First off, my apologies for not getting this up sooner - I've had my own fairly brutal run of four games in three days (man, imagine whining about Thursday-Saturday in the UEFA Cup!), so this is my first opportunity to do so.
Anyway, the Community Shield has come and gone, and its residence remains at N5 in London for the second straight season. While it wasn't the swashbuckling fun of last season's 3-0 romp over Manchester City, this year's win was all the more sweeter for shutting up that unwashed mob from the West End...and, more importantly, giving us Sad Petulant Mourinho.
Seriously, WHAT a bastard that man is. I wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire.
The match itself was a bitty old thing, largely a contest of tactical fouls in the midfield. However, it was immediately obvious how much more solid the defense was. That can be directly attributed to Petr Cech's presence in the side. Look, I'm as big a fan of Wojciech Szczesny as there is (all y'all haters are wrong and stupid), but the difference that the experience and gravitas of Cech brings us is telling.
It also helps that Laurent Koscielny and Hector Bellerin in particular are, to use the scientific term, Really Fucking Good.
Quick, think back to the match, and ask yourself how many clear-cut chances that Eden Hazard had. Think back to how invisible Loic Remy (and later Rademal Falcao) were. The memes have been all over the Twitter machine this week, and for very good reason.
Offensively, Theo Walcott played as the central striker, and was largely marked out of the match. He did assist on the goal, but other than that he contributed little. Still, I think that's more of a function of a bad style matchup against Chelsea's defense than anything else. There are plenty of sides out there that won't be thrilled to see his name on the teamsheet this season.
Speaking of the goal, WHAT a hit that was, right? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it out of nothing, too. Marked by arguably the best left back in the league in Cesar Azpilecueta, his quick cutback onto his weaker left foot gave him, at best, half a yard and half a second to shoot. With no backlift, he powered an unstoppable shot past Thibaut Courtois and into the upper 90. Already, there's an early marker for Goal of the Season.
The rest of the match was mostly a rearguard action to maintain the lead - all of which resulted in the pure, distilled schadenfreude of Jose Fucking Mourinho whining to the press about an opposing side parking the bus on him. Karma sometimes takes her time to show up, but when she does, she hits harder than Ronda Rousey does.
So, with three preseason trophies in the bag, where does that leave us for the season proper?
Naturally, we are set in goal to an extent that we haven't been since Jens Lehmann left. David Ospina will be a capable deputy for the domestic cups, but a healthy Petr Cech will be just the thing we need to give us a solid foundation for a challenge at the bigger prizes.
As for the defense, I can't help but think that it'd be nice to have one more warm body back there centrally. We already have two capable players at both fullback positions (I'm as excited for Bellerin's development as I have been for anyone in a long time), and the Kos/Mert starting pair is strong enough, but Gabriel as the only real deputy (and as an unknown quantity at that) is a bit of a worry.
The midfield, as ever, will be our source of strength - and is where I imagine that many of our goals will come from. Francis Coquelin has been the ingredient that we've lacked for so long, though I live in abject fear of a long-term injury to him. If we're left having to field Mathieu Flamini in that position, we'll be well and truly fucked.
Otherwise, we're as well-stocked as you can get. Santi Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain are equally capable of playing alongside Coq, out wide, or in the No. 10 role. Aaron Ramsey looks set for a better season than last, which was decent enough in its own right. Jack Wilshere, if he can recover from his injury issues, gives us yet another dimension. Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky are both not spring chickens any longer, but they have qualities that we'll need over what will be another long season.
Then, of course, there is Mesut Ozil. Despite expectations that hover somewhere around "Score 20 goals, make 20 assists, and give me Kate Upton's phone number", he has been good-to-great since his arrival in the squad. We all know that his languid playing style doesn't sit well with the "DUUURRRR PASHHHHUUUNNN DURRRRR" crowd, but the guy is a unique talent and one of the best players in the world. He's fit, he's bedded into the Premier League now, and he's had a summer of actual rest.
Mark my words, Ozil is going to absolutely monster this league this season.
Finally, up top is where many supporters think we're a bit short in terms of sustaining a serious title challenge. They've gotten their Football Manager games out and want us to buy everyone from Karim Benzema to Tonton Zola Moukoko, but in truth I think we're going to be OK with what we have here.
Alexis Sanchez may start off slowly due to his Copa America heroics this summer, but we still have weapons in our utility belt in the meantime. Olivier Giroud just might be the most disgracefully-maligned player in the entire division. Sure, his "Zut alors!" face whenever he misses a chance is infuriating at times, as is the nature of some of those chances. But, the fact is that he has scored 11, 16 and 14 in the Premier League since he arrived, and you don't see consistent figures like that much further south of the Sergio Agueros and Wayne Rooneys of the world.
Guess what, folks? Those types don't grow on trees.
Besides that, Danny Welbeck should chip in at the 7-10 goals range, in what should be a squad-rotation level of playing time. Walcott, though, is the X-factor. He's talked time and again at how he wants to be the central striker, and now his is chance. As I alluded to above, I think he's going to succeed to a degree that many think he won't, especially against the lesser lights of the league.
Put up or shut up time, Theo.
Anyway, after all this, you'd be within your rights to ask "Well, where's the prediction, then?".
No problem, here it is: Arsenal is going to win the league this season.
I can't remember the last time I've been this certain that we were going to heading into a new year. I think the squad balance is finally right (though I do wish we had a backup Coq), the spirit is right, and the statement of intent is there.
And, that'd give us Sad Petulant Mourinho again, which really makes it all worth it.