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Three things we learned from Arsenal, Chelsea

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea on penalty kicks at Wembley on Sunday to clinch the FA Community Shield in the curtain-raiser for the 2017-18 season.

Victor Moses‘ goal less than a minute into the second half put Chelsea ahead but Arsenal equalized late on with Sead Kolasinac heading home moments after Pedro was sent off for Chelsea.

The game went straight to penalty kicks, using the new ABBA system, after it ended 1-1 in normal time and Arsenal scored all four of their penalty kicks with Thibaut Courtois smashing over and Alvaro Morata scuffing wide for Chelsea.

Arsenal impressed for plenty of the game as new signing Alexandre Lacazette hit the post and Danny Welbeck also caused plenty of problems.

In the end Arsene Wenger got the better of Antonio Conte once again as Arsenal picked up the first piece of silverware of the season and beat Chelsea at Wembley just like they did in May to win the FA Cup.

Here’s what we learned from Wembley on a sunny Sunday less than a week before the new Premier League season begins.


LACAZETTE, WELBECK PROMISE PLENTY

Without Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in their squad, you could forgive Arsenal for looking lackluster in attack. That wasn’t the case.

New club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette displayed enough energy, ability to find pockets of space and ingenuity to suggest the $68.7 million Arsenal paid for Lyon is money well spent.

Lacazette know as “La Gachette” or the Trigger in France sparked a wonderful counter attack in the 22nd minute, spinning away from his marker to link up with Hector Bellerin and then Danny Welbeck in a sweeping move from right to left which ended with Lacazette composing himself before sending a curled effort which cannoned off the post and out. You could be forgiven for thinking a former French international striker was back on the pitch for the Gunners.

Thierry Henry comparisons aside, Lacazette, 26, is in his prime and appears to be exactly what Arsenal have needed ever since Robin Van Persie departed in 2012. He is more than just a pure finisher with plenty of tracking back and dropping deep to get on the ball, cutting in from wide positions, but “Trigger” also had a wiling runner alongside him in Welbeck who he could link up with and he also provided Chelsea plenty of problems with his runs in-behind.

In a summer dominated by the future’s of Sanchez and Ozil, Arsene Wenger may well have found his new strike partnership mid all the fuss. With Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott all able to play centrally too, the Gunners have plenty of fine attacking options heading into the season. On this showing Lacazette and Welbeck may provide the best balance with Ozil and Sanchez battling for places to support them. Of course they’ll both play, but adding them to the starting lineup and keeping the balance of their attack will be an intriguing dilemma for Wenger.

With Shkodran Mustafi, Sanchez, Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to come into this team, the Gunners’ squad is looking incredibly strong. With Kolasinac jumping off the bench to head home a late equalizer they have another solid option in defense too and since switching to a 3-4-3 formation seem more sturdy and have a knack of digging out results.

Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will surprise plenty this season with a squad big enough to have two different teams in the PL and the Europa League. Expectations are perhaps lower than ever among Arsenal’s fans which is a strange thing, but maybe it will help them flourish.


CHELSEA SLUGGISH

For most of the first half Chelsea struggled to connect passes, put themselves under pressure in defense and took loose touches in the final third. Antonio Conte’s lacked sharpness in the first half but soon came alive in the second with Moses gambling off Gary Cahill‘s flick to finish well.

That woke Chelsea up and just as we saw last season when opponents pushed hard to get back into the game, Chelsea began to pick Arsenal off on the counter with N'Golo Kante running the counters from midfield.

Overall it was a groggy display and far from vintage as Chelsea missed the creative spark of the injured Eden Hazard and the guile of soon to depart Diego Costa. For much of preseason that’s been the case for Conte’s side with new signings Tiemoue Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata not starting on Sunday at Wembley.

Bakayoko is working his way back to full fitness, while Rudiger and Morata are slotting in after arriving late in preseason. With Bakayoko, Morata and Hazard all likely to become starters in this team, Conte knows his Chelsea side a month from now will be very different to the one which recovered from a sluggish start at Wembley on Sunday. They were perhaps aided by Per Mertesacker‘s head injury which forced Arsenal into a defensive reshuffle, but as they game wore on you could see their ruthless streak returning.

Then came a minute of madness as Pedro received a straight red card and they then switched off to allow Kolasniac to head home from a set piece situation, something which hurt the Blues during their title-winning campaign. Courtois and Morata then missed their penalty kicks with more lapses of concentration which will leave Conte wide-awake for a few nights ahead of the new season.

The reigning champs can’t afford to start the season as sluggishly as they started, and finished, the Community Shield.


MORATA’S ABSENCE TELLING

In the week Antonio Conte revealed that Alvaro Morata, Chelsea’s club-record signing who is supposed to deliver the goals lost from Diego Costa’s impending departure, “has to improve his condition a lot to adapt quickly into our team.”

Morata, 24, played for Conte at Juventus and knows what the Italian coach is all about, but it appears the early signs for him at Chelsea haven’t been great.

With Michy Batshuayi a bystander for most of this game, it’s clear he will be nothing more than a second central striking option for Chelsea this season. Morata replaced Batshuayi with 20 minutes to go and received a standing ovation from Chelsea’s supporters. The expectancy on his shoulders is clear.

Conte will rely on the towering Spaniard to score at least 20 goals and he showed his penchant for that as he first peeled off Arsenal’s defense and connected with Willian‘s searching cross to the far post but he couldn’t get a proper connection on it.

In stoppage time he then won a free kick cleverly and from the resulting set piece he nodded Cesc Fabregas’ cross wide but was offside. Morata looked lively but you can understand why Conte seems concerned about his fitness.

His scuffed penalty kick summed up his slack start to life at Stamford Bridge for the $90 million man.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham