Johannesburg - While the importance placed on today’s Community Shield final at Wembley between Arsenal and Chelsea is a far cry from that of the Premier League and the FA Cup, it is a game neither side will want to lose.
Chelsea were denied a rare double when Arsenal beat them 2-1 in the FA Cup final at the end of last season, while for Gunners’ boss Arsène Wenger, bringing some silverware to the Emirates – albeit “only” the Shield – will go a long way towards silencing those who, for much of last season, called for him to step down.
The Blues got the better of Arsenal in a friendly played in China last month, but it seems unlikely that the 3-0 scoreline is an indication of what can be expected when the two meet at Wembley.
Both Wenger and his Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte have some injury worries ahead of the match, and both are expected to use the final to give some of their new signings a run-out.
Arsenal striker Alexis Sánchez was given an extended holiday after taking part in the Confederations Cup with Chile and his match fitness will be assessed ahead of the game.
French midfielder Francis Coquelin will miss the game with an ankle injury, while Germany international Shkodran Mustafi could also be sidelined.
The French coach, who is by far the longest-serving coach in the English top flight – having joined Arsenal in 1996 – signed Sead Kolašinac and highly rated Alexandre Lacazette during summer and both could start against Chelsea.
Conte, meanwhile, will be without Pedro, who broke several facial bones during the victory against Arsenal, while Eden Hazard has been ruled out as he recovers from a broken ankle. Also out for the Blues is Tiémoué Bakayoko.
The French international joined Chelsea last month and is one of four players Conte brought to Stamford Bridge, with Willy Caballero, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata all in line to play their part at Wembley.
There was some good and bad news for both coaches, though, as the FA cleared Nigerian international Victor Moses and Laurent Koscielny to play in the match. Moses was sent off in the FA Cup final, while French international Koscielny suffered the same fate in a league game late in the season.
The good news is that both can play in the final. The bad news, though, is that they will have to serve their suspension in league matches.
Chelsea lose three in a row
Chelsea go into the game after a run of three defeats in the Community Shield, with the last one in 2015 coming against Arsenal, who won 1-0 through Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s first-half goal. Arsenal, meanwhile, have won in their last two appearances in the final.
They also have the advantage in the head-to-head record, with 74 victories compared with Chelsea’s 62.
That notwithstanding, Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes his side can deny Arsenal a hat-trick of Shield victories.
“We will do our best to win the Community Shield and I think we are ready for it. I think we had some good training, which was important for us. The first game against Arsenal [the 3-0 win] was good.”
The Belgian keeper told journalists ahead of the game that to win they would need to tighten up their game. “We didn’t play badly in the last two games [against Arsenal], but we gave away balls for counterattacks. Obviously, that’s something we have to improve on.”
For Wenger, Chelsea remain a formidable force. “They look like they have kept the basis of the squad. They have added Bakayoko, who is a very strong player. Similar to [Nemanja] Matic, but more of an impact player.
“They have replaced [Diego] Costa with Morata, who is maybe less of a goalscorer than Costa, but he can create more. I expect them to fight for the title.”
He has dismissed speculation that coaches regard the Community Shield as a non-event. “For us, it is a good opportunity to repeat the performance from the [FA Cup] final and give competition to players who need it.”
He took the opportunity to criticise the €220 million transfer of Brazilian international Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. “The whole landscape of football has changed completely. Once a country controls a club, everything is possible. It becomes impossible to respect Financial Fair Play.
“Arsenal still lives with rationality. Of course, we cannot compete at that level.”
What Arsenal can do is emulate the success PSG had in the French equivalent of the Community Shield, where the club last week beat French champions Monaco in the final.