Wenger in upbeat mood after Gunners hold Chelsea
11 January, 2018 — By By Paul Cowling
Carabao Cup Semi-Final 1st leg
CHELSEA 0, ARSENAL 0
IT’s slight advantage Arsenal, after the Gunners ground out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.
It was a scrappy, cagey, tactical match of little quality, which Chelsea dominated and where Arsenal held firm.
Arsene Wenger was in an upbeat mood after the match, as he reflected on his side’s dogged performance.
“We showed solidarity and spirit, and it’s all good, so I am positive,” he said.
Wenger, who continued his touchline ban, chose to sit directly behind the players’ tunnel in the press area.
Talking about his unusual viewing platform, Wenger said he “couldn’t complain”.
“It was frustrating, but the position was interesting and close to the bench,” he added.
Wenger made six changes from the side that was dumped out of the FA Cup at the weekend. With a gathering glut of first-team injuries, it was just about the strongest side he could have fielded.
Alex Iwobi retained his place in a front three, which also included Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck. There were places on the Arsenal bench for Alexis Sanchez, and newly signed Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos.
Lacazette had the game’s first clear chance in the 22nd minute, but he blasted hopelessly into the home seats behind Thibaut Courtois’s goal.
The Frenchman’s miss was the cue for the game to slowly open up, with David Ospina fumbling two shots from Victor Moses in quick succession.
The last kick of a poor first half saw former Gunners favourite Cesc Fabregas head tamely at Ospina.
“Same old Wilshere, always injured,” chanted the home fans cruelly, as the England midfielder went down clutching his ankle, after blocking another weak Chelsea effort.
Arsenal’s captain for the night was soon replaced by Mohamed Elneny, in the 57th minute.
“He (Jack) has a sprained ankle. It’s not too bad. He went to block the shot, but it was his ‘good ankle’,” Wenger later joked.
Sanchez came on for the disappointing Lacazette on 65 minutes. It was the eighth game without a goal for the French forward, who toiled with little effect and who saw 63 per cent of his passes go astray.
With Sanchez trying to pepper up Arsenal’s drab attacking options, it was at the back that the Gunners excelled, with the back line standing firm as Chelsea piled on the pressure.
There was still no breakthrough as the game entered the final 15 minutes.
Substitute Willian flashed a shot at Ospina, who obliged with a camera-friendly save, while Rob Holding got down well to block an Eden Hazard shot, after the Belgian had rampaged down the left side of the pitch.
There was drama of sorts with a minute to go, when Welbeck looked to have brought down Fabregas. Referee Martin Atkinson waved play on, but with the ball out of play and remonstrations from Chelsea coach Antonio Conte, he consulted the VAR (Video Assistant Referee). The system was being used in England for only the second time. But still there was no penalty, and the game was heading for 0-0.
Five minutes went up on the board for injury time, but Chelsea couldn’t find a way through. It means it’s all to play for in two weeks’ time at the Emirates, in what promises to be an exciting “winner takes all” tie.
“We have a job to do at home,” admitted Wenger.
CHELSEA: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Drinkwater (Willian 68), Alonso; Hazard (Bakayoko 83), Morata (Batshuayi 87)
Subs not used: Eduardo, D Luiz, Zappacosta, Pedro
ARSENAL: Ospina; Chambers, Mustafi, Holding; Wilshere (Elneny 57), Xhaka; Bellerin, Maitland-Niles; Iwobi, Welbeck, Lacazette (Sanchez 65)
Subs not used: Macey, Mavropanos, Mertesacker, Nelson, Walcott