Arsenal 3, Manchester United 1 (Community Shield)

Arsenal 3-1 Manchester United

Gilberto Silva - 49'
Alan Smith - 55'
Jose Antonio Reyes - 59'
Mikael Silvestre (og) - 79'

In what feels like a million and a half years ago, I stood in Nevada Smith's and watched the mighty Arsenal put the finishing touches on Leicester City -- and the second-ever unbeaten season in English history (of course, Preston North End only played 20-something games in 1880-whatever).

So yes, it's good to see English soccer back. A million and a half years later, now we LOOK (visually) like Leicester City (why were we away, anyway?), and the defense of our English Premiership title begins...with a meaningless pre-season exhibition (pitting the league champions vs. the FA Cup champions). The funny thing about this one is that it started out as a battle between, well, not exactly B-teams...maybe more like B+ teams. Early in the second half, it started a transformation from Arsenal B+ vs. Manchester United B+ to Arsenal Under-21s vs. Manchester United Under-21s. To wit, the starting lineup (and substitutions):

The Champions (going from left to right): Jens Lehmann; Ashley Cole, Pascal Cygan, Kolo Abib Toure, Bisan Lauren-Etane; Jose Antonio Reyes (Justin Hoyte 80), Francesc Fabregas (Sebastian Svard 87), Gilberto Silva, Jermaine Pennant; Thierry Henry (Robin van Persie 45), Dennis Bergkamp (Jeremie Aliadiere 61 [Gael Clichy 69])

The Scum: Tim Howard; Gary Neville, John O'Shea (Jonathan Spector 82), Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune (Phil Neville 51); Ryan Giggs (Diego Forlan 51), Eric Djemba-Djemba, Roy Keane (Darren Fletcher 51), David Bellion; Paul Scholes (Kieran Richardson 74), Alan Smith (Chris Eagles 73)

As you may have noticed, there are some major names missing from both sides. However, I think something like this absolutely can serve as some indicator of bench depth and how the Under-21s can handle a slightly-pressurized situation. When you take the first-choice XIs of both teams, there isn't much to choose between them, honestly (that is, if you include Patrick Vieira in the center of Arsenal's midfield). If this is anything to go by, though (and keep in mind that it is an indicator, but not a GIANT indicator...important distinction there), then it's probably safe to say that we're a deeper team than United are at the moment, at least in the Under-21 level.

As is to be expected, it wasn't that bright of a start to the match...this is the first one of even moderate importance in the new season, after all. However, the Arsenal settled into the match first, and eventually started to get some good possession play going. Their short-passing game was just fantastic, and I can't wait to see it once they really start hitting on all cylinders. Everyone in the pub knew that Reyes was going to have a great game...hell, everyone there knows he's going to have a great season. What shocked me was how super-cool the young Fabregas (16 freaking years of age) taking Vieira's place in the center of midfield. He was composed, he made nice tackles, he kept the passing simple-but-effective. He's going to be a good one, that lad. Pennant was also tons better than I thought he'd be down the right flank, as I was one of the ones who thought we should just cut our losses with him...maybe have Leeds turn the year-long loan into an actual transfer. However, if he keeps his heretofore 10-cent head together, then we won't miss Ray Parlour as much as I have previously feared that we were going to.

But, the biggest shock from this match was the excellent play of one Pascal Cygan. The Frankenstein clone had one of his rare matches where he actually looked like an Arsenal central defender. He bossed the penalty area, returned to the backline quicker than his usual shamble after coming up for set pieces, and he generally made life difficult for the Mank forwards all night. Well done, Baldy!

The first half ended 0-0, but it was never going to finish that way. And, in one frantic 15 minutes, Arsenal were ahead 2-1. Actually, it should have been three, as Reyes had essentially an open net to shoot at, and all the time in the world in which to do so. Somehow, he hit the side-netting...but, he provided redemption just a minute late. He took the ball in his half, and started out on an absolutely blazing run down the flank. Gilberto Silva was running with him, and this became the beneficiary of an easy tap-in. The funny thing is that right alongside Gilberto was young Robin van Persie (who played for about 15 minutes up top with his hero, Dennis Bergkamp), who could easily have tapped it in himself.

All credit to United (especially half-strength as they were), they tried to make a contest out of it. Alan Smith actually had a pretty good game, and he found the corner of the net with an absolute thunderbolt. There was nothing Mad Jens could do about it, and that's fine...our keeper was brilliant on every other occasion in which he was called to action. It points out rather forcefully how stupid the English media is (though that is typically like shooting fish in a bucket) for assuming that Lehmann needed replacing in the off-season (umm, guys? Can one of you explain why ANYONE on an undefeated team needs to be actively replaced? Just curious.)...so, 1-1 then.

Reyes wasn't done, though, and soon the champions were ahead again. A cross from Bergkamp (who looked almost like the old Dennis today) deflected off someone, and Reyes was right there to fire home. Great finish, and nice to see after all the chances squandered (both by him, and also seemingly by everyone else in one of those vile blue away kits...I mean, crap teams wear blue...you know, Birmingham, Leicester, Chelsea...). The final goal came after most of the Romper Room squads came on, as Silvestre entertained us all with a hilarious own-goal.

By the way, of the young kids (not in the starting lineup), we can only take away three things of consequence. First, it's odd that fullback Phillippe Senderos didn't get a run-out. Then again, he does seem to be injured every time the breeze picks up, let alone when tackled. Speaking of that, the second is that the immensely-talented Jeremie Aliadiere was stretchered off just 8 minutes after he replaced Bergkamp. It's not so bad, thanks to the fact that Reyes can play up top, as can van Persie...and Francis Jeffers is still hanging around, too. Still, I really like Aliadiere as a player, and it'd be nice if he wasn't ALWAYS hurt. Finally, I don't know how every Arsenal fan on the planet isn't talking about how awesome Gael Clichy is. He still has some issues with crossing the ball, but man, can this kid do everything else. He showed in his limited appearances last season that he'll get stuck in and do the dirty defensive work, but he'll also blaze down the left flank...beating defender after defender along the way. The kid has skill to burn, but more importantly, he has the courage to take players on, the ability to make excellent passes, and can play defense. Once he can learn to cross the ball, there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the midfield rotation out there on the left flank (the nice thing is that he also serves as cover for Ashley, as he can play left back as well).

I don't care so much about United's kids, other than the fact that Kieran Richardson has a neat semi-afro going, and Jonathan Spector is a nice young American talent.

So, this was a fun little way to spend my morning before training (I respect field players so much more now having been forced to play as one the last few times. That said, I need to get back in goal as soon as humanly possible!). It's a nice silver shiny thing, it's a win over the Evil Empire, and it's a run-out for the kids.

However, much more importantly, it also means that the season begins for real, seven days hence. 2004-05 kicks off with Everton away, so hopefully we can get a quick three points in the bank...and maybe send a few kicks at that pig-faced Wayne Rooney, as well (heh heh heh).


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