It’s all to play for in the semi-final of the EFL Cup between Chelsea and Arsenal after a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge.
If last week’s Premier League encounter between these two London rivals was a showpiece for the neutrals, this match was probably not one a neutral supporter would want to relive.
Wednesday’s semi-final had a bit of a similar feel to the old matches between Chelsea and Liverpool under Rafa Benitez. From 2004 to 2009, Chelsea and Liverpool faced each other 24 times in all competitions with most of those matches being reduced to cagey affairs between two teams that knew each other quite well.
This Chelsea side and Arsenal’s side aren’t quite that well acquainted, but counting the Community Shield, this is the seventh time these two sides have met in competitive fixtures over the last two seasons.
It definitely showed, as both teams negated each other for much of the match, though Chelsea did have more shots on goal, 21 total shots to Arsenal’s 8.
Arsenal had the first real chance of the match, though, when Jack Wilshere’s floated pass caught Chelsea’s back line napping and sent Alexandre Lacazette racing clear on goal. But in a moment that perhaps summed up the minutes to follow, Lacazette took his shot on the half volley and slashed it high and wide in the Matthew Harding Stand.
Chelsea started to gain a bit of control of the match, and Victor Moses tested David Ospina with a shot from the right-hand channel that Ospina fumbled but controlled on the second attempt with Alvaro Morata sniffing around for the rebound.
Moses again threatened the Arsenal goal when he skipped by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and lashed a low shot that ricocheted off the base of the post with Chelsea players again lurking for the rebound.
VAR was available for the second time in English competitions, and referee Martin Atkinson called for a review when Calum Chambers shoved Cesar Azpilicueta to the floor as they were jockeying for position on an Arsenal corner. Nothing came of it.
VAR was called into action again when Maitland-Niles collected a loose ball and skipped over Victor Moses’ outstretched leg before stumbling to the turf. No penalty was awarded by referee Atkinson, and VAR confirmed that it was the correct decision.
But Chelsea should have had the lead before the break when Azpilicueta lofted in one of his trademark crosses from deep on the right, but instead of finding the head of Morata, he found the head of Cesc Fabregas who tamely headed the ball to Ospina, despite an unmarked Antonio Rudiger screaming for the header across goal.
Just after the restart, Andreas Christensen could have given Chelsea the lead when Marcos Alonso’s flicked header from a corner found Christensen free at the far post, but Christensen got his timing all wrong and conspired to head the ball over from six yards out.
Chelsea dominated the ball without finding a way through the Arsenal defence, but Christensen had a chance to make amends for his earlier missed header when he found himself unmarked and Ospina out of his goal. But the Danish defender could only nod the ball wide.
Alex Iwobi had a chance to give Arsenal the lead when he caught Alonso in possession on the halfway line and then skipped past a challenge from Fabregas to race clear on the counter attack. With passing options on the right and the left, Iwobi wasn’t decisive and could only lightly toe poke the ball to Thibault Courtois.
Eden Hazard had a moment of indecision of his own when a delightful flick from Morata set him free down the left side. Hazard raced through on goal and attempted a shot from a tight angle that Ospina saved instead of squaring to Willian who was waiting in the centre of the goal.
One final moment of excitement came from another VAR decision when Danny Welbeck barged into Fabregas inside the area. Referee Atkinson adjudged it to be a fair challenge, and VAR proved him to be correct, as Welbeck got a foot on the ball before Fabregas went over.
Arsenal will be the happier side, earning a draw away from home ahead of the second leg, but Chelsea might look back and rue a missed opportunity, especially with Arsenal still missing key players to injury.