Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: Xhaka strikes to set up a date with Manchester City in the EFL Cup final

Benjamin Darvill in Editorial 24 Jan 2018

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The fans that arrived at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday evening will have been hoping for a very different game to the first-leg they witnessed at Stamford Bridge which ended 0-0. With so much at stake, neither side could afford to be too gung-ho early on, but, despite this, there were still two goals scored inside the opening 15 minutes. Eden Hazard continued his good scoring form to make it 1-0 before Nacho Monreal headed in in fortuitous fashion to level the scores.

The second-half was one that threatened to descend into a game of incredibly poor quality, but there was a moment of dogged-class as Alexandre Lacazette ran the channel for the umpteenth time which gave Granit Xhaka the chance to poke home. While Chelsea did see a lot more of the ball, they rarely threatened to break down an unusually organised Arsenal defence.

A frantic final 10 minutes ensued as neither team seemed able to keep the ball as passes were misplaced and touches ran away from players. However, it was Arsenal that held on to book their place in the final and send Chelsea crashing out at the penultimate hurdle.

Hazard hits Arsenal early

It was exactly the start Arsenal would have been desperate to avoid. After such a compact and organised performance in the first-leg, the Gunners had set themselves up to win the tie and take their place in the final. However, they were hit early on by the rejuvenated Chelsea who, despite the absent Alvaro Morata, have been in fine scoring form.

N’Golo Kante knocked the ball into Pedro who played a lovely slide pass between the defence and it allowed Eden Hazard to steal in and take a perfect touch before rolling the ball past the onrushing David Ospina. It was no more than the Blues deserved as they had dominated their hosts throughout the opening six minutes by keeping them penned back inside their own half.

Chelsea have been in good scoring form of late after hitting four past Brighton with Hazard in sublime form in the win. With his influence in the opening to the game massive, Arsenal would have been petrified that they would be on the end of a Belgian masterclass on Wednesday.

Monreal heads home via Alonso and Rudiger

What a response it was from Arsenal after going a goal down and it only took them a few minutes to get back on level terms. The home side dominated the ball from five minutes after the visitors had scored, and they were denied by Willy Caballero as he spread himself well to stop Jack Wilshere before he regained his footing quickly to palm the ball away from the onrushing Nacho Monreal.

However, Arsenal would not be stopped as they hit back quickly. Mesut Ozil sent an out-swinging corner to the edge of the box that was met by Monreal, and what ensued was incredible. The defender headed the ball at Marcos Alonso which deflected off the Spaniard before ricocheting off Antonio Rudiger and past Caballero. It was a ridiculous goal, but one the Gunners deserved as they responded superbly to going behind.

Chelsea will have felt frustrated to have given the lead up so quickly, and they will have felt even more aggrieved by the manner in which they conceded.

Xhaka strikes to give the hosts the lead

Lacazette had been working incredibly hard all evening with so little support but he got his reward. The Frenchman was running the channel and chasing a pass which saw him one-on-one with Andreas Christensen. After turning to face him up, he drove a ball in towards the penalty spot which Granit Xhaka poked home. Indeed, while Xhaka had the scoring touch, Rudiger once again got a very important flick on the ball to take it into the path of the scorer.

The finish was more akin to the player that had crossed the ball in, with Xhaka not known for his poaching. Arsene Wenger would not have cared how the goal came through, as long as it was scored eventually. Both sides had been guilty of allowing much of the second-half to pass them by, with offsides blighting the opening 15 minutes of the second period.

With some superb attacking talent on the pitch that was misfiring, it seemed likely that an unlikely source would have to be utilised, and how Arsenal did that as Xhaka was found in a position he would not have been in in the first-half but, with Arsenal needing a goal, Wenger made the gamble to allow more players to push forward, and it paid off massively.

Arsenal display the best and worst of themselves

Some outstanding work in a quick break for Arsenal almost saw the hosts extend their lead as they tore Chelsea apart. Lacazette picked up the ball as he played it to Xhaka who gave it to Jack Wilshere as the slick one-touch passing found its way to the arch-passer, Mesut Ozil. The German then played in a perfectly weighted ball to Alex Iwobi, hist hs effort was a half-hearted one as Caballero saved with his feet.

The fans in the stadium would have been wondering whether the forward would be made to rue his missed chance, and they were almost given an immediate answer as Chelsea broke in lightning speed as David Ospina saw a cross flash past his goal. The action in the space of one minute showcased the best and the worst of Arsenal.

Positively, they were incredibly slick and intelligent in their passing and attacking as they cut Chelsea open at will. Negatively, they were opened up far too easily by Chelsea after almost scoring a goal to kill off the game. Arsene Wenger will have been looking on perhaps knowing that while his side can be superb going forward, they are too often undone by their less than stellar defence.

Arsenal book their place in the final

Many had tipped Arsenal as their favourites to win the game due to the fact they were playing the tie at home, but this would have likely been shattered after Hazard scored early on. Chelsea looked good in the opening exchanges, but they faded badly as the match wore on, with the injury to Willian coinciding with their dip.

Arsenal on the other hand were forced to battle their way to a victory, and, to their credit, they deserved to win the game. Wenger will be pleased to have witnessed his side stay so strong at the back as Chelsea could find no way through. For Antonio Conte’s men, it was a failure that they would not have wanted to have even considered. Chelsea are still in the hunt for an FA Cup and Champions League triumph, but this failure will be one that Conte and his men simply must come back from, with a trophyless season something that the London side are rarely allowed to settle for.

Arsenal: Ospina 6 – Bellerin 6, Koscielny 7, Mustafi 7, Monreal 8 – Elneny 7 – Ozil 7.5, Wilshere 7, Xhaka 7, Iwobi 6 (Ramsey 6) – Lacazette 7 (Kolasinac 6).

Unused subs: Macey, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Nketiah.

Chelsea: Caballero 6.5 – Moses 6 (Zappacosta 6), Azpiicueta 6, Christensen 6, Rudiger 6, Alonso 6 – Kante 7, Bakayoko 6 – Willian 6 (Barkley 6), Pedro 6 (Batshuayi 5) – Hazard 6.

Unused subs: Eduardo, Drinkwater, Cahill, Luiz.

Referee: Michael Oliver


Benjamin Darvill

Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.



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