Arsenal and Chelsea set to battle for early London dominance

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Arsenal and Chelsea set to battle for early London dominance

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Subhayan Dutta


Arsenal and Chelsea resume their domestic campaign in the curtain-raiser Community Shield game following a summer filled with huge speculations and astronomical spendings between them. Both the managers take the field with upgraded squads as the dominance over London hangs in the balance once again.

London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea resume battle from where they had left off last season - at the Wembley Stadium in London. As the FA cup winners and the defending Premier League champions prepare to fight it out this Sunday in the Community Shield, the curtain raiser to the Premier League commencing next week, but critics have found it very difficult to sustain their interest this time.

However, this is not something new for sides competing in this one-off game. Given that this is the very first game of the season, teams come into it unburdened by injuries and with every player brimming with confidence and also new signings, who are eager to prove their worth. Though the non-playing sides have often disregarded it as yet another pre-season friendly, the competitors utilize it to exhibit their intent ahead of the gruelling season.

And despite being the only two managers to churn out something productive out of their previous domestic campaign, both Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte have had their fair share of criticisms that followed soon after. While Wenger faced allegations of losing his plot and tactics in the modern day’s football owing to poor results on the big stage, Conte’s unhindered league run being backed by an affluent owner earned him much flak.

Both remain under extreme pressure to perform but it goes without saying that the Arsenal manager remains in the spotlight after how he ended things last season. The 67-year-old's contract was extended by two years amidst massive disapproval from fans and critics alike. And consequently, the old man hardly commands respect over the masses now with every claim of his discerned as lofty promises and every wrong step charged with vile criticisms.

The ‘Wenger Out’ brigade had swept across the entire world last season with protest banners seen everywhere from anti-Donald Trump rallies in the United States to the Indian Premier League games in India. Arsenal fans hadn’t limited their dissent towards the gaffer only to the ground but we also spotted planes carrying ‘Wenger Out’ banners midway through the league games.

The Frenchman is playing with fire here and a loss at the end this time could possibly destroy his entire legacy that has been built on hard work and perseverance over the last two decades. A spot among the top four that has been Wenger’s pride since 2005 was snatched away last season and although the ‘Arsenal’ brand hasn’t faced a similar fate yet, it could just be a matter of time now.

His counterpart, Antonio Conte, hasn’t been experiencing all greeneries either following his title-winning campaign. Frowned upon by many for having a similar way to the title like Leicester City in 2015, the Italian tactician remains under pressure to prove his mettle for the second consecutive season.

Finishing 10 in the league table in the 2015-16 campaign, the Blues weren’t in the ambit of either of the European tournaments (Champions League or Europa League), and their early ousting from the EFL Cup meant Conte’s star-studded squad had only weekends to play for. Their league run was way smoother than the other title contenders like Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur who had injuries and fatigue to take into consideration owing to midweek fixtures.

However, Chelsea challenge on four fronts now and if their recent record is anything to go by, then Conte should be wary of the outcome Chelsea face in a title defending season.

The Gunners have tried taking a leaf out of Chelsea’s successful strategy last summer, who had shelled out over £120 million to get back among England’s elites after falling from grace. Wenger has broken away from his conservative transfer policies to splurge a club record £52.7 million transfer fee for former Ligue 1 hitman Alexandre Lacazette and remains adamant on retaining Alexis Sanchez despite running the risk of losing him for free next season.

Chelsea’s response to that has been spending a staggering £140 million to get the likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata in a bid to maintain their position. With around £200 million shelled out between the two clubs, the stakes remain tremendously high on Sunday where fans would expect nothing but a convincing win. However, despite having in star arrivals Chelsea have also risked losing proven weapons like Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic this summer, which could come back to haunt them. Arsenal have everything to lose this time and they aren’t willing to take any such chances by cutting off important players.

Arsene Wenger’s rivalry with Antonio Conte, though not as bitter as the one he had with Chelsea’s former manager Jose Mourinho, has taken quite a many interesting twists and turns over the past one year. It was Wenger who had forced the Italian manager to adapt his path-breaking tactics of a three-man defence last season after Arsenal had humiliated Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates.

The revamped formation then led Chelsea to win 13 games in a row as they came dangerously close to equaling Arsenal’s winning streak of 14 games in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 campaign. The winning streak was pretty much the foundation for the Blues that won them the title eventually.

Arsene Wenger, who is an ideologist in his approach, had been adamant in not changing his outlook towards the game till last season when the moment came during the FA Cup final as he used Conte’s three-man back line set-up to best him at the Wembley. It won’t just be a show of weaponry on Sunday but clashes of principles and most importantly establishing dominance over London.

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