By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Drawing The Curtains
Wednesday 24th January, Emirates Stadium – Final game in this season’s Chelsea-Arsenal er… Quintology? Pentalogy? Quintuple? Pentad? Series of five distasteful encounters? Anyway it was going to be over after tonight’s Carabao Cup semi-final, one way or another.
Arsenal and Chelsea had played out four consecutive draws so far, although the Gunners did eventually get the win on penalties in the first meeting, in the Community Shield. In their most recent game, Chelsea hadn’t done enough with home advantage and an injury-free squad – the Carabao Cup first leg had ended up goalless.
Tonight, they had to win away from home with both their top scorer and their most creative midfielder out injured. Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) were both unavailable. Thibaut Courtois was still recovering from an ankle problem, so Willy Caballero started in his place.
Andreas Christensen returned from a head injury, but despite a promising performance from Michy Batshuayi at Brighton during the weekend, Antonio Conte opted to play Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro as the three attackers at the Emirates.
Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck were out injured for Arsenal, but Aaron Ramsey and Nacho Monreal returned to the squad for this game. New signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan had already played for Manchester United in the Carabao Cup this season, and was not eligible to participate.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Ospina 6.5, Bellerin 7, Koscielny 7, Mustafi 7, Monreal 8, Wilshere 7, El Neny 6.5, Xhaka 7.5, Iwobi 7 (Ramsey 5.5), Ozil 7, Lacazette 7.5 (Kolasinac 5.5)
Subs Macey, Chambers, Kolasinac, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Ramsey
Caballero 7.5, Moses 6 (Zappacosta 5), Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 6, Rudiger 5.5, Alonso 5.5, Kante 6.5, Bakayoko 5.5, Willian 6.5 (Barkley 5.5), Pedro 7.5 (Batshuayi 5), Hazard 8
Subs Eduardo, Cahill, Luiz, Zappacosta, Drinkwater, Barkley, Batshuayi
Both Chelsea and Arsenal scored early in their weekend games against Brighton and Crystal Palace, and they continued that form today with a couple of early goals.
Tiemoue Bakayoko absolutely skied a shot after Marcos Alonso had done well to intercept a pass from Alex Iwobi on the edge of the penalty area.
And then seven minutes in, some pretty loose Arsenal marking allowed N’golo Kante to find Pedro just outside the D. Pedro put Hazard in behind Mustafi and Koscielny with a through pass, and Chelsea’s star player placed the ball left of Ospina for an easy finish 1 – 0.
Oh No Antonio!
Arsenal came forward seeking a quick equalizer, and Caballero made a brilliant double save to deny Wilshere and then Monreal in succession.
Chelsea weren’t able to hold on for long – within five minutes of the first goal, Arsenal levelled the scores. It was a lucky goal in some respects – Mesut Ozil took a corner, and the Chelsea defenders lost track of Nacho Monreal. His header ricocheted off Marcos Alonso, Antonio Rudiger and in goal 1 – 1.
Pedro played a diagonal ball in from the left wing, and Hazard let it run through to Willian. Monreal had him covered though, and applied enough pressure that Willian put his shot well wide.
Christensen and Azpilicueta had to combine to get a long ball over the top away from Alexander Lacazette and out of danger.
Willian was taken off half an hour into the game with a hamstring injury, and Ross Barkley made his Chelsea debut as his replacement.
Granit Xhaka tried to bend a free kick from the right wing direct into goal, but it went off the wall and out for a corner.
Hazard, Moses and Alonso tried to create with a few crosses from both wings, but the Arsenal defenders were up for it now – no way through.
Chelsea had a couple of fast break opportunities after half time, but on the first Monreal intercepted the final pass, and on the second, Hazard tripped and fell when through on goal.
Ozil passed out to the wing on an Arsenal counter, and Iwobi put a cross into the box. Azpilicueta managed to intercept it, but almost knocked the ball into his own net in the process.
Right on the hour mark, Lacazette dribbled past Christensen right of the goal and tried to cross the ball in. Luck was with the Arsenal players again: the cross would have gone wide, but it was deflected off Rudiger again to Granit Xhaka – he only had to redirect the ball to put it past Caballero and in the net 2 – 1.
Conte sent Batshuayi on five minutes after Xhaka’s goal, but Arsenal’s defence stood firm, while some of Chelsea’s players were visibly tiring. Pedro attempted to chip the ball over the keeper from the edge of the area, but Ospina saved again.
Iwobi had a great chance on the counter to make it three, but Caballero made another good save to deny him.
It would be fair to say that both Arsenal’s goals were lucky – Rudiger wasn’t really to blame, he didn’t even see the ball either time it hit him.
But it would also be fair to say that Chelsea’s defensive lapses beforehand created the opportunities for Arsenal to get lucky. And Willian was a major loss – maybe if he’d not been injured the game might have turned out differently.
Final result of the Chelsea-Arsenal series this season though: Arsenal definite winners with two big wins (one on penalties) and three draws from five games.
Final Score Arsenal 2 – 1 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: The Guardian
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