Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang underlined his value to Arsenal with a superb goal and the winning spot-kick as the Gunners beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the Community Shield on Saturday.
Aubameyang put Mikel Arteta’s side ahead in the first half at Wembley with a typically eye-catching strike.
Japan’s Takumi Minamino equalised with his first goal for Liverpool late in the second half of the annual pre-season friendly between the Premier League champions and FA Cup winners.
In the shoot-out, Liverpool’s young striker Rhian Brewster was the only player to miss, hitting the bar with their third penalty before Aubameyang calmly dispatched the decisive spot-kick.
As if Arteta needed any reminding, it was another sign of the influence wielded by his captain Aubameyang, who is yet to commit his long-term future to the club as he enters the final year of his contract.
“We are going to see, today we will just take the trophy and that is it,” he said.
Arteta has remained confident publicly that the 31-year-old will stay, but he must hope his talisman’s status is resolved before the Premier League season starts on September 12.
“We are close,” Arteta said of the contract. “He was magnificent in the FA Cup final and again today.
“Big games, big moments, big players. He is responding really well to that kind of pressure.”
For Liverpool, it was the second successive season they have lost the Community Shield on penalties after being beaten by Manchester City last term.
That is unlikely to concern coach Jurgen Klopp too much given the champions’ lack of rest and preparation since winning the title for the first time in 30 years.
The Community Shield traditionally serves as the curtain raiser to the new English season.
But Liverpool and Arsenal were back in action just 34 days after the end of the coronavirus delayed Premier League campaign and only six days after the Champions League final concluded the entire 2019-20 season.
“For these type of games you need the final punch. We created enough, had the ball quite a lot, but had to be careful of their counter-attack,” Klopp said.
“A penalty shoot-out is always a little bit of a lottery and we were unlucky there, so congratulations to Arsenal.”
After only one week of pre-season training, it was a more encouraging result for Arteta, whose team emulated their FA Cup final win over Chelsea with another determined, tactically astute display.
“I knew the challenge we were facing against this incredible opponent. Thank you very much to the players for the effort and the performance,” Arteta said.
“I knew we would suffer in the second half. We didn’t have the legs but in the penalties the boys had courage to put things right.”
Liverpool were without the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and the naivety of his teenage replacement Neco Williams was exposed by Aubameyang in the 12th minute.
Cutting in from the left to reach Bukayo Saka’s pass, Aubameyang was given too much time and space by Williams.
Aubameyang made him pay with a superb curler into the far corner from the edge of the penalty area, celebrating the goal by crossing his arms in tribute to Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, who has died aged 43.
It was Aubameyang’s fifth goal for Arsenal at Wembley, making him the club’s joint highest scorer at the national stadium with Alexis Sanchez.
He scored a brace in each of his previous two Wembley appearances against Manchester City and Chelsea.
Liverpool had lacked their usual intensity and sharpness in the first half, but they were better after the break and Roberto Firmino curled just wide from 20 yards.
Emiliano Martinez justified Arteta’s decision to keep fit-again Bernd Leno on the bench as the Arsenal keeper raced off his line to make a fine save from Sadio Mane.
That was Liverpool’s first shot on target, but they were improving and drew level in the 73rd minute.
Mohamed Salah and Cedric Soares challenged for the ball in the Arsenal area and it ran to Minamino, who slotted home from close-range for his first Reds goal in the his 15th appearance since his January move from RB Salzburg.
Martinez saved well from Mane’s close-range effort before Aubameyang stole the spotlight in the shoot-out.
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