I don't buy the hype about the F A Community Shield, although of course there is little prospect of anything other than a competitive match when Arsenal and United meet the bottom line is that this is just a show piece occasion that effects very little. Ok so it may act as a confidence booster for the winners but at the end of the day no-one wins or loses three points, it's not critical to either of what most consider to be the main Championship contenders. I still regard it as a pre-season friendly and I haven't been concerned enough to attend any of the annual charity openers in recent years. It seems I wasn't the only Gooner who wasn't desperate to revisit Cardiff this year as there were huge gaps at the Arsenal end as fans voted with their wallets against another crawl down the M4.
That said I looked forward to seeing it on the box as all those months deprivation were definitely beginning to tell, withdrawal symptoms being clearly evident in addicts such as myself. Arsenal's line-up was not one you might have imagined at the end of last season, a keeper no fans considered to be in the frame, a centre back plucked from the squad and no other new boys to whet the appetite. With our top Frenchmen being brought back gradually due to a pointless FIFA competition during what should have been their holidays the squad was always going to be fully utilised on such an occasion as today's. Although with the oppressive heat being what it was, that may well have been the case anyway.
I was concerned about Kolo starting at centre back but he didn't dive in, was strong in the air and looked very comfortable throughout. He played nice and tight on Van Diver and didn't get at all flustered as I'd feared he might, his concentration was good and from my viewpoint, albeit from an armchair, he couldn't be faulted for his positioning. It could just be that we have a cult hero in the making here. Bob and Sylvain waited on the bench till half time so both Gilberto and Parlour played in midfield. Ray was off the pace today but reasonably effective, while Gilberto looked controlled and comfortable throughout. Lauren and Cole played like they always do without attacking quite as much as usual, probably due to the extreme heat. Sol was a pillar at the back, as he always is, and must have inspired confidence in the new German behind him. Our new keeper flapped just the once when he didn't get all he wanted on a cross but looked to be fast off his line, full of confidence and showed quite reasonable distribution awareness.
Henry is not 100% sharp just yet but looked like his full turbo overdrive will only be a matter of time for some poor unfortunate defenders. Dennis looked lost today in a match that often slowed and so might have suited him. Freddie also lacked a bit of dynamism but in a sweltering bowl like the Millennium Stadium all can be forgiven in such wilting heat. Pat was strong, powerful and in control although he looked seriously tired in the last quarter. But for a man just back from injury with only a minimal amount of pre-season training the rest of the Premiership will surely be browning their collective trousers at the thought of facing him. From the subs bench Pires came on and looked the part, Wiltord was busy and determined, Jeffers was a total prat, Gio came on but was pretty anonymous. Edu also came on and fitted in immediately while Taylor and Cygan remained to warm a bench that was already overly hot. Kanu and Aliadiere, amongst others, didn't make the bench.
After 19 minutes a tackle by Butt on Vieira was from an awkward angle but shouldn't have been given as a free kick. It was a long way out, some 35.2 yards or 35.2 metres out I don't remember which, but yards I think. United put up a three man wall but Thierry stepped up and hammered home perfectly past Howard, United's new American keeper, in his bottom right hand corner. 1-1. TV pundit's suggested that Howard should have had quicker feet and you can bet your arse that if Seaman had conceded from such a range the knives would have been firmly planted in his back. All credit to Henry though, it was a very tasty free kick and it broke his Cardiff duck.
The rest of the first half saw the ref set up an Arsenal attack, Cole kicking out at Solskjaer, Giggs stopped or blocked on a couple of runs, Giggs hit the woodwork, Van Diver looked for a pen after Giggs clattered him in our box and there was a water break when Butt went down. The match slowed considerably as the temperature soared. Silvestre got another header from a corner when Jens was not totally convincing, Solskjaer's shot from an angle was saved by our new boy but no corner given. Freddie's shot deflected for a corner.
Half time on Sky saw an ad from Henry for the 'Sun' newspaper and a 'Puma' ad featuring Pires and Wiltord. Half time in the stadium saw Pires and Wiltord came on for Henry and Parlour.
Van Diver looked for a pen when he couldn't reach a cross, Freddie and Dennis broke to win a corner, Pat's blocked shot won another, Pat was booked for a chop on Fortune who played at left back today, a good United attack was stopped by Sol, Scholes was carded for a foul on Lauren, Pires ran out of gas and shot early on a clear break with his shot going past the post. Freddie went close from a long through ball. Lots of Arsenal possession and looking the biz on the ball, but only in patches. Additional shade in the Stadium made the second half a bit more end to end than the first. Sol blocked a break. Dennis to Gilberto almost, weak shot from Giggs out wide, great Bergkamp run not found, Fortune downed Freddie on a run for a yellow, which was no accident as Andy Gray suggested.
Forlan on for Neville, Djemba studs in high on Campbell who lashed out, Van Diver into the back of Cole, Keane and Vieira down injured following an aerial challenge, Van Diver on the deck again as Lauren beat him, Pires and Wiltord break but it was 2 up against 5 back, Van Diver does superbly to get his shot in on the turn, Edu and Gio down our left, Kolo first to the ball again. 2 minutes added time during which Djemba shoots at our corner flag and Howard was out fast to stop a Pires to Wiltord through ball. So it went to penalties, with Keane winning the toss for and ends and also the toss for who kicked first. Dennis was probably happy to be off the field for once. So in front of the United fans the penalties went like this:
Scholes top corner to keeper's left as Lehmann dances left and right 0-1 United.
Edu low to Howard's left 1-1.
More dancing but Ferdinand hit a low one under the keeper's left 1-2.
Gio van Bronckhorst's moderate shot saved 1-2.
Van Nistelrooy half decent shot saved brilliantly to the keepers right 1-2.
Wiltord low and straight down the middle as the keeper dived right 2-2.
Solskjaer under the keeper low 3-2.
Lauren slow run up and a casual shot to keepers left 3-3.
Forlan with a two step run up and an easy shot to our keeper's right 4-3.
Pires to the keepers left for a saveable shot and unfortunately he saved it 4-3 Final score.
No need for Fergusmoan to hurl any boots at his stars today as United won the Community Shield for a change. Arsene said afterwards that he was pleased with our pre-season progress towards full fitness and that Jeffers deserved his red card. For which he will get a three match ban. I have no problem with that as it's unlikely that we'll miss him, but it seems unreasonable that only the two teams competing in a pre-season FA organised friendly chance being penalised in such a way.
Far more important than the match and no doubt the major topic of the day amongst those few Gooners attending in Cardiff was Patrick 's signature. Will he, won't he? Arsene seems optimistic enough but then I seem to recall him being the same way about Anelka, or am I just making that up? Whatever, next week sees the real thing start and a game that matters against Everton.