If the Community Shield were a contest with any serious bearing on the Premier League season to come, we might have expected Erling Haaland to struggle in England, Leicester City to compete with the top four or the first full year of the Mikel Arteta era would have seen the project go bang. Such has been the proliferation of showpiece summer events, it's hardly even the only friendly match that ends with the winner hoisting silverware into the sky.
This match really should not matter. And yet, if a deflected punt in a preseason game is ever going to take on some outsized meaning, it might be Leandro Trossard's. As the ball squirmed off Manuel Akanji and beyond a helpless Stefan Ortega in the 100th minute, Arsenal got a stroke of good fortune that has so rarely come their way in meetings with Manchester City. Arteta's delirium said it all, another meeting with his former employer put the manager through a tsunami of emotions on the Wembley Stadium touchline. Moments after Arsenal's late equalizer, Fabio Vieira was stroking his penalty into the top left corner, a 17th Community Shield hoisted by Martin Odegaard.
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The record books won't record it as a win but it will feel like one for a group of players who have, almost to a man, only known losses against City. Not since the 2020 FA Cup semifinal had any Arsenal team emerged victorious from a meeting with Pep Guardiola's side. The only two players still in Arteta's squad who featured on that day are Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding, both of whom could well be gone by the end of the month. For their teammates, it can only help their cause that their experience of the post-match afterglow is a jubilant one.
These Arsenal players will not get carried away. Aaron Ramsdale, who saved Rodri's penalty in a 4-1 shootout win, acknowledged that his winners' medal comes with the caveat that City tend to be slow starters in preseason. As he noted, for Arsenal "it's a statement.
"It's a marker to know we can go and beat Man City in a big game when it matters. I'm not sure what it'll be like this season. But that mental block is gone. We're ready to push on now."
A clear-eyed assessment of the 105 minutes that preceded the shootout might have told Arsenal the same. They started slowly but were the better side for most of the contest before Cole Palmer's gloriously bent effort into the far post in the 78th minute.
Their new signings all made an impressive impact in northwest London. Twice Declan Rice made crucial interventions on the edge of his box. Jurrien Timber has immediately settled into what ought to be one of the most complicated roles in this team, the inverted left back who must function as a tempo setter from midfield while covering the right winger when possession is turned over. Oleksandr Zinchenko's suggestion that the former Ajax man might be better than him is looking eminently credible. The summer's most contentious signing, Kai Havertz, looked altogether more connected to his teammates as Arsenal's center forward than he had as Chelsea's. He and Odegaard led a dangerous press and twice the German got into good shooting positions only to be smartly denied by Ortega.
Ultimately, however, Arsenal's most vital addition to the side that was so humbled at the Etihad Stadium in April, the moment where Manchester City obliterated the Gunners' Premier League dreams, was not even a new signing though. Haaland was kept shot-less by the assertive, elegant William Saliba. Any team who have him signed up until 2027 can be confident they will compete at the highest level for some time yet.
Next time these two meet, however, City will doubtless be a greater force. The introduction of Phil Foden and Palmer from the bench brought spark to Guardiola's side, as did Kevin De Bruyne, Arsenal's great nemesis in recent years. Had it not been for Ramsdale's smart saves off Foden and Rodri in the closing stages, there would have been a very familiar feeling for Arsenal on this day.
Pep Guardiola has lost this match in each of the last three years. Neither Leicester nor Liverpool got close to City in the seasons that followed. It is not a given that Arteta's men will over the next nine months. Next time they come face to face with their nemesis, however, they will do so having tasted victory. That is no bad reward from a glorified friendly.