The Community Shield is viewed as the traditional curtain raiser for the new season, the day when the champions and the FA Cup winners dust off the cobwebs and show the rest of the country that they are ready to go once again.
It’s a day when fans usually get a first glimpse of their club’s new signings and see how their team is shaping up after six hard weeks of pre-season training and preparation.
But for Arsenal things are very different this year as Mikel Arteta’s side head into Saturday’s game against Liverpool at Wembley less than a month after they beat Chelsea to lift the FA Cup for a record-setting 14th time.
One new signing has arrived since that memorable afternoon on August 1, with Willian joining on a free transfer from Chelsea, but the Brazilian is not expected to feature for the Gunners.
It all means there is a very different and underwhelming feel to Saturday’s Wembley showpiece, one that Arteta himself admits comes at a difficult time.
“We’ve had two training sessions so you can imagine that this game comes straight in the middle of our mini pre-season,” he said during his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“Obviously it’s not an ideal moment to play in this final but the players are motivated. It’s another opportunity to win a trophy and we will go for it.”
Following Saturday’s game against champions Liverpool, Arsenal have just two weeks before they begin their 2020-21 Premier League season with a trip to newly-promoted Fulham.
Such a short turnaround means it will be all but impossible for Arteta’s side to go into the new campaign fully prepared and ready to hit the ground running.
This was always going to be huge summer for Arsenal, one that was likely to see massive change as Arteta attempted to put his own stamp on the squad he inherited from Unai Emery in December.
But so far the most significant change we have seen in north London has come in the boardroom, with the shock exit of head of football Raul Sanllehi following a review carried out by Tim Lewis, a corporate lawyer who was appointed to the board by owner Stan Kroenke in July.
Gabriel will soon follow Willian, with confirmation of the centre-back’s £25 million ($30m) switch from Lille expected imminently, but Arteta wants more.
Both he and technical director Edu are aware that there is still a lot of work to do on the squad, especially in terms of outgoings, which will now be key to Arsenal’s hopes of landing any more of their priority targets before the transfer window shuts on October 6.
“We need the right balance,” Arteta said when asked about the need to sell players. « We had some obligations months ago and we know we have some more obligations that we have to accomplish as well in the near future.
“That’s all part of the financial plan that has to fit into our Financial Fair Play (FFP). The club is very aware of that. So we just try to make the decisions and know what we need to do in order to achieve that.”
After the high of lifting the FA Cup at the end of his first season in charge, Arteta would have loved to go into his first full campaign in charge of Arsenal with a settled squad and a clear idea of who he had to work with.
But instead there are so many situations that need to be resolved, including the one surrounding his captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. A new contract has been agreed with the club’s top scorer, who will be looking to score at Wembley for a third successive time on Saturday, but has yet to be announced.
Arteta said on Thursday he was positive everything would be finalised with the Gabon international soon, but until the contract extension is officially confirmed, there will be an air of uncertainty over Aubameyang’s future.
Keeping the club’s star man has to be Arsenal’s priority right now, but the work that needs to be done on reducing the size of the squad and wage bill comes a close second.
Arsenal have a desperate need to move players on. The imminent arrival of Gabriel means Arteta currently has eight centre-backs in his squad, a number which really needs to reduce by three before the transfer window ends.
Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis are all free to leave, should suitable offers arrive, but potential buyers have yet to come in despite interest from Leeds and Newcastle in Holding and admiring glances from Napoli towards Sokratis.
“The market is slow but for some profile players it’s moving pretty fast and you don’t see a lot of lost value in those,” said Arteta. “It’s very early stages so we have to wait and see.”
Arteta wants to add at least one more midfielder to his squad – potentially two with the return of Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid – but he needs funds to do that.
The sale of Matteo Guendouzi could bring in a good amount of cash, but so far Arsenal have yet to find a buyer for the midfielder, who spent the final two months of last season training on his own having fallen out with his head coach.
Arteta hinted at a possible way back for Guendouzi ahead of Saturday’s game. “I have been really clear that everybody starts from zero all the time in football,” he said. “What you did two weeks ago or two years ago doesn’t really matter. It’s what you are able to contribute to the team now.”
Despite those words, however, both he and the club still want to move Guendouzi on to bring in cash that could help with their pursuit of targets such as Thomas Partey at Atletico Madrid and Houssem Aouar at Lyon.
So the quicker the Guendouzi situation gets resolved the better. And it’s a similar story surrounding Mesut Ozil. Arteta must decide whether to include him in his plans this season following comments that he plans to see out the final year of his contract in north London.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ future needs to be resolved amid serious interest from Wolves, as does Alexandre Lacazette’s. The striker now has two years left of his current deal and Arsenal must decide whether to cash in now, or look to extend his stay.
Speaking about the Frenchman in July, Arteta said: “We have to have a chat about the next step with him and get his idea, his feeling,” said Arteta. “We will do it at the right moment.”
That moment is now because the last thing Arsenal want is for Lacazette to be allowed to get to the stage when he has just one year left on his deal.
Arteta has brought some real stability to the club in such a short space of time, but it’s clear that there is still much to be resolved heading into his first full season in charge.
The Arsenal we will see line up against Liverpool at Wembley on Saturday will look very different to the one that takes on Manchester City at the Etihad in the first game after the transfer window closes in just under six weeks time.
There will be more arrivals and plenty of departures and for Arteta the key is to keep his side in the best shape possible during what will be a period of uncertainty for many.
“I am confident we are going to do everything we can together to achieve the targets that we have before October 6,” he said. “It is very clear what we want to do, we are aiming for that and hopefully we can achieve it.
“It’s a very challenging period for all of us. We have some uncertainties here that need to be resolved and we are trying to do the right thing and move forward.”
Arsenal undoubtedly moved forward under Arteta’s stewardship last season and now they want to take another step towards closing the gap on the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool. What happens over the next six weeks will go a long way to determining whether they can do that.
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