Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lifts the Community Shield after victory over Liverpool
The Arsenal captain had given his side a half-time lead with a trademark finish, cutting in from the left to curl home and cap a wonderful team move.
But Takumi Minamino’s first Liverpool goal late in the second half ensured the tie, which does not include extra time, would need to be settled by penalties.
And when substitute Rhian Brewster, brought on in injury time to specifically take a spot-kick, hit the bar to become the only player to fail from 12 yards, it was left to Aubameyang to fire home the decisive strike.
Victory was thoroughly deserved for an Arsenal side who kept Liverpool at arms length for the majority of the contest.
They were seemingly heading for an outright win until some pinball on the edge of the area ultimately saw the ball land at Minamino’s feet, who could hardly miss from 10 yards out.
While Aubameyang’s 12th-minute goal undoubtedly gave Mikel Arteta’s side added belief, from kick-off they looked to have the same confidence which they’d carried in the closing weeks of the season.
Once again their performance was built upon defensive discipline and organisation, with the Premier League champions restricted to just two shots on target in the opening 75 minutes of the game.
Despite late-season wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, Arsenal went into the tie as rank outsiders, with the win-draw double chance widely available at better than evens and victory at almost 5/1 in some places.
Surely those prices won’t be around for long as this, like their previous results, was no fluke.
Arsenal must keep Aubameyang
It’s hardly new to say that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is priceless to Arsenal, but just in case anyone was in need of a reminder he gave them one.
His majestic finish lit-up a game that while at times was competitive, was sorely lacking in quality.
But looking towards the long-term, should the Gunners not be able to tie their skipper to a new deal, the current rope-a-dope tactics simply will not work.
While defensively they were superb in limiting Liverpool’s openings, Arsenal’s against-the-odds have been characterised by their potency in front of goal. Or more specifically, Aubameyang’s.
Staying in the game is a legitimate tactic to employ against stronger opposition when you have a truly world-class goalscorer in your team – the Gabon striker has netted all five of the Gunners’ goals in their three successive Wembley triumphs.
The optimism is building at Emirates Stadium, their talisman signing a new contract will keep that good feeling going and lead to genuine aspirations of a top-four push.
If he leaves, I dread to think how quickly things could fall apart.
An unlikely man of the match
The past month has seen story after story linking Ainsley Maitland-Niles with a move away from north London.
Matt Doherty’s imminent move from Wolves to Tottenham has sent that speculation into overdrive, with Nuno Espirito Santo’s side having a bid rejected this week as they look for Doherty’s replacement.
He could not have done more to impress both his current manager, and any potential suitors with a display that was intelligent, athletic and superbly well-disciplined.
As a player who came through Arsenal’s academy playing in the centre of midfield, his ability on the ball and athleticism combine perfectly for him to play as a wing-back in Arteta’s 3-4-3 – hence Wolves’ desperation to sign him.
The Gunners would be crazy to entertain moving him on, and instead must look to integrated him more, as if the rumours that he is unhappy about having a bit-part role are to be believed, then he is entitled to feel like that when putting in such terrific performances.
Having later been called up to the England squad, Maitland-Niles’ position was strengthened by the faith shown in him by Gareth Southgate. It’s time Arsenal matched it.
Reasons for Liverpool to be concerned?
I wouldn’t be losing any sleep if I was a Liverpool fan.
Last season’s Community Shield was a similar tale – lack of cutting edge, late equaliser, defeat on penalties – and it made no difference to their season as they started like a bat out of hell.
Defensively, they looked pretty good other than for the odd moment in the opening half-hour when Arsenal were allowed to cut through them a little too easily.
What was evident was the drop off in quality with Trent Alexander-Arnold absent, and Neco Williams taking his place. The full-back has perhaps become the Reds most important player given his quarterback-type role from the right-back position.
The front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah looked threatening, if not razor sharp, but have another two weeks to be so.
Liverpool’s real test comes against Leeds on September 12, and I expect them to be ready.