Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Aubameyang and Arsenal prove Wembley specialists again in fickle form guide

SoccerNews in English Premier League 29 Aug 2020

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The main thing to remember after the full-time whistle sounds at the end of the Community Shield is that no one knows anything.

As a form guide, English football’s traditional season curtain-raiser is often completely lousy – just in case there was any danger of unbridled optimism at Arsenal following their 1-1 draw against Liverpool and subsequent penalty shoot-out triumph.

Who could forget Manchester United sweeping aside Wigan Athletic in 2013 to promise prolonged glory under continuity candidate David Moyes?

Or even last season’s meeting between Liverpool and Manchester City, a knife-edge tussle concluding in a penalty shoot-out that indicated there was nothing between the top two teams in the country.

Liverpool were back at Wembley on Sunday, having won their first top-flight title in 30 years thanks to amassing 18 more points than City, whose FA Cup semi-final conquerors were in the other dressing room. Mikel Arteta continues to build quite the list of big-game scalps.

The clues thrown up by this occasion are hard to deduce in normal circumstances, but seeing Arsenal and Liverpool wearing their new kits after a truncated close season, six days on from the Champions League final and two weeks before the new Premier League season blurs into the old, amounted to one of the more disorientating COVID-era sporting events in a crowded field.

AUBAMEYANG AND SAKA DELIGHT

Arsenal’s opening goal was beautifully crafted. Arteta’s men drew the most ravenous press in world football, only to find it operating with capped teeth. The Gunners moved their way up the field with a series of slick interchanges before Bukayo Saka picked out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a wonderful sweeping pass.

Aubameyang, still at Arsenal and still the subject of a mooted new contract (honestly, you’d think the FA Cup final was only five minutes ago), gave teenage Liverpool full-back Neco Williams an early-season lesson. Show this formidable forward inside and back away and see what happens.

The Gabon international, who came to prominence under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, sent a sumptuous shot across Alisson for his fifth goal at Wembley in the past month and a half, having netted braces to down City and Chelsea on the way to FA Cup glory.

For all the promise in other areas of Arteta’s team, Aubameyang is the only 24-carat, bankable world-class performer. That is not to say the promise is not considerable, certainly in the case of Saka.

Allied with his obvious technical proficiency, the 18-year-old Saka’s cool-headed decision-making should be the envy of more senior operators. Arteta’s willingness to use Saka in a variety of positions and his 13 assists in all competitions since the start of last season – only Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander-Arnold have more among Premier League players – stand as testament to that.

Saka roved with calm intent in the spaces left by a sleepy Liverpool midfield, with Fabinho and his engine room colleagues seemingly keen to see just how good Virgil van Dijk is when given scant protection.

MINAMINO OFF AND RUNNING

The champions got themselves on the front foot after the break and Klopp will be buoyed by Takumi Minamino’s prominent role from the bench.

Picking out flaws in one of the most dominant title-winning teams in English history seems a little churlish, but it is Klopp’s job to do just that. The reported pursuit of Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcantara suggests he wants a little more finesse within the sinews of his mentality monsters.

Minamino should certainly help to that end and, following 14 fitful and forgettable appearances last term, he was at the centre of most of Liverpool’s best work after coming on with an hour played – scampering and scheming as the fabled front three failed to fire. A well-taken equaliser was his reward.

That meant a confident set of penalties that said much about how much jeopardy was realistically present, even if Rhian Brewster’s Fred Flintstone run-up to send the ball all the way to Bedrock via the crossbar was an ambitious move too far.

Aubameyang sealed the shield. Of course, it had to be him. Arteta will know there is still much to do, but every step of that journey will be easier if his star striker sticks around.

As for Liverpool, they conceded in the 12th minute, drew 1-1 and lost on penalties in this showpiece last season. Is a repeat of what followed on the cards? Remember, no one knows anything.

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SoccerNews

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