By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Chelsea-Arsenal – The Series
Wednesday 10th January, Stamford Bridge – Back to the bridge now for the fourth instalment of the Chelsea-Arsenal derby this season. The occasion this time, the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.
Bristol City played well in the other semi-final, but failed to upset Manchester City at the Etihad. If there was going to be a surprise at Stamford Bridge, it would be one of the teams actually winning the game – every time Chelsea and Arsenal have met this season, once in the Community Shield (1 – 1), twice in the league (0 – 0 & 2 – 2), it’s ended up a draw.
Another weird Chelsea-Arsenal 2017/18 fact – it’s been a pretty good fixture for full backs. Four of the six goals in their games so far this season were scored by full backs: Victor Moses, Sead Kolasinac, Marcos Alonso and Hector Bellerin.
Antonio Conte picked a strong line-up for this game, with only two changes to the starting eleven at the Emirates – Danny Drinkwater and Antonio Rudiger came in for Tiemoue Bakayoko and Gary Cahill. Eden Hazard was back from a minor calf injury, and also started for Chelsea.
Their new signing Ross Barkley was still recovering from surgery. He was in the stands in Chelsea colours for the first time, but was not included in tonight’s squad.
Arsenal stayed with the same defence and midfield from their previous league game, but David Ospina replaced Petr Cech in goal, and Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi started alongside Alexander Lacazette in front. Alexis Sanchez was on the bench, but Mesut Ozil was not in the visitors’ matchday squad.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 7.5, Moses 8, Azpilicueta 8, Christensen 7.5, Rudiger 7, Alonso 7.5, Kante 7.5, Drinkwater 6.5 (Willian 6.5), Fabregas 7.5, Hazard 7.5 (Bakayoko 5.5), Morata 7 (Batshuayi NR)
Subs Eduardo, Luiz, Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Willian, Pedro, Batshuayi
Ospina 8, Bellerin 7, Holding 7, Mustafi 7.5, Chambers 8, Maitland-Niles 6.5, Xhaka 6, Wilshere 7 (El Neny 6), Iwobi 6.5, Welbeck 6, Lacazette 6.5 (Sanchez 6)
Subs Macey, Mavropanos, Mertesacker, Nelson, El Neny, Walcott, Sanchez
A Damp Squib…
The game didn’t exactly live up to expectations – or if expectations were set by previous Chelsea-Arsenal matches this season, maybe it did. It ended up a goalless draw, though not for want of trying by either team.
Chelsea had the first chance of the game. Eden Hazard put Alvaro Morata in with a through pass on the break. Morata’s positioning and movement were excellent – he stayed on side and got to the ball in space, however the direction of the pass carried him a bit wide.
He tried to finish from the angle, rather than holding up the ball a second and crossing to someone more central, and Calum Chambers was able to cut his shot out for a corner.
Cesar Azpilicueta delivered one of his deep specials into the box, this time Marcos Alonso was the recipient rather than Morata. He snuck in behind the defence, almost got to the ball, but Chambers was alert and headed the cross out.
Jack Wilshere and Lacazette combined well in midfield, then provided to Hector Bellerin, who swung in a cross, but Azpilicueta intercepted before the ball could reach Danny Welbeck.
On another attack, Lacazette dribbled into the box and might have been able to pass back to Alex Iwobi, but Drinkwater and Azpilicueta showed alertness and strength to cover and dispossess him of the ball.
N’golo Kante up-ended Iwobi about thirty yards out, and Granit Xhaka attempted a direct free kick, but he hit it straight into the wall – chance wasted for Arsenal.
Cesc Fabregas tried to release Morata with another through pass into the box, but Shkodran Mustafi slid in to cover him and Ospina claimed the ball.
Wilshere put Lacazette in on goal with an arcing pass over the top. He caught the defence napping really, but the striker might have lost his composure slightly; he swiped a bit wildly at the ball and his shot went high and wide.
Victor Moses got in past Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the right wing, and hit a low shot with unbelievable venom. Ospina spilled it and Fabregas almost got in to finish, but the keeper was able to control it eventually. Then Alonso dribbled past Bellerin and got a shot in across goal, but it went out off Chambers for a corner.
Moses came in again past Maitland-Niles, but Rob Holding blocked his attempted cross. The ball came back to Moses again, and he immediately whipped in a shot with his other foot, but Ospina did well to save at the near post.
Hazard put Cesc Fabregas in with yet another through pass, and Fabregas tried to find Morata with a cross, but the ball was just behind the striker – it went harmlessly across goal.
Fabregas also attempted to tee up Kante from a free kick, but Chelsea’s other ballon d’or nominee is not known for his shooting. He showed why, producing something closer to a clearance than a shot on goal.
Iwobi took a shot from just inside the box, but Courtois parried it out. Maitland-Niles tried to get to the rebound, jumped to clear Moses then went down as if fouled. The match ref and video assistant referee (VAR) correctly ruled no penalty though – it was more a dive than anything else.
Christensen passed to Fabregas centrally, and he pinged it on into the box for Eden Hazard. Hazard almost made it to the pass, but Maitland-Niles covered him well and Ospina was able to claim the ball.
Azpilicueta made another perfect deep cross into the box – this time he found Fabregas free and unmarked, but the midfielder headed straight at the goalkeeper, and one of the game’s best chances was gone. Credit to Ospina though, his anticipation and positioning was probably just as good as Azpilicueta’s cross.
…But Not For Want Of Trying
Chelsea came out with even more intent in the second half. N’golo Kante definitely had the green light tonight – he struck a vicious volley off a corner, but the shot was blocked by one of his own players.
Kante put in another cross from the left, and Alonso glanced it towards the far post. Andreas Christensen snuck into the six-yard box to get to the cross, but Mustafi did just enough to put him off and his header went over the bar.
Rudiger intercepted to take possession in midfield, and Granit Xhaka slid in clumsily to bring him down, got booked for his trouble.
Alonso headed a corner on to Morata in the six-yard box, but the ball came off Morata’s shin and out for a goal kick. Shortly afterwards, Fabregas got the ball to Morata in space just outside the penalty area, and he powered a shot in – it was on target but Ospina saved again.
Morata got onto another long ball over the top, escaped Mustafi and got to the by-line. Ospina rushed out to meet him and Morata tried to shoot from an extreme angle, but the ball hit the post and went out. It was probably the right decision though, there were defenders rushing in to block a cross if he tried one.
Marcos Alonso took a free kick next to the left corner flag. He crossed into the box and Drinkwater headed out to Moses, who whipped in another shot… but this time Mustafi got in to block it. Christensen got a free header from a corner, but he was off target again.
Arsenal almost caught Chelsea on the break late on, but Iwobi appeared caught in two minds and ended up passing the ball straight to Courtois.
Fabregas set up Willian on the edge of the box and he took a shot, but Ospina caught and held it. Alonso also tried a shot from distance but it was straight at the keeper and Ospina saved again.
In the last few minutes, Fabregas almost managed to thread a cross to Michy Batshuayi from the right wing, but Xhaka intercepted and the ball hit the post instead.
Chelsea gave a much better account of themselves this game, than they did in the previous meeting between these two sides. They were unlucky not to score, but bottom line, they weren’t able to make home advantage work for them in terms of the score.
The second leg is scheduled for January 24th, and the reception at the Emirates will be pretty hostile. Hopefully Mr. Conte and his players will be ready.
Final Score Chelsea 0 – 0 Arsenal
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Independent
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