Granit Xhaka scored a close-range second half winner as Arsenal beat Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday night. The Gunners will play in their first League Cup final since 2011.
Xhaka’s poacher-esque finish completed the comeback for the hosts after an Antonio Rudiger own goal had made the score level in the 12th minute. Eden Hazard had opened the scoring with a typically cool finish five minutes earlier.
Chelsea took control of the opening five minutes at a bellowing Emirates. All the pressure was through the Blues’ dynamic attacking trio of Hazard, Willian and Pedro, with the latter having a goal disallowed early on. A clear-cut decision, but an early warning for the hosting Gunners.
Seconds later, Chelsea took the lead. N’golo Kante played a sharp pass into Pedro, and a slid ball from the Spaniard put Hazard through on goal. The Belgian opened his body to put it past Petr Cech and the Blues took a 1-0 lead.
A manic start led to a quick Arsenal equaliser. Arsenal’s man of the moment, Nacho Monreal, was free from a corner. His header then deflected off Marcos Alonso and Rudiger and looped past Willy Caballero. Yes, it was as ridiculous as it sounds.
The commitment to humour continued. Willian mishit a training ground corner routine to set up an Arsenal counter-attack, while Caballero was always on the cusp of a moment of insanity.
Each long ball over Chelsea’s defence was causing problems. The high line from the visitors was doing Andreas Christensen no favours as he tried to deal with Alexandre Lacazette.
Chelsea built pressure against an Arsenal defence that struggled to cope with the interchange of the front three. A Hazard rabona cross was a highlight, although it dropped into open space in the box.
Willian suffered an injury midway through the first half. Frustrating for the irritable Antonio Conte, but an opportunity for Chelsea fans to see Ross Barkley make his debut.
The remainder of the first half was a bit underwhelming. Comedy was at a minimum, and the loss of Willian saw Chelsea’s threat lessen. Arsenal’s defence was slightly less insane as the half aged.
The ball spent more time at the feet of blue shirts than red ones. The 56% possession the visitors had when the half-time whistle went perhaps did not do their territorial dominance justice, but Chelsea still had not created much. Arsenal put in a dire first half display, yet they remained in the game at 1-1.
A change of shape from Arsenal saw the Blues pinned in their own third at the start of the second half. Hazard was Chelsea’s main threat again, and the Belgian was put through on goal by Tiemoue Bakayoko in the 52nd minute, but tripped over his own feet.
In the 60th minute, Arsenal put themselves 2-1 up. Lacazette held the ball up down the inside-right channel, and turned inside Chelsea’s box. His attempted cutback was deflected – again off Rudiger – just in front of Granit Xhaka, who stabbed the ball past Caballero.
Conte responded by replacing Pedro with the out-of-favour Michy Batshuayi in the 65th minute. Six minutes later, Victor Moses – who had been lucky to escape with just a booking for a poor tackle earlier – was brought off for Davide Zappacosta.
Arsenal nearly sealed the win in the 75th minute when Mesut Ozil put Alex Iwobi through. The Nigerian hit a low shot well within reach of Caballero, who got a foot to it to keep the ball out, and kept Chelsea in the game.
In the 84th minute, Arsene Wenger took off Iwobi and Lacazette for Aaron Ramsey and Sead Kolasinac as he looked to sure up his defence. Chelsea were short of ideas in the second half, and were desperately missing Cesc Fabregas.
The best late opportunity came from a free-kick 30 yards from goal. Alonso ballooned the ball way over the bar. The eventual 2-1 victory for the home side was as much down to Chelsea’s failure to create in the first half as their poor display in the second 45.
Arsenal booked a February 25th Wembley date with Manchester City for the Carabao Cup final, while Chelsea’s attention now turns to their FA Cup Fourth Round clash with Newcastle at Stamford Bridge this Sunday.