will be a bigger miss than some might think. That said, Rice appears a good fit, and would love to kickstart his new chapter with a statement performance today.

The richly-talented but capricious Havertz (£65m) has arrived from Chelsea and provides options in midfield and attack, while Jurrien Timber, Ajax’s all-action Swiss army knife of a defender, was picked up for a fee of £38.5m. Timber, who has caught the eye in pre-season, covers centre-back, both full-back berths and defensive midfield. Expect to see him used as an inverted full-back at Wembley.

Revamping a treble-winning midfield

Such was Gundogan’s influence during the run-in, it’s only natural his departure for Barca has raised a few concerns. However, the swift arrival of Mateo Kovacic has all the hallmarks of another piece of savvy business from a club that rarely gets it wrong.

Although a different profile to Gundogan, the Croat brings his own elite attributes and is comfortable in both the number six and number eight roles. With John Stones now a legitimate option in midfield, Foden pushing for more starts and Kalvin Phillips hoping to break into the side, it’s likely that City’s midfield could have a slightly different composition this term – albeit still anchored by the imperious Rodri.

Masters and apprentices

Having won five of the last six Premier League titles, Opta’s data model predicts City to have a 90.3 per cent chance of repeating the trick in 2023-24.

Arsenal’s unexpected title challenge was a welcome sub-plot last season, but the way in which City dominated them home and away (3-1 at the Emirates in February, 4-1 at the Etihad in April) highlighted the true extent of the gulf between the sides.

The Community Shield ultimately counts for little – City have lost the last two – but a win would be a timely boost for an Arsenal side looking to shake off an inferiority complex.

“It’s time to do it,” said Arteta when asked about facing the treble winners and his erstwhile mentor Guardiola. Yet given City’s thirst for silverware, they rightly start as clear favourites to make it four trophies out of five available in 2023.

Updated: August 06, 2023, 2:09 PM