Pitchside

3 Arsenal players who must impress in the Community Shield

Pitchside

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The Community Shield is a strange occasion. Within the context of a season it’s essentially meaningless, but it annually benefits from being the first competitive game most fans have seen for a while – it’s a friendly, but it pretends not to be and we go along with that pretence for the sake of our own amusement.

Arsenal head to Wembley this weekend to face Manchester City, and that will be a useful barometer as to where this side is ahead of the Premier League season. Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, and Lukas Podolski will all be absent owing to their extended post-World Cup break, but for those who are available this will be an opportunity – against elite opposition – to start the season well and gain an early advantage over their divisional rivals. It could also help those there are questions over secure a berth for the new season.

Here are three Arsenal players who could really do with having a good Community Shield...

Jack Wilshere

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Injuries are clearly a mitigating circumstance in Wilshere’s failure to progress at the expected rate, but that doesn’t really help his situation at Arsenal. The combination of his back luck, Aaron Ramsey’s startling emergence, and the purchases of Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have made the Arsenal midfield congested and competitive, and have left Wilshere without an obvious role.

Ozil will not be considered for selection on Sunday and Theo Walcott is still recovering from injury, so that creates space in Arsene Wenger’s line-up that wouldn’t normally exist. With Mikel Arteta likely to start in his familiar holding role, the expectation is that Wilshere will be given the opportunity to line up alongside him and play the more progressive of the deep-midfield positions.

That’s probably the role to which he’s most suited and the one which, if given the opportunity, he could master quickest. His distribution is very good, he carries the ball extremely well, and he has the creative attributes to begin attacking phases of play from deep.

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There are two principal reasons why he has never made that position his own: one, obviously, he has spent far too much time in the treatment room and, two, he has not played enough football in that part of the pitch. Even when he was fit last season, Wilshere found himself having to play as almost a utility midfielder and he was used in all manner of different positions. Every squad needs that player – see Manchester City’s usage of James Milner – but failing to give someone with that level of talent the chance to truly master a single role feels like a misallocation of resources.

To be truly effective and to learn the intricacies of a single position, it goes without saying that a player needs to be given a sustained opportunity. So, how can Jack Wilshere really develop the game-intelligence he so obviously lacks without being afforded the requisite minutes in a specific area?

Wilshere is too hypothetical as a player and it’s becoming increasing difficult to make a convincing case for his inclusion. By default he will have that chance on Sunday, and he really needs to start making an argument for himself.

Olivier Giroud

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Some Arsenal fans struggle to accept Olivier Giroud and that’s probably because his style of forward play contrasts so starkly with what was associated with the club’s golden Premier League era. He doesn’t move particularly well, he doesn’t take on defenders, and he neither scores spectacular goals nor produces moments of eye-catching technique. He is, in every way, the counter-point to Thierry Henry.

That in itself is not a problem, because Arsenal have moved on from that time and their formation really requires a focal point rather than a free-roaming talisman. Still, Giroud has issues – the more Arsene Wenger spends on surrounding attacking-midfielders, the more questions will be asked about why a truly elite forward has not been prioritised.

Giroud is good and he does a far better job than he’s often given credit for, but he lacks a degree of composure in front of goal and he has an unfortunate habit of squandering opportunities in important situations. As long as that’s the case he will continue to be seen as a place-holder at Arsenal.

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With the arrival of Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Giroud is starting to run out of excuses for his goal-return. His main function in this side may be as an attacking pivot, but Arsenal still require more goals from his position than he provides and there’s a danger that he might increasingly be seen as a hindrance to the rhythm within the front-half of the side. His link-play needs to be slicker and more reliable, he needs to force his physicality on opponents more, and his goal-return absolutely has to increase.

A couple of goals and a strong performance in the Community Shield won’t correct that perception, but a weak showing would probably increase Arsene Wenger’s temptation to go back into the market.

Wojciech Szczesny

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Ordinarily when a side spends a couple of millions pounds on a goalkeeper from Ligue 1 it’s a token gesture but, given David Ospina’s form for Nice in 2013/14 and for Colombia at the World Cup, we can assume that’s not the case here.

Ospina hasn’t arrived at The Emirates to pick up cones and collect the balls after shooting practice; he signed for Arsenal with the intention of becoming their first-choice.

Wojciech Szczesny is a strange goalkeeper. He excels in a lot of different departments and, actually, it would be amiss not to mention his improvement over the last eighteen months. His shot-stopping is frequently outstanding, his handling was noticeably more secure last season and, at 24, he is still some way off his prime. He also has enormous confidence in his own ability and, generally, that is a very useful trait in a keeper.

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That confidence is as much his enemy as it is his friend, however, because there are times when he seems to believe too much in himself and when that self-confidence manifests itself in rash moments and reckless play. He makes mistakes; not because of deficiencies in his skill-set, but because he’s evidently quite a cavalier personality. There’s a very big upside to Szczesny’s game and he’s worth his place at Arsenal, but there’s always a trade-off with him and always a lingering threat that a poor decision will be made under a high-ball or a tame shot will be fumbled.

It’s a cliche to claim that Ospina’s arrival will ‘focus’ Szczesny and it’s an assumption to claim that the mere presence of a challenger will eliminate these problems, but there’s certainly merit to that argument. At the very least, the signing of the talented Colombian should remind the Pole that he’s now on a very short leash at Arsenal and that whatever leeway he previously enjoyed has greatly reduced.

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