Neil Humphreys: Arsenal expose Chelsea's weakness in midfield without Matic
Chelsea overrun by Arsenal in central midfield without Matic
|(Sead Kolasinac 82)||(Victor Moses 46)|
Rarely has a footballer been more conspicuous by his absence.
Arsenal won the Community Shield 4-1 on penalties at Wembley last night, after the scrappy contest ended 1-1, but Antonio Conte's problem is the one that got away.
Nemanja Matic's move to the Theatre of Dreams may become the stuff of nightmares at Stamford Bridge as the new season progresses.
The Serb's replacement, Tiemoue Bakayoko, continues to recover from knee surgery.
Until the Frenchman returns, Chelsea are at risk of haemorrhaging points.
Conte needs to return to the transfer market before the window closes or risk a repeat of the disastrous, post-title hangover of 2015 that led to Jose Mourinho's sacking.
Cesc Fabregas will always be a football Rolls Royce, but the engine's on the blink. The elegant Spaniard doesn't track, mark and tackle with the voracious consistency of the physical freak beside him.
As long as Arsenal avoided N'Golo Kante, they progressed with little difficulty.
Chelsea's preference for counter-attacking also ensured that when a move broke down, Fabregas was swiftly exposed and bypassed.
His lack of defensive awareness played every Arsenal player onside, allowing Sead Kolasinac to head in the Gunners' late equaliser.
The Gunners galloped through a Matic-sized hole, particularly in the first half, and only a characteristic lack of penalty-box composure denied them victory.
But then, the Community Shield offered a strange contest that was overwhelmingly average, with messy goals and a red card providing the highlights.
In fact, the game kicked off with more interest in those players not at Wembley, than those who were.
Mesut Oezil supposedly picked up a "knock" and Alexis Sanchez still wasn't ready, according to Arsene Wenger.
A kick-around for charity appeared the ideal opportunity to ease the Chilean into circulation, but the Arsenal manager clearly thought otherwise.
Chelsea's squad, on the other hand, looked youthful and worryingly threadbare.
Diego Costa's petulance and Eden Hazard's injury left the champions looking ill-equipped to mount a successful title defence.
New boys Alvaro Morata and Antonio Ruediger started on the bench, where they were essentially babysitting kids from the academy.
Even Conte's illustrious back three looked a little ring rusty in the sunshine. Both teams opted for a similar defensive line-up, but the Gunners probed the spaces in front of Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill with greater intent.
Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, benefited from a 3-4-2-1 that should make the most of their resources this season.
Of course, that formation depends on the one up front. Alexandre Lacazette must sustain his consistency at Arsenal if they are to return to the Champions League.
The Frenchman engineered a wonderful opportunity after 22 minutes, when two delightful touches created enough space to curl his strike against the post.
In stark contrast, his opposite number was close to anonymity. Michy Batshuayi barely touched the ball.
Chelsea's perpetual problem was in their painfully thin central midfield, where Fabregas was frequently brushed aside like a jittery skittle.
And yet, against the run of play, the Blues went ahead.
The Gunners were broken, in some ways by Per Mertesacker's suspected broken nose.
When the German went off in the first half, Kolasinac replaced him. The back three were shuffled around and lost a degree of balance.
Victor Moses profited from the uncertainty, smashing the ball home in the 46th minute.
Pedro Rodriguez, wearing a mask to protect a facial injury, then played the Phantom of Wembley by getting himself sent off with a ridiculous foul against Mohamed Elneny, raking his studs along the midfielder's Achilles' heel.
The referee opted for red instead of a yellow, which gave the Gunners a green light to wake up.
In the 82nd minute, Kolasinac rose highest to meet Granit Xhaka's cross, his goal made possible by Fabregas' clumsiness.
The slightly farcical theme continued into the penalty shoot-out, where Thibaut Courtois and Morata both missed their kicks to earn Arsenal a weird 4-1 win.
Wenger won the silverware, but Conte should be more concerned that he has lost Matic.