London, United Kingdom | AFP | Premier League champions Chelsea face FA Cup holders Arsenal in the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday. Here AFP Sport looks at five key questions ahead of the annual curtain raiser to the English top-flight season:
Pressure on Wenger
As the rain lashed down on the Emirates Stadium and Arsene Wenger found himself confronted by a furious fan, it was easy to believe the clock had been turned back four months to a season the Arsenal manager would love to forget. In fact, it was a pre-season friendly against Benfica in July and the aforementioned Arsenal supporter keen to vent his frustrations on Wenger didn’t seem placated by his side’s 5-2 victory. Divisions run deep at the Emirates over Wenger’s lack of success in the Premier League and Europe over the last 13 years. Wenger’s decision to sign a new contract after a damaging delay has done little to appease the Gunners faithful and emulating last season’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea this weekend is a must to keep the natives from becoming even more restless.
Morata takes centre stage
With Diego Costa exiled after falling out of favour with Antonio Conte, the Blues boss has splashed out a club record £58 million on Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata. Conte originally wanted Romelu Lukaku, but the former Chelsea striker opted to join Manchester United from Everton. Morata has to prove he is more than an expensive consolation. The 24-year-old is a far different player than the physical Costa and Lukaku, but Conte hopes his combination of poise and predatory finishing ignites his side’s title defence.
Lacazette leads the line
With the future of unsettled Gunners forward Alexis Sanchez still up in the air, Wenger needed to make a statement of intent and he did so by breaking Arsenal’s transfer record to sign France striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon for £52 million. Lacazette hit 37 goals in 45 games last season and has bagged at least 20 Ligue 1 goals in each of the last three years. The 26-year-old netted on his first appearance at the Emirates Stadium in pre-season, but Wenger admitted it might take a while for his new recruit to adapt to the unique demands of the Premier League.
Conte eyes boost
Frustrated by Chelsea’s failure to land his top transfer targets, Conte is in need of a restorative victory over Arsenal as he looks for signs his team are still hungry for success after winning the Premier League. Missing out on Lukaku, Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro has put Conte in an anxious mood, judging by his prediction that he faces the most “difficult” season of his career. Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool have all spent big money on new signings. Conte has paid over £100 million on three players, but his squad, which faces the extra challenge of the Champions League this season, is painfully short of strength in depth now Costa is exiled and Eden Hazard and new recruit Tiemoue Bakayoko are injured.
A 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last season was the catalyst for Chelsea’s title triumph as Conte responded to that setback by switching to a three-man defence. The tactical tinkering paid rich dividends for Chelsea, but Conte added Roma defender Antonio Rudiger to the mix in the close-season. Ironically, it was an identical change by Wenger that revived Arsenal’s fortunes in the closing weeks of last season, climaxing in an FA Cup final win over Chelsea. Conte has promised to stick with the same system, while Wenger has been experimenting with using midfielders Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in his back three in pre-season. Analysing those areas will provide a fascinating insight into both managers’ plans for the new season.