After something of a topsy-turvy pre-season campaign in which Arsenal have shown flashes of both brilliance and ineptitude, the summer’s preparations are set to come to a close at Wembley on Sunday in the Community Shield.
And while I always crave artistic mastery from the Gunners, it would perhaps be nice just to see them get through a game in the most placid, error-free fashion possible, finishing an indifferent campaign on sure-footing.
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea will offer little by way of surprises. The Italian plays hyper-organised, high-tempo football based on rigid defence and swift attack. In short, you know exactly what you are going to get from the Blues.
When we faced off against them in Shanghai earlier in the campaign, we were clearly knackered and suffering with illness, exacerbated by the heat. We were slow, sluggish, and easily overwhelmed. I don’t expect to see a repeat of that this weekend.
I hope to see a much more familiar Arsenal line-up, much fresher for a week’s rest, showing a much better shape, tempo, and organisation. I hope they will be playing the sort of football we saw them perfect in the last 10 games or so of last season.
Given how different players are at different levels of fitness and at different stages of their pre-season preparations, I can understand if things are not quite at 100 per cent at this stage, but we should, in reality, be fast-approaching that level, especially with the start of the season less than a week away.
There will be a little rotation at some point in the game – that’s understandable – but I do hope to see something close to our starting XI take to the field for the first whistle, albeit without Alexis Sanchez.
It may still be the case that a few spots are up for grabs but I’d like to believe that Arsene Wenger’s mind is more or less made up in the majority of cases.
We have a lot of quality at our disposal and we are more than capable of causing any team problems, if we click into gear on the day. Alexandre Lacazette has found himself a little isolated at times during this pre-season and starved of service, so I hope his midfield begins to offer him a little more support and he, in turn, recognises that he may need to adapt his game when the midfield sits a little deeper than he might like.
Either way, he is a natural goalscorer and should have no problems getting off the mark this season, especially when Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil get in gear this campaign. That could and should be a quite deadly triumvirate.
As to the defence, this match will be a big test for them and a big indicator for us fans about what sort of shape we are in going into the season. We have been a little error-prone in pre-season owing to a number of factors, so a dash of leadership and a pinch of organisation will be hugely important in this game.
The last two Premier League winners have built their success on the back of defence and while, under Arsene Wenger, ours will never be perfect, it must be better than it was last season.
We seem to be well-stocked with options at the back at the moment and most have been at the club for a good while now, so they must make that familiarity and experience pay dividends in the months ahead, starting with a strong showing against Chelsea.
Although victory is not absolutely essential on Sunday, it is important that the performance is good, at the very least a deal better than the mediocrity on display against Sevilla last weekend.
With just a few minor tweaks, I’m hopeful we can kick 2017/18 off on a high note.