There is a post-Alexis SA?nchez liberation to Arsenal who showed the character, belief and a new-found togetherness to come from behind and defeat Chelsea to reach the Carabao Cup final.
Having cursed their misfortune throughout the draining SA?nchez saga, before he finally departed for Manchester United, Arsenal benefited from two huge slices of luck to win this semi-final.
Oh no, Antonio. Not just Antonio Conte a�� with the Chelsea head coach a study in frustration on the touchline a�� but his defender Antonio Rudiger who scored an own goal and then with another hapless intervention deflected the ball into the path of Granit Xhaka so the midfielder could poke home the winner on the hour. Both were pinball goals, the ball ricocheting around the Chelsea penalty area before finding the net.
For ArsA?ne Wenger this was the sweetest of victories, gained also through a smart tactical switch at half-time a�� when Chelsea were dominant a�� as he reverted to a three-man defence, pushing Mohamed Elneny back from midfield. Chelsea failed to cope.
That Xhaka and Elneny, often so maligned by the home fans, were two of Arsenal’s most impressive performers a�� along, again, with Jack Wilshere a�� will have been all the more satisfying for Wenger who has now set up a Wembley showpiece for a 10th time in under four years. And Wenger has won on all those previous nine visits.
T hat includes three FA Cup final triumphs, the latest only last May, when Chelsea were defeated a�� SA?nchez scored the first goal in that 2-1 win a�� and it is just one defeat in eight encounters for Arsenal against them. Given the dominance Chelsea used to enjoy over Wenger that is another satisfying recent turn of events for him.
The League Cup is a trophy that has eluded him, though, with Arsenal having last won it in 1993 and their most recent appearance in the final was the shambolic defeat by Birmingham City in 2011. Seven years later a�� a lucky seven Wenger will hope a�� Arsenal are back and although they will, of course, be underdogs against Manchester City on Feb 25 then they were also for the two legs of this semi-final against Chelsea.
C onte will lick his wounds. A League Cup will not define his time at Chelsea, or influence his future, but this was a bitter disappointment not least because he evidently feels his squad is stretched, especially up-front with Alvaro Morata injured and little faith in Michy Batshuayi. They are too dependent on Eden Hazard.
The Italian will have noted that transfer target Edin Dzeko scored for Roma while this tie was unfolding and he will also have to deal with the loss of Willian to injury. His departure proved crucial, in fact, as up until the Brazilian limped off in the first-half Chelsea were dominant and for his replacement Ross Barkley, making his first appearance since his A?15 million move from Everton, and playing his first game since last May, it was a tough start.
H aving thumped Crystal Palace, in the Premier League, in the first game since it was confirmed that Sanchez was definitely leaving, this was another impressive riposte even if Wenger admitted that his team appeared a�?scared to go for ita�? during the first-half.
That they rallied after conceding such a poor goal was to their credit, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, swapped for Sanchez, watching from the stands as he is ineligible for this competition having featured for United in their shock quarter-final defeat away to Bristol City.
Ross Barkley came on for his debut earlier than planned CREDIT: PA
M khitaryan will have shuddered when Arsenal were torn apart inside 10 minutes in a moment that, briefly, knocked the wind out of them. Pedro already had the ball in the net a�� a header correctly ruled out for offside a�� and Shkodran Mustafi had already lazily made a mistake, with a sloppy pass, before both players were involved and Hazard opening the scoring.
Antonio Conte looked deflated by the end of the game CREDIT: PA
N ‘Golo KantA� was allowed to stride forward and play a simple pass into Pedro and with Laurent Koscielny committed his defensive partner Mustafi simply did not track Hazard who easily stole through to collect Pedro’s delivery and calmly stroke his low shot into the net, off goalkeeper David Ospina. Little wonder Arsenal are keen to sign Jonny Evans.
It also stunned Arsenal into action with Chelsea’s reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero having to react quickly to deny first Wilshere, as he broke through, and then Nacho Monreal with the follow-up.
The goalkeeper was hurt. And then he was beaten. Arsenal won a corner, met by Monreal, such an unlikely goal threat, with his header ricocheting first off Marcos Alonso’s head and then Rudiger’s before flying past Caballero.
Rudiger was unfortunate there and was again with the decisive goal. This time, into the second-half, he tracked Alexandre Lacazette’s run, along with Andreas Christensen, and as the striker tried to cut the ball back it rebounded off Rudiger’s leg and squirted goalwards for Xhaka to pounce.
O nce ahead, oddly, Arsenal were rarely in trouble and they went closest to scoring again when Mesut Ozil broke and squared the ball to Alex Iwobi who elected to shoot first-time, allowing Caballero to block with his legs. Would Arsenal pay the price? There was pressure from Chelsea, Conte ran through his substitutions, but worryingly for them they did not carve out an opening.
a�?We are happy to take our fans to Wembley,a�? Wenger said, having had a pre-match dig at teams who are lauded despite not winning trophies. a�?We’ve been there a few times now,a�? he added, smiling.
Antonio Conte post-match
a�?Hmm yeh my thoughts. Disappointment for the final result, my players I must be pleased of all my players, we try to reach the final, I think we conceded two goals in uhhh unlucky. Two deflections, ita��s difficult to see during a game and ita��s a pity because we had a good run. Ita��s a pity for me, the players and our fans.
a�?We started very well, a good first half, also in second half I saw a lot of balance and then there is an injury, one of the best players ita��s not simple.a�?
Arsene Wenger post-match words
a�?Tactical reasons a little bit, we gave too much respect, distances, we were not in the right positions on the field and we corrected that in the second half. We knew we could do better.
a�?It shows ita��s linked with confidence and belief, once you score you know you can score.
a�?First half we watched them play a little bit and they strolled through our lines. Second half we didna��t give them much room and started to dominate.
a�?Uncertainty. We lost a great player but ita��s true when the team doesna��t know whata��s going on in the dressing room therea��s less clarity and we know we have to deal with that.
a�?We have some time to prepare for that but we are happy to bring our fans to Wembley again. We are happy to get there again.a�?
Shots on goal
T o be fair, Arsenal got really lucky with both of their goals. You make your own luck by working hard. Monreal attacked the cross with menace, Alonso tried to get his head out of the way, Rudiger didna��t know what was happening.
For Xhakaa��s goal, Lacazette was trying to pass back, the block accidentally turned the pass into a cross, Arsenal win the game.
I ta��s a really weird set up. Elneny was basically a third centre-back, a half-back or something similar. He dropped, Koscielny went wide right and that let Bellerin and Monreal nip forward. Wilshere just said a�?we got our formation wrong in the first halfa�?, Xhaka says a�?We changed the system in the second half. We didna��t start very well.a�?
SOURCE :The Nigerian Voice (sport)