With transfer rumors still swirling in the weeks leading up to the summer deadline, 2014 FA Cup winner Arsenal will face 2013-2014 Premier League Champions Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on Sunday in what essentially ends a shortened offseason for many players due to the World Cup.
The 2014 Community Shield match features perhaps the two title favorites for the 2014-2015 Premier League season, with Arsenal looking to gain an edge over a Manuel Pellegrini side that outscored them 7-4 last season. The Gunners spent several weeks atop the table in 2013-2014, before being overcome by City, Liverpool and Chelsea, but it was a welcomed change for a club that has dealt with prominent player departures in recent years. A strong showing by Arsene Wenger’s side at Wembley over a top opponent would likely serve as a momentum builder for the season, particularly with the first appearances of winger Alexis Sanchez and full back Mathieu Debuchy.
“We’re all excited, and looking forward to hopefully being a successful day for us,” midfielder Aaron Ramsey told reporters this week. The Welshman had a breakout year in 2013-2014, but was limited by injuries. Ramsey and Jack Wilshere could prove to be crucial to the Arsenal midfield after a full season with playmaker Mesut Ozil.
The north London club will be facing a familiar face this weekend, as Bacary Sagna will suit up against his former teammates after a long and productive career with Arsenal, which began in 2007. The 31-year-old right back, who joined City on June 13, will be reunited with fellow French stars and former Gunners Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. Sagna, who is rumored to be earning more than £120,000 per week with his new club, conferred with the duo before signing with City.
“Yes, I spoke to them [Nasri and Clichy] many times,” Sagna told the club’s website.
“They knew I was free and wanted to move, and told me to come because they have a great team with a great mentality, who work hard and win trophies.”
Wenger will have a relatively healthy squad this weekend. Theo Walcott won’t be available for the Gunners, but the right wing could be back at full strength in the coming weeks. He sat out nearly all of 2014 after sustaining a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury to his left knee in an FA Cup match against local rival Tottenham.
"Theo Walcott is planned to come back into my group on Aug. 31, beginning of September at the latest," Wenger said. "He is doing well but he is not completely ready. I would say he could play at the end of August."
Wenger could still have some deals to make before the end of the transfer window. Center back Johan Djourou permanently joined Hamburg on a reported £2.2 million deal on Thursday. Djourou joins Thomas Eisfeld, who left the Gunners for Fulham for a fee less than £1 million, as the only compensated departures from the Emirates, as Sagna and Nicklas Bendtner left on free transfers.
Meanwhile, the player under the most scrutiny remains Thomas Vermaelen. The center back has been heavily linked to Manchester United and Barcelona. When asked about Vermaelen leaving, Wenger reiterated that “it could happen” and confirmed that Arsenal have “received offers from abroad.” Reports have United offering £15 million, while Barcelona have bid at about £10 million.
On the other side of the ball, with Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo injured, Manchester City is expected to give Stevan Jovetic more playing time. The Montenegrin has shined during this summer's International Champions Cup, after a rather uneventful 2013-2014 season. Pellegrini said that should Jovetic maintain his form, "he will be a very important player for us."
Pellegrini may still have some reinforcements on the way. City have been linked to Eliaquim Mangala, a 23-year-old defender with Porto, on a possible £32 million deal, according to Daily Mirror.
Jack Rodwell recently completed a transfer to Sunderland, while John Guidetti has been linked to an exit from the Etihad. Former Chelsea star Frank Lampard agreed to a loan move to play with the Citizens until January before joining New York City FC in Major League Soccer.
Prediction: Expect a more cohesive effort from City, as Arsenal may have to adjust to some of the new faces to their squad. It should be an interesting, tight match with both clubs meeting at a neutral location, though the Gunners will likely have more supporters at the famed stadium.
Predicted Score: Manchester City 2, Arsenal 1
An IB Times Staff reporter contributed to this report.