In my preview yesterday I didn't hold out much hope of Arsenal repeating their 0-0 Premier League result at Chelsea in the Carabao Cup last night. With a host of injuries to deal with which included three first choice defenders as well as Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil I just couldn't see how we could contain a team we were unable to contain in the league last week with a much stronger team. Arsene Wenger also chose to leave star man Alexis Sanchez on the bench which left us with very little creativity in the team as he opted for a containment policy.
Thankfully I was completely wrong as we rarely looked under too much pressure and coped with anything they had to throw at us with relative ease compared to last week. There were a few scary moments of course, but there was never a time when they completely opened us up and I thought a goal was inevitable. The team played and defended as a team and the mistakes in defence and in front of the defence were kept to an absolute minimum.
The one time I can remember us losing the ball in front of the defence was from a poor Jack Wilshere pass and Granit Xhaka stepped up to take a yellow card for the team to stop the Chelsea attack. I have my issues with Xhaka and I don't think he has performed as well as he should have, but I'm not sure we play a game which suits his particular skill set either. Wilshere was impressive again, but the injury he picked up will rule him out of Sunday's trip to Bournemouth and our injury problems are really mounting at the moment.
Wilshere has gradually improved with each game since his enforced inclusion in the team due to Ramsey's injury. I was worried with the amount of games he had to play over the festive period because of his injury record, but his injury last night was not fatigue related as he sprained his ankle blocking a pass. It will probably mean he's only out in the short term, but I don't expect him to be rushed back considering his problems in the past.
His injury could well open a door for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to play in his preferred position with Francis Coquelin on his way out of the club unless Ramsey can recover by Sunday. If AMN does switch to the centre of midfield we will have to come up with a left back which would mean either Nacho Monreal or Sead Kolasinac would have to recover from injury. AMN might well be the answer to our central midfield issues in the long term, but he still has a lot to learn and he could probably do with a loan spell in that position for another club.
Alexis did come on with 25 minutes to go for Alexandre Lacazette who it appears was ill before the game and nearly didn't make the team at all. Hopefully he will recover in time for Sunday too because again our attacking options are limited with Olivier Giroud still injured. Lacazette needs a goal from somewhere and his current lack of confidence in front of goal was highlighted when a blazed a first time shot high and wide from a good position last night.
If last night taught us anything it's maybe that Per Mertesacker has possibly played for the last time and both Calum Chambers and Rob Holding need to play ahead of him when they are fit. They are better suited to playing as part of a three man central defence for the moment at least and fitted well with Shkodran Mustafi last night for the most part. I don't think we exactly parked the bus, but we made things hard for Chelsea and their star players were kept almost entirely out of the game. The performances of both Eden Hazard and Alvora Morata certainly helped our cause last night and I can only imagine the criticism that would have been levelled at Ozil if he had played as badly as either of them.
Ozil missed out last night again with what seems like a recurring knee injury and it looks to me like the manager might well be picking and choosing his games. He has missed out on some tough away trips recently and been fit to play at home a few days later and maybe he didn't play last night because the game plan wasn't suited to him. If that's the case it's not a bad thing to pick a team with a specific purpose and the manager can take the plaudits today, but would have come in for severe criticism if it had gone the other way.
The injured players will at least have an opportunity to recover a little now with a week between games after we play at Bournemouth on Sunday. We follow that with a home game against Palace a week later before the return game against Chelsea. If the time scales we have been given for most of the injured players are to be believed we should hopefully see most of them back in the squad in the six days between those two league games.
I'm not sure what sort of team we will be able to put out on Sunday though and considering our away form we need to be very concerned about that game. Nothing short of a win will do as we have already lost too much ground on the top four, but we have the chance to close the gap with Liverpool playing at home to City after our game. From our point of view we want a City win, but somebody has to beat City and the sooner the better as they close in our the record of our "Invincibles" so I'm not really sure what I want from the game.
Finally for today we were treated to our first taste of VAR last night and when it was used it backed up the referees decisions both times. The penalty claim by Chelsea in the second half was definitely not a penalty, but I'm not so sure about the penalty claim by AMN in the first half. He stumbled after vaulting a challenge from Victor Moses and by the letter of the law I think that constitutes a penalty as the challenge caused him to fall regardless of contact. It was certainly as much of a penalty as the one Hazard got against us last week, but I don't think there was any contact with AMN and I'm sure that's why it wasn't given. I may be wrong about the rules, but I don't think so, but if I'm not then those viewing the footage were a little confused by them. The only explanation I can think of is that they thought AMN could keep his feet and that's why they didn't give it or they just don't have a clue which is quite possibly a far better explanation.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.