Monday, August 7, 2023

Arsenal overcome Man City complex as Aaron Ramsdale comments ring true amid David Raya interest

Only a friendly


Try telling that to the 40,000 Arsenal belting out ‘The Angel’ at full time. Try telling that to Mikel Arteta as he wheeled away to celebrate Leandro Trossard’s 100th minute equaliser. “I don’t think it gets much better,” he said after the game. Try telling that to Pep Guardiola. He was fuming in his post-match press conference as he corrected a reporter who mistakenly thought that his side had lost this fixture two times in a row rather than three.


Winning a game like this is always likely to leave a bad taste as you head to social media to feast on your regular diet on hot takes. Rio Ferdinand said he lost count of how many Community Shield’s he won, belittling the trophy into insignificance. It doesn’t matter, he would argue.


But if we take that argument to it’s natural conclusion, none of this matters. 22 men kicking a ball around for 100 or so minutes ultimately has no sway on things in the grand workings of the universe. The last time Arsenal won this trophy they did so because of a global pandemic in which millions of people lost loved ones – now that stuff matters!


Without wishing to sound too much like Sam Matterface after England’s Euro semi final win in the midst of that pandemic, if you’re an Arsenal fan who watched your team win the Community Shield on Sunday – enjoy it. You deserve it. Days like these were the ones you dreamed of as you had to watch your team toil to an eighth-placed finish from behind your TV screens. Days where the sun shines, and the beer flows and the songs carry long onto the tubes home and into the night. Days many thought may never come again.

If you didn’t enjoy it, no problem. The Community Shield is not a “final” as both Arteta and Guardiola described it before the game, and it does not mean that Arsenal are now favourites for the Premier League as Erling Haaland’s father mockingly observed on Twitter after the game. But let those who did enjoy the afternoon do so in peace.


The emotions experienced watching your team lift a trophy are what football is ultimately about. Tedious false equivalences on social media certainly aren’t.


Arsenal earn the right to play

Mikel Arteta said after the Monaco game on Wednesday that his side were still suffering from US tour jetlag. The opening 20 minutes of the Community Shield would certainly have woken them up.


It was like cold water shock for the Gunners as Manchester City threw them straight into the deep end from the off with incessant possession and dominance. Arsenal had two choices – either splash around, panic and drown or take a breath, regain composure and swim.


For a while it was the former. Time and again the Gunners had chances to maintain possession for a while, but in their anxiety to manifest some sort of counterpunch to City, they aimlessly whacked the ball towards Stefan Ortega’s goal. Even the usually unflappable Thomas Partey and William Saliba started going long to Kai Havertz when there was time to play.


Eventually though, they became accustomed to their surroundings. Rather than malfunctioning balls forward to only see them come back again, Arsenal reset to their default settings of patient build up. In the first 20 minutes of the game the Gunners had just 20% possession. By half time that had nearly doubled to 38%.


With each touch of the ball Arsenal seemed to grow more confidence in their capability of playing their own game. If there was one player who embodied this, it was Martin Odegaard. The Norwegian struggled to make much of an impact in either league game against City last season, and early on in this one it appeared he would make that a hattrick. But as Arsenal got on the ball he began to dictate play more and more.


By half time it was Arsenal who had, had the better chances through Kai Havertz’ missed double. The second half followed largely the same pattern, and as Leandro Trossard fired in an admittedly fortunate late equaliser, few could argue that it had come against the run of play.


It was such a contrast to the chastening night at the Etihad in April were Arsenal never looked like they believed they could beat City. “It is a marker to know we can go and beat Man City in a big game when it matters,” Aaron Ramsdale said of the display. “I don’t know what it will be like going through the season, but we have now got that mental block gone and we are ready now to push on all season long.”


Actions will speak louder than words on that front from the Gunners. But if this is indeed the overcoming of their inferiority complex against City, then we’re in for one heck of a title race this time around.


Ramsdale the hero again


Who said Ramsdale couldn’t save penalty kicks? That’s two in two games now for the England international.


Ultimately though, the spot-kick saves are largely immaterial. For a goalkeeper, a shootout is a free hit. No one expects them to score, so they can only really be a hero. It’s across the course of the 90 minutes where they earn their cult status.


For a time it looked like Ramsdale might struggle to do that in the Community Shield. The 25-year-old didn’t do anything actively wrong in the first half, but failed to inspire the confidence when playing out from the back that he has done in the past. In the second he was indecisive on occasion, particularly when coming for crosses. Then though, came the big moments we know Ramsdale is capable of.


As Phil Foden strode through on goal, Thomas Partey stopped running, seemingly fearing that a second goal for City was inevitable. Ramsdale though had other ideas, and made himself as big as possible. There may have been some fortune with the way the ball deflected wide of the post, the England ‘keeper had earned the break. There was no question of luck though from the resulting corner though as he flung himself low to keep out Rodri’s goal bound header.


It’s been a huge week for Ramsdale. His superb article in the Player’s Tribune revealed some of the pressures he’s been under across the past season, and Arsenal’s interest in David Raya is unlikely to have helped that.


Arteta had little sympathy for any extra weight of speculation the 25-year-old may be feeling amid the links. “The competition always exists whoever it is,” he said. “That’s how it has to feel like. It has to feel like this and if it doesn’t feel like this we’re not gonna get the best out of each player. So we’d better feel like this and make sure we all feel like this. Me first.”


With that in mind he will be delighted with how Ramsdale has reacted this week. “He was great,” the Spaniard said simply in his post match press conference. He’ll be hoping for more of the same.


Havertz Arsenal’s saviour in Jesus’ absence


When the team sheets come out, you generally tend to read up from the back. Starting in goal, you then go to the defence. No surprises there, so you check the midfield – Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice. So that must mean Kai Havertz has missed out right? Wrong…



The German was instead something of a surprise pick to lead the line for Arsenal in the absence of Gabriel Jesus. Conventional wisdom suggested Eddie Nketiah would be Mikel Arteta’s go to man as he has been in the past against City in Jesus’ absence. Second to that you might have gone for Leandro Trossard as a false nine instead. Instead though it was Havertz.


The selection raised eyebrows, but in fairness to Arteta he got it spot on. In Washington D.C. the Spaniard hinted he may use his new £65million man as a target man to beat the high press and that was exactly what he did here. From literally the kick off Ramsdale was looking to find Havertz with hoofs up the pitch. The question was, would the gangly German have the physicality to make anything of those long balls? Not half.

Time and again he won headers against the physically-imposing John Stones and Ruben Dias. As well being aggressive in the air he was snappy on the ground, winning the ball for Arsenal on several occasions when they were under the cosh in the early stages. The only thing missing from his display was the goal, and he probably would have wanted to do better with his two chances. The first he admittedly did well to fashion anything from given that Ben White’s cutback was behind him, but for the second he should have put the ball beyond Stefan Ortega.


Even without the goal though it was the kind of display that had his manager glowing after the game. “He was superb,” Arteta told of his display after the match. “The way he pressed, how intelligent he is to understand certain spaces and the timing of it. He was in some great positions to score but was very unlucky not to. He was very physical when he needed to be as well, so I’m very pleased with him.”


Whether this remains Arteta’s tactic against Nottingham Forest in six days time will be interesting to see. Arsenal aren’t likely to need the long balls against what will be a deeper backline, so maybe we’ll see Nketiah or Trossard return. But the point is that the Gunners boss now has options at his disposal when he’s without one of his most important players. Havertz display continues with the running theme of this pre-season, that Arsenal have more strings to their bow than ever before.

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