Roles reversed before Wembley clash
One has lured a world star, a fellow Premier League club's international full-back and a coveted youngster. The other has been carefully balancing out finances and snapping up bargains while also trimming off talent.
Sunday's Community Shield arrives with roles almost reversed for Arsenal and Manchester City. Two years ago, Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers would have been a good bet for Eastlands, but City's wings are being clipped for failure to meet UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations.
Arsene Wenger, long supportive of economic controls, is now in the position of strength he and his club's execs always promised. With the Emirates Stadium no longer a monetary burden, and sponsorship booty flooding in alongside TV cash, Wenger has recovered a taste for big deals. Following Mesut Ozil a year ago, Sanchez is the biggest transfer coup of any Premier League club in this window.
"We are less vulnerable, for sure," Wenger said this week. "In the last two years we have bought Ozil and Sanchez. Five years ago we would have lost Ozil and Sanchez."
Such deals are City's usual territory. Now, they must juggle and still wait to land Eliaquim Mangala, a commanding centre-half to partner with Vincent Kompany, something they lacked last season, with apologies to cult hero Martin Demichelis. They have been forced to get creative.
Wenger was public in raising eyebrows at Frank Lampard's loan deal from New York City, the American wing of the Abu Dhabi soccer empire, and its implications on FFP and the need for Englishmen to fill City's quota. The official line is that Lampard's wages will be paid by the English branch because his contract in the Big Apple does not begin until 2015. Though it is unlikely to happen at Wembley, Lampard in a different hue of blue will take some getting used to.
"I don't want to talk about what other managers say because I have a lot of problems here with Manchester City," Pellegrini said of Wenger's quibbles on Friday, as the Chilean admitted that "we have important restrictions from UEFA about the amount of players and amount of money that we can spend."
While they cut cloth accordingly, it helps City that they already possessed easily the strongest squad in England. The champions are not quite thrust back on the bread line -- Pellegrini and paymasters are pruning the thickest and most fertile privet around, while the addition of four players so far has the coach boasting "we have a stronger team than last season."
Bacary Sagna's defection is a reminder that City can still lavish bigger wages than Arsenal are prepared to. "We love him here," said Wenger when it was clear that Sagna might be for the off. Such ardour could not match the riches a Bosman transfer or the trophy chances of playing for the champions. Thomas Vermaelen's potential departure to Barcelona is another constant revived; Catalonia has been as regular a destination point for Wenger's players as Manchester. Arsenal may now be cash-rich, but they are still some way behind the game's biggest transfer players.
They have significant ground to make up on City, too. Arsenal were way behind last season. There were seven points between the clubs at the completion of the 2013-14 season, yet Arsenal's title challenge was over once they were destroyed 5-1 at Liverpool on Feb. 8. A feature of last season that cannot be revived is Arsenal's propensity to get thrashed by their purported peers; City and Chelsea walloped six past them, too.
Wenger's sights were forced to readjust on maintaining the minimum requirement of Champions League qualification. They did so at a canter, though their step quickened after losing 3-0 at Everton on April 6.
However, winning their final five matches took them beyond sight of the Toffees, whose hopes were ended by losing to City on the penultimate weekend. An imminent FA Cup final did not distract Arsenal from taking their habitual spot among the elite and eventually they also had their first silverware in nine years to celebrate.
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Sunday's game will surely not generate the Wembley nerves that almost slipped that prize to Hull City. Though Gunners fans' celebrations were understandably joyous, relief was the emotion that charged their party. Wenger stayed on and the next phase can begin, one in which the club must compete harder.
As happens every four years, the summer's World Cup festivities will cast a long shadow over the incoming season, and this event in particular. Neither team will be either full in strength or fitness levels. Should, say, Kompany feature, it will be his first action of preseason, with but a week to go until the Premier League season. Both City and Arsenal may find themselves paying for the price of their players' success in Brazil.
Arsenal have three World Cup winners in Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, none of whom is expected to feature at Wembley, because like City's Argentine contingent, they only returned to training at the beginning of the week. Fernandinho did not impress at all for Brazil, but his late return allows compatriot Fernando to make a bow in central midfield, the only new arrival expected to start for City at Wembley.
Wenger meanwhile, can show off Sanchez; Arsenal have enjoyed their summer. A second trophy, though a minor concern, might suggest the Gunners can compete as strongly as they are beginning to off the field.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.