With the preseason break coming to a close, Arsenal and Manchester City clashed on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium on Sunday, 6 August – with both sides looking to claim the bragging rights in the Premier League’s traditional curtain-raiser. This year, the match is being held in support of the Jeff Astle Foundation, which works to raise awareness of – and offer support to those affected by – brain injuries within the sports industry.
The fixture had initially been arranged to kick off at 17:30, but concerns from travelling Manchester City fans led to that time being brought forwards by ninety minutes – with the match action commencing at 16:00 instead. Despite talks of a fan boycott, City’s travelling support looked fairly sizeable with just a few small clusters of empty seats in the lower tiers.
These two sides were fiercely engaged in a title fight last season, with Pep Guardiola’s Citizens coming from behind to mount a late charge and clinch the trophy once more, before going on to win the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. Both teams have recruited well this summer, with all three of Arsenal’s summer signings making the starting eleven – though Josko Gvardiol will have to wait for his City debut, with his deal having only been finalised in the last few days.
ARS: Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Timber; Partey, Rice; Ødegaard, Saka, Martinelli; Havertz
MCI: Ortega; Akanji, Dias, Stones, Walker; Kovacic, Rodri; Grealish, Alvarez, Bernardo; Haaland
A teasing ball in from the left flank looked to pay dividends for Manchester City after just a few minutes, though resolute defending from the Gunners forced Pep Guardiola’s side to recycle the play. The second ball, fizzed in from the right this time, also failed to come to fruition.
After neat interplay around the edge of the box, Rodri was given acres of space to attempt to find the opener – but from twenty yards out or so, his low drive flew fractionally wide of the post. Julian Alvarez was the next player to rifle a shot wide of the woodwork, thumping his first-time strike from distance off-target after a quick turn to face goal.
Yet for all of City’s promise early on, it was Arsenal that came closest to clinching the lead. Ben White danced into the penalty area from the right flank, playing a ball across goal for Kai Havertz – but the German had to turn before getting his shot off, allowing the City defence time to recover. Martinelli looked to pounce and fire home the rebound – though that too was saved.
Arsenal established themselves as a team in the ascendancy as the half progressed, with Bukayo Saka jinking infield from the right flank before attempting to curl a strike towards the far post. His effort flew just wide of the woodwork, with the City defences breathing a huge sigh of relief.
With five minutes remaining in the first half, Ortega was truly tested by Kai Havertz – producing a phenomenal save to deny a certain Arsenal opener as the German looked to divert Bukayo Saka’s cross from the right flank into the back of the net. Erling Haaland looked to initiate a rapid counterattack following the clearance, but found himself forced wide with nobody in support.
Noticing Aaron Ramsdale venturing off his line once again, Rodri looked to stun the Gunners with an audacious chipped effort from his own half. He came close to finding the back of the net, but his strike dipped a little too late, settling on the roof of the net – and as the half came to a close, there was nothing to separate these two sides.
Despite some football traditionalists citing this fixture as nothing more than a glorified friendly, there had certainly been a physical nature on display throughout the opening half – with Thomas Partey receiving the first yellow card after just seven minutes for a needless tug on Julian Alvarez’s collar. Kai Havertz was also booked for sticking a leg out to bring an abrupt end to a City break, while Mikel Arteta and Julian Alvarez found themselves being shown yellow cards after breaching new FA + PGMOL regulations.
The opening five minutes of the first half seemed relatively subdued, and the crowd volume seemed to paint the same picture – but a fantastic headed effort from John Stones following a corner delivery looked set to open the scoring. A fine save from Aaron Ramsdale ensured that wasn’t the case, confidently punching the chance away to spark life into the City contingent once more.
But as the game reached the hour mark still goalless, the looming threat of this match being decided by penalties seemed to edge ever nearer. Fans had already been treated to an all-time classic shootout on Sunday morning, as the USA were eliminated from the FIFA Women’s World Cup by just fractions of a millimetre – and another tense finale would be no good for anyone’s blood pressure.
With that evidently playing on the mind of Pep Guardiola, Kevin De Bruyne was introduced alongside Cole Palmer as City’s desperate search for a goal continued. But as had been the case in the first half, Arsenal looked to become more comfortable as the half progressed – and certainly looked the likelier of the two sides to break the deadlock.
Against the run of play, Cole Palmer looked sure to bag the opener after a passage of neat passing saw the youngster receive the ball on the right flank. The forward cut inside, jinking past a handful of red shirts, but he ultimately blasted his curling effort over the woodwork.
Despite that painful miss, Cole Palmer had been the bright spark in this Manchester City side since his introduction – and Pep Guardiola finally reaped the rewards for making that change as he catapulted the Citizens into the lead with less than fifteen minutes remaining. In a similar fashion to his effort that was blazed over the woodwork, the youngster cut inside before unleashing a curling effort that left Aaron Ramsdale with no chance of making the save.
It could – and probably should – have been two, as Phil Foden’s effort from close range appeared to become intertwined with the legs of Aaron Ramsdale, deflecting wide of the post for a corner. That delivery too looked set to challenge the Arsenal goalkeeper, who once again did well to produce a fine save.
Eight additional minutes would provide the Gunners with plenty of time to snatch a late equaliser and send this drama-filled match to a penalty shootout – but that timeframe would son be extended after a hefty clash of heads saw both Kyle Walker and Thomas Partey requiring serious bandaging.
Despite countless attempts to deliver the ball into the box with precision, it looked as though Arsenal would be heading home empty-handed – until a moment of magic from Leandro Trossard saw the Gunners draw level in the tenth minute of stoppage time. Squeezing into a tight area on the right of the penalty area, the Belgian unleashed a strike that took a very heavy deflection off Manuel Akanji, rolling past Stefan Ortega, into the back of the net – sending this tie to a penalty shootout!
Martin Ødegaard was the first to step up to the spot, burying his effort comfortably past the diving Stefan Ortega. Manchester City failed to bring themselves level though, as Kevin De Bruyne thumped his effort against the crossbar despite Aaron Rasmdale diving the wrong way!
Leandro Trossard was the man who had sent this game to penalties – and he scored his effort to hand Arsenal a two-goal lead in the shootout, though that was short-lived, with Bernardo Silva scoring Manchester City’s second strike to reduce the deficit.
Bukayo Saka rolled his tame effort over the line mere moments before Rodri was denied from the spot by Aaron Ramsdale – ensuring Fabio Vieira would have the chance to win the Community Shield for Arsenal if he buried his effort. The Portuguese man did just that, rocketing a strike into the back of the net to send the Gunners into a moment of sheer euophoria.
After a last-ditch equaliser in stoppage time, the momentum switched heavily to favour the Gunners – and they took full advantage, emerging victorious in a tense penalty shootout in front of their supporters. The apprentice has beat his master, and if this is a sign of the season to come, we’re truly in for a treat.