LONDON — Nothing develops a winning mentality quite like winning itself. The Community Shield occupies a curious position in the calendar, sitting somewhere between a friendly and the competitive fare that follows a week later when the Premier League begins, but beating Manchester City in any circumstances can have a significant psychological effect on Arsenal in the campaign ahead.
After all, the Gunners had not beaten City in eight previous attempts, including three defeats last season on a journey that ended by surrendering an eight-point lead to lose the Premier League title.
If their inability to stay the course was as much a mental failing as a physical one, this will do wonders for their self-belief, not least because it maintains the positive momentum generated by spending more than £200 million in the summer transfer market on Declan Rice, Jurrien Timber and Kai Havertz, all of whom started here.
In fact, the two sides came into this on contrasting preseason trajectories: Arsenal were buoyed by their new recruits while City looked to absorb the loss of two key players in Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez amid speculation Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva could also depart. Pep Guardiola had already adopted the familiar rhetoric of voicing concerns about his team’s preparedness for battle, the 2023 version freshened up by casting doubt over whether the Treble winners would show the hunger to start the ascent all over again.
Cole Palmer‘s stunning 77th-minute strike looked to have ensured the established order would be maintained only for Leandro Trossard‘s deflected equaliser in the 11th minute of added time to force a penalty shootout that Arsenal went on to win 4-1.
Both sides reacted as you might expect.
Arsenal ran off to celebrate with their supporters in jubilant scenes cynics will argue were disproportionate to the achievement. City collectively shrugged their shoulders knowing the serious stuff starts next weekend: Kevin De Bruyne will start, as might their new £77m centre-back Josko Gvardiol, whose arrival from RB Leipzig came too soon for this Wembley showpiece.
But if City and Guardiola are right to dismiss the importance of this game in their own minds — and they are — then Arsenal can feel equally justified in using this as a stepping stone in their own psychological evolution.
“For us, it’s a statement,” Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale told ITV after the match. “It’s a marker to know we can go and beat Man City in a big game when it matters.
“I’m not sure what it’ll be like this season, but that mental block is gone. We’re ready to push on now.”
Arteta encouraged that sentiment.
“If Aaron feels it this way, great,” the Spanish manager said. “It’s [about] what the players feel when they are there and they are convinced they can beat any team.
“We knew the challenge, especially because of their maturity and how often they play finals, but today we showed a real resilience and determination to fight and win the game.”
It must be said, however, that for all the positive energy channelled by Arsenal, the manner of its creation will hardly prompt Guardiola to panic. They were edging an even contest, albeit one in which Arsenal had created the superior chances — the best two missed by Havertz in the first half — and losing to a deflected shot before a penalty shootout in a game in which they were not fully tuned up hardly constitutes a crisis.
This game is often labelled a “curtain raiser” to the new season, but for long periods it felt more like a curtain twitcher: two sides sneaking a peek at the other after a summer apart.
City enjoyed more possession early on but Arsenal denied Rodri and Mateo Kovacic, operating as a double pivot, the space required to generate attacks. Guardiola left his midfield metronome, De Bruyne, on the bench and City struggled to find their best rhythm. Erling Haaland left the field on 64 minutes with just 13 touches to his name.
De Bruyne replaced him and City consequently looked more threatening, but only after Havertz had been unable to convert two opportunities a striker with more conviction may have finished. In keeping with his time at Chelsea, Havertz looked good in the build-up but struggled with his end product.
Timekeeping was a factor in a first look at the revised refereeing approach for the season ahead: Arteta was booked for waving an imaginary yellow card, City were punished in the 11th minute of added time when last season the final whistle would surely already have been blown.
“Now the games will be 100 minutes, that’s for sure,” Guardiola said. “It never happened today and it was eight minutes, imagine if they extend for goals and every time you score a goal in a game [that is] 4-3. You put 30 seconds, 45 seconds on for seven goals, tomorrow morning 9 .a.m I am here playing.”
Both sides will acclimatise, but while City do so safe in the knowledge this result counts for little in the grand scheme of things, Arsenal move forward with the belief their leading rivals are not untouchable.