Resurgent Arsenal plot end to title wait
As Arsenal`s players frolicked in the Wembley sunshine and their vanquished opponents beat a retreat, it was easy to imagine Community Shield success as a harbinger of Premier League glory.
London: As Arsenal`s players frolicked in the Wembley sunshine and their vanquished opponents beat a retreat, it was easy to imagine Community Shield success as a harbinger of Premier League glory.
A troublesome rival who had inflicted several painful defeats on Arsene Wenger`s side had finally been put in their place by the FA Cup holders with a vibrant display that bore the hallmark of potential champions.
But within two months of that 3-0 rout of reigning champions Manchester City in August 2014, the Gunners` title challenge was in tatters amid bitter recriminations about Wenger`s failure to strengthen his squad.
So 12 months on, with optimism once again abounding at the Emirates Stadium following last weekend`s 1-0 win against champions Chelsea in the Community Shield, the anti-climatic aftermath of that victory over City should serve as a cautionary tale.
Arsenal know they must make a faster start than last year to avoid being cast adrift of the leaders and Per Mertesacker, their German defender, has warned his team-mates against getting carried away.
"We have had a great pre-season so far, and the peak was winning the Community Shield, but any significant predictions from the game are very difficult," Mertesacker said.
"It was a good test for both teams a week before the season. Everyone has to adjust a bit now. We have good form, so whether we can keep that and start the season well is the key."
Without question Arsenal have improved since the dog days of last December, when a loss at Stoke City prompted furious fans to verbally abuse Wenger as he boarded a train home, yet they still have to turn tantalising potential into tangible rewards.
It should help Arsenal`s cause that they finally seem to have solved their problems in matches against their fellow title contenders.
Tormented by a miserable run of 15 games without a win against English teams who had qualified for the Champions League the previous season, Arsenal`s belief has soared since a victory at City in January.That watchful 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium sparked a surge that brought a third-place finish and a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa to retain the FA Cup.
Arsenal`s attacking play against Villa reached the kind of majestic heights last seen by Gunners fans when their famous `Invincibles` won the club`s most recent title in 2004.
But Wenger`s commitment to his purist principles has never been in question and his latest group of creative talents -- Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere -- stands comparison with any other collection of attacking players in the top tier.
It is the defensive side of the game that has often been Arsenal`s Achilles heel, so it was encouraging for Wenger that his players were able to produce a dogged and tactically mature display to protect their first-half lead against Chelsea last Sunday.
Crucially, Wenger has managed to lure Petr Cech away from Chelsea, a £10 million ($15.6 million, 14.4 million euros) investment that should give Arsenal the kind of assured presence in goal they have lacked since the days of Jens Lehmann.
With Cech delivering a typically solid display against his old club, fans and players are queueing up to claim Arsenal at last have the steely spine needed to wrestle the title away from Stamford Bridge.
And Mertesacker is hopeful that the obdurate rearguard action at Wembley will not prove to have been a false dawn once the bullets start flying in the title battle.
"The title race is decided by details and which team can maintain a good spirit, that level of focus which is vital throughout the season," he said.
"Chelsea have shown it and we have to step up and do more than last season, so that is the question for us. We asked the question to ourselves and you could see we really want to compete and do the next step."