Arsenal Vs Chelsea: Highlights and analysis – Intriguing draw

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: An injured Jack Wilshere of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final First Leg match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on January 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10: An injured Jack Wilshere of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final First Leg match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on January 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

Arsenal travelled to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea for the first leg of the semi-final of the Carabao Cup. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 0-0 draw.

A good draw. Arsene Wenger set his team up reminiscent of when Arsenal travelled across London, endeavouring to find a precious point. This time, points were not on offer. Instead, the opportunity of taking Chelsea back to the Emirates with a chance to get to Wembley and win a trophy. But that is exactly what the Gunners got. They rode their luck times; they defended stoutly at others. In the end, they got the draw they were looking for. That is very much a win in my eyes.

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The game started in a somewhat bitty fashion. Arsenal, very much like when they came to Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, had little interest in pressing their hosts when they were in possession. Wenger, acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of his side thanks to key absences due to injuries and, presumably, transfer speculation, clearly instructed his team to sit deep, soak up the pressure, play with an industrious and combative attitude, and then hope to utilise the pace of the front-three to exploit the space on the counter-attack.

It was a tactic that very nearly crumbled before it ever begun: Alvaro Morata stabbed a near-post effort into the side netting. But, after 20 minutes, it was one that the Arsenal team clearly understood and, up until that point, executed well. For however odd it was to see a Wenger team play with so much discipline, it was equally refreshing. This was different; this was nice.

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The first chance for Arsenal fell to Alexandre Lacazette. Jack Wilshere, who boasted a wonderful mastery and command of the midfield early on, clipped a delightful through pass for Lacazette to run onto. Having sprung the offside trap, he had time aplenty to choose how he would strike a bouncing ball towards the goal. His decision, unwisely, was to whack it as hard as he could. The ball, predictably, skied high and wide.

At this point, Chelsea grew into the game, particularly through the powerful surges of Victor Moses down the right flank. Twice he beat Ainsley Maitland-Niles; twice David Ospina was called into action at the near post with a smart save down low. He nearly spilled one into the path of Cesc Fabregas, but was sharp enough to leap back on top of the loose ball. The second careered off the post, needing a sliding Calum Chambers to clear.

Then the controversial moment of the first half happened. Given that this just the second game that is using VAR, it was obvious that, at some point, something would happen that requires VAR in one form or another. And so it came. After Alex Iwobi’s shot was smartly saved by Thibault Courtois, Ainsley Maitland-Niles skipped and toed the ball past Victor Moses, taking a kick to the bottom of his foot in the process. As he landed, he slipped and fell to the ground. Martin Atkinson, hand to ear, waited for the decision. No penalty. It seemed wrong. In the context of Chelsea’s penalty last week with Eden Hazard, it was wrong.

There was one more chance as the half ended. Cesar Azpilcueta, clipping the searching, leading deep cross to the back post that he has mastered this season, picked out the head of Cesc Fabregas. The midfielder, unmarked, running onto the ball, any position of the goal to pick out. Unfortunately for him, he picked out David Ospina, who slumped, gratefully, to his knees to catch. Chelsea certainly shaded the first half. They had the better of the chances. But this was a tight and intriguing game, one that was far from expected as the whistle was blown 45 minutes prior.

The second half started and Chelsea immediately dominated. An early series of corners led to Andreas Christensen heading over at the far post. Then Marcos Alonso flashed across the front post with a burst from a later corner, but was unable to get the desired purchase. Then Alvaro Morata forced a strong parry from David Ospina after Hector Bellerin lost the ball in his own half, a staple issue for Arsenal throughout the opening periods of the second 45 minutes, before prodding another shot into the side netting with Ospina rushing out to close him down after easing past a rash and naive Shkodran Mustafi.

In the meantime, Jack Wilshere hobbled odd with an ankle issue after coming off worse for wear when blocking Danny Drinkwater’s cross. There were reports that he could have pulled a hamstring. Either way, it is never nice to see a player of Wilshere’s injury record to require treatment and substitution. The Chelsea pressure, though, did not relent. Arsenal had no out-ball, not release, no way of relenting the waves and waves of Chelsea attacks. The goal seemed like a matter of time.

Victor Moses lashed towards the far post, his shot deflected over with a smart, leg-sprayed sliding block, before David Ospina was caught under the ball from the resultant corner, Andreas Christensen heading over in the process. Wenger did introduce Alexis Sanchez in the customary Alexandre Lacazette substitution, and he did offer a little spark here and there, willing to be direct in his dribbling, probing with sliding through passes and soft and subtle flicks and layoffs.

But as the game drew towards a close, the fire of the game cooled a little. Antonio Conte withdrew Eden Hazard, Chelsea retreated from their hell-bent pursuit of the goal, and both sides seemed happy to settle for the draw. There was one moment of late drama: Danny Welbeck tripped Cesc Fabregas in the penalty area. Martin Atkinson waited for a stoppage in play and listened. VAR was in action again. Like last time, no penalty. It could have very easily been given.

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Arsenal, though, were able to hang on. And Wenger, sitting in the press box thanks to his touchline ban, will be happy enough with that. The Emirates is where this team feels comfortable; The Emirates is where this tie will be decided.