The new domestic season gets under way on Saturday with Arsenal and Liverpool contesting the Community Shield at Wembley.
It’s hard to believe that the new season in England is already here, but such are the current times.
When Arsenal step back on to the hallowed Wembley turf on Saturday it will be exactly four weeks since they ended their 2019/20 campaign by lifting the FA Cup at the very same venue. Liverpool’s season finished the weekend prior, so they have had a gargantuan 34 days’ rest.
What is helpful from a preview perspective is we need only go back a further 11 days for the last time these sides met, which in theory should give us a helpful leg up when it comes to finding value.
So what’s changed since Arsenal beat Liverpool on July 15 that might affect this encounter?
The Gunners have completed what could be one of the shrewdest pieces of business done this summer by signing Willian on a free transfer, Dani Ceballos has returned to Real Madrid and William Saliba from Saint-Etienne after their respective loan spells ended, and jettisoned duo Matteo Guendouzi and Mesut Ozil have been handed a clean slate. The expected signing of Gabriel won’t be completed in time for him to feature at Wembley.
Liverpool have signed Greek left-back Kostas Tsimikas and sold centre-half Dejan Lovren, with the peripheral Adam Lallana moving on to Brighton.
I wrote the Sporting Life preview for the Arsenal v Liverpool match back in mid-July, and was left kicking myself having fancied Arsenal, watered it down by talking up the double chance before chickening out by backing the draw.
For the Gunners to then win at odds of greater than 4/1 was something I had coming.
Fast forward a couple of weeks to the FA Cup final, and although Arteta’s men were playing far less imperious opposition, they were once again a huge price to win – our very own George Pitts didn’t repeat my error, landing all three of his tips including Arsenal to beat Chelsea and BTTS at 5/1.
Despite a marked improvement in results since Arteta’s appointment as head coach in December – 16 wins, six draws and six defeats in total – and behind-closed-doors victories over Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners are still consistently priced as an average team.
Liverpool will of course be hoping that their dreadful post-lockdown form is a thing of the past, which they hinted at in swashbuckling 5-3 and 3-1 wins to end 2019/20. Prior to that it was an alarming three wins from seven.
While thus far it may sound like I am making a strong case for Arsenal, I am going to begin tempering that, and leaning elsewhere, beginning with a noteworthy absentee in Dani Ceballos.
He formed a formidable midfield axis with Granit Xhaka in the closing weeks of last season, so it’s no surprise Arteta is doing his upmost to re-sign the Spaniard. Undoubtedly, they’re weaker without him.
It’s believed Matteo Guendouzi could be unavailable because of quarantine restrictions having recently returned from France, meaning the most realistic replacement is Lucas Torreira, who played in Ceballos’ place when Arsenal beat Liverpool in July.
The feisty Uruguayan was forced into something of a bit-part role post-restart, but he certainly made his mark. He was booked three times in his six appearances, and on both occasions when he started.
When it comes to the outcome of the match, I fall into the camp that believes Jurgen Klopp’s team are likely to be back at somewhere closer to their unstoppable best having perhaps walked into the most awkward situation of the Premier League’s 20 clubs when football resumed.
Desperately wanting to get over the line to clinch a title they had waited 30 years for, but had pretty much secure six months earlier, the Reds just weren’t themselves. Now it’s a fresh start.
But the Community Shield is notoriously difficult to predict given its nature as nothing more than a glorified warm-up fixture, summed up by its Covid-19-style rules when it comes to substitutions. So factoring in the context is important.
The past seven Community Shields have seen under 3.5 goals, with five of those seeing just two goals scored.
As much as I stand by the price on Arsenal avoiding defeat being exceptionally good, I do think Liverpool will win – that’s not to say it isn’t worth a few speculative quid given the value that is there.
That’s especially worth considering when this isn’t a ‘real’ match so to speak, making an upset far more likely. But it’s for that reason that a result bet isn’t going to make the staking plan.
Something I think we can reasonably expect is that the match will follow a similar pattern to the Gunners’ wins over City and Liverpool in July, with Arteta’s side sitting deep and looking to counter.
Those tactics meant a corner count of 12-2 and 13-2 against Arsenal respectively, which makes a terrific price, and one I’ll be throwing my full weight behind.
Prediction: Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool