There was a moment, long before the first ball was kicked, when Mikel Arteta surveyed the scene around him and knew there would be a silver lining.
The Community Shield had the potential to be problematic for Arsenal. Liverpool, their opponents and reigning champions, had been on a training camp in Europe for two weeks and their preparations for the new campaign were significantly further on than the FA Cup holders.
With contractual issues and transfer dilemmas whistling around in the background, it would have been no shock had Arsenal reverted to type and shown the resilience of a house of cards in a gale. Arteta, however, took a look at his group before kick-off and felt it would be different.
‘On Thursday, we started to have players back in training,’ said Arteta. ‘I didn’t hear one excuse. “Oh they (Liverpool) had two weeks in Austria, better preparation”.
‘There was none of that. When I was in the dressing room I had the feeling they believed we could win. They didn’t feel any fear.’
In the past few seasons, as Arsenal have slithered down the standings and surrendered their place as Champions League regulars, fear has always bubbled away beneath the surface and been ready to place the team in a stranglehold.
Arsenal always had it within them to become paralysed in a big game or throw something significant away: watching these sides line up at Wembley, the mind went back to last autumn when they led 3-1 and 4-2 at Anfield in a Carabao Cup tie but ended up drawing 5-5 then losing on penalties. That was the Arsenal Arteta inherited and that was what he had to change.
There were significant signs post-lockdown — not least in those rousing victories against Manchester City and Chelsea en route to winning the FA Cup — of a change in mentality. Positive impressions continued.
There was giddiness among the players, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lifted the trophy after successfully converting the decisive penalty in the shootout, as winning breeds confidence and creates a positive environment. Perhaps the biggest aspect to take from it all, though, was Arteta’s appraisal.
Arsenal defended stoutly after Aubameyang scored a wonderful 12th-minute goal, kicking, blocking and scrapping to frustrate Liverpool.
They wanted to do the dirty work, not fold at the first sign of trouble and it was significant that it was they who had the last chances in added time, not Liverpool, who finally found a way through in the 73rd minute thanks to substitute Takumi Minamino.
‘They wanted to really go for it and believed they could win another trophy,’ said Arteta, who is confident Aubameyang will finally end speculation about his future this week and sign a new contract. ‘They showed from the first minute their courage and their passion. We had some periods where we showed we are developing in the right direction. Defensively we are solid, we are difficult to beat.
‘Really, if we have the mindset that we have 11 players doing it, then it doesn’t matter who your name is, we have a really good chance.
‘I get more impressed with the young players every day. They really want to play for this club. They know the names they are fighting against and they don’t care.
‘They want to be better than their team-mates and really want chances. When they play like this it makes me really proud of them.’
He might be a young manager in his first job but do not confuse Arteta as being someone who will say easy things to get an easy headline.
During his time as a player at Everton, when he spoke it was always because he wanted to make a point and he did not flinch if his views unsettled others.
Arteta is also a realist and while he was thrilled Arsenal came out on top in the shootout, leaping into the arms of his assistant Steve Round, he was quick to point out that their progression is dependent on being more than just a team that can defend.
‘We know if we want to fight for trophies you cannot concede the amount of goals we have over the last few seasons,’ said Arteta. ‘But, obviously, with the ball in the attacking phase we must do a lot better.
‘We had some periods where we showed we are developing in the right direction. But one thing is to do it in a short period of time. Another is then to be able to sustain it for 10 months. We know this league, how competitive and challenging it is. My biggest fight is to convince these players we can fight with these clubs in the long term and that they are better than what they showed last year.
‘I have to make the right decision with everybody on board. We know what we are trying to achieve. Hopefully we can do it. That’s my job.’
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