The traditional curtain-raiser for the new season in England takes place on Saturday as Arsenal and Liverpool battle it out for the FA Community Shield.
The 2020/21 campaign officially kicks off in England this weekend as Premier League Champions Liverpool face off against FA Cup winners in the annual FA Community Shield clash at the Wembley Stadium.
Arsenal, after a poor start to the 2019/20 term, recovered well under Mikel Arteta at the back end of the campaign. The Gunners may have finished eighth in the Premier League, but won another FA Cup trophy to end the campaign on a high, while earning qualification to Europa League football as well.
While there has been a three-week break since then, they will be hoping to carry forward that confidence and begin the new season with silverware. Arsenal head into the fixture on the back of a 4-1 win over MK Dons in their only pre-season friendly till date.
Liverpool, on the other hand, enjoyed a dream campaign last time out, as they ended a thirty-year wait to lift the league title. Jurgen Klopp’s merry brigade broke a number of records along the way, although their form did dip a little once their coronation was confirmed.
Nevertheless, the Merseyside giants have been in decent touch during their pre-season, having beaten Vfb Stuttgart, before coming back from two goals down to salvage a draw against RB Salzburg.
The last time these two teams met, Liverpool tasted a 2-1 defeat at the Emirates Stadium. Ahead of their meeting in the season curtain-raiser this weekend, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both the teams.
Team News & Tactics
Arsenal have a number of absentees heading into the game on Saturday evening. Manager Arteta will be unable to call upon the likes of Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi, who are yet to recover from the injuries they sustained in the season gone by.
Bernd Leno is fully fit and available for selection, while new signing Willian is also in contention. William Saliba, who is back from his loan spell at Saint-Etienne is also among the players pushing for a starting berth on Saturday.
Emiliano Martinez missed a good chunk of the pre-season as he had to quarantine himself after a trip to Portugal. As a result, Leno is expected to start in goal, despite the former starring in the back end of the last season. Saliba ought to make his competitive debut, starting alongside Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney in the three-man defence.
Cedric Soares was preferred over Hector Bellerin at right wing-back for the friendly against MK Dons and Arteta is likely to stick with the Portuguese. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is reportedly closing in on a transfer to Wolves, should start on the left. With Dani Ceballos gone, Granit Xhaka is likely to have forgotten man Mohamed Elneny as his partner in the middle.
Bukayo Saka shone bright starting on the right flank in the latter stages of the last season and should feature in the same position. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is close to signing a new contract according to Arteta, should slot in on the left, while Eddie Nketiah is likely to lead the line ahead of Alexandre Lacazette.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Leno; Saliba, Holding, Tierney; Cedric, Elneny, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Saka, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Liverpool, too, have a quite a few injury concerns heading into the season-opener on Saturday. Captain Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harry Wilson, Xherdan Shaqiri, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Divock Origi didn’t play in either friendly. Among them, only Alexander-Arnold is likely to be available for the game.
Virgil van Dijk is fit for tomorrow's Community Shield meeting with @Arsenal, while Trent Alexander-Arnold could also feature at Wembley.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 28, 2020
Virgil van Dijk suffered a nasty cut on his head against RB Salzburg, but is available for selection, while new signing Kostas Tsimikas will be hoping to make his competitive bow. Youngsters Rhian Brewster, Ki-Jana Hoever, Curtis Jones and Billy Koumetio could all be in contention.
Alisson Becker is expected to man the goal ahead of Adrian and Loris Karius, who is back from his ill-fated loan spell at Besiktas. With Alexander-Arnold only recovering from an issue, Neco Williams is likely to start at right-back, while Andrew Robertson should feature on the left with Joe Gomez and van Dijk starting at the centre of the defence.
Fabinho is a certainty at the base of the midfield for the reigning PL champions. Naby Keita, who ended the 2019/20 season strongly, is also a shoo-in in the middle of the park, while Georginio Wijnaldum, who has emerged as a target for Barcelona, will occupy the final slot in the three-man midfield unit.
There is no looking past the first-choice attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, although there is a chance that Brewster, who scored a match-saving brace against Salzburg in the last friendly, might get a look-in through the middle.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Williams, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane
- Liverpool and Arsenal are tied with 15 Community Shield wins in their history. Only Manchester United (21) have won it more times.
- Liverpool and Arsenal have clashed against each other in the Community Shield on three previous occasions. The Reds prevailed in the first two meetings in 1979 and 1989, while the Gunners triumphed in the most recent meeting in 2002.
- The Reds are challenging for the Community Shield in successive seasons for the first time since 2001-2002.
- Arsenal have won seven of their last nine appearances in the Community Shield, including their last three on the bounce.
- Should Arsenal come out on top on Saturday, it will be the first time they have picked up back-to-back victories against Liverpool across all competitions since September 2012.
Player to Watch
As the old adage goes, cometh the hour, cometh the man. If not for Aubameyang’s brilliance, Arsenal might not have been playing Liverpool on Saturday evening. The Gunners’ skipper inspired his team to another FA Cup triumph, with a match-winning brace in the final against Chelsea.
While talks of a new contract trudge on, the Gabonese forward has hardly let it affect his game. Returning to Wembley this weekend, he will once again be Arsenal’s biggest weapon on the field. Aubameyang has scored a brace in each of his last two appearances at Wembley and will be hoping to repeat that feat and lead Arsenal to a victory.
Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool
The 2020/21 campaign kicks off in the same month as the 2019/20 term ended, with Arsenal being involved in the final match of the season gone by and the curtain-raiser of the upcoming one.
However, the Gunners have hardly had time for preparation, given that they returned to pre-season training only a week ago. Liverpool, on the other hand, have had a productive 10-day pre-season camp in Austria, with two friendlies against good quality opponents in the form of VfB Stuttgart and RB Salzburg.
As a result, Jurgen Klopp’s men are likely to be a touch sharper than their opponents on Saturday. And that is why, The Hard Tackle is predicting a narrow win for the Premier League champions to kick off the new campaign on a strong note.