Thursday, 25 January 2018

We’re The Famous Arsenal And We’re Going To Wembley

Going into last night’s second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final at home to Chelsea I didn’t hold out too much hope of Arsenal advancing to the final. The first leg saw a very good defensive performance from Arsenal and they were well worth the 0-0 so the advantage should have been with them as they were at home. My worry was our current form and our inability to defend when good teams (or any team) attack us.

Arsene Wenger went with the same team (except for David Ospina) and formation that strolled to a 4-1 win at home to Palace on Saturday. New boy Henrikh Mkhitaryan was ineligible and there weren’t too many other options due to injuries and lack of genuine depth in the squad. It wasn’t going to be an easy task, but Chelsea hadn’t been at their best recently and they had their injury problems too.

The game didn’t start well for Arsenal with Chelsea dominating and it was no surprise when they took the lead when Eden Hazard slipped a shot past Ospina after being played through. There were only seven minutes gone, but Arsenal were all at sea in defence and midfield while the ball just could not stick when it went forward. The signs were ominous for Arsenal and I couldn’t see a way back into the game for them at that stage.

Somehow or other they were level only five minutes later when Nacho Monreal got his head to a corner and it took two deflections before nestling in the back of the net. Chelsea continued to dominate after that goal without ever really cutting Arsenal open, but we showed very little in attack for the rest of the first half. We needed a shake up at half time to try to go on and win and that’s just what we got.

The manager switched from a back four to three central defenders in the main with Mohamed Elneny dropping back between Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi. The new formation seemed to work as Arsenal took more control of the game without actually totally dominating proceedings and it only took 15 minutes for them to take the lead. Again the goal had a touch of fortune about it, but with the luck we have had recently it was about time something went in our favour.

Alexandre Lacazette did very well to hold the ball up on the right and he tried to get it into the box, but it took a deflection off Antonio Rudiger and Granit Xhaka was on hand to prod home. It was tough on Rudiger who was also credited with Arsenal’s first goal, but Arsenal just about deserved it at that stage. I waited for them to drop back and defend in depth, but for once they stayed on the front foot and continued to press forward. They didn’t create an awful lot until Alex Iwobi missed a glorious chance with about 10 minutes to go after a great Arsenal move and a sumptuous ball from Mesut Ozil.

Eventually they dropped deeper as the clock ticked down, but Chelsea still couldn’t open up a stubborn defence. Every player gave his all and they defended very well as a team in that second half. When the final whistle went I was pretty happy to beat Chelsea despite the prospect of playing a very good City team in the final next month.

I could have a go at a few players who really didn’t perform well despite trying hard, but maybe that’s something for another day. I was particularly impressed with Monreal who was an inspiration to those around him and I have to say I’m beginning to like Mustafi more with each game. He loves to win the ball and tries to do so at every opportunity, but he does get caught out occasionally which can be fatal for the team. 

Elsewhere both Jack Wilshere and Ozil were very impressive and they seem to be working better with each other with each passing game. Lacazette worked very hard, but he’s still struggling with his confidence and we’re just not making enough chances for him either. He wasn’t helped by a linesman who continually called him offside despite replays showing he was onside. 

There’s just over four weeks to go to the final and it will be our fourth Wembley final in five seasons. We won three FA Cups in that time, but we have never won this competition under Wenger and I’m sure it’s a trophy he would like to get his hands on. In the great scheme of things it’s not the biggest competition to win, but winning it would still make our season an awful lot better. 

For the moment though we can bask in the glory of beating Chelsea and the knowledge that our players have the bones of a week off playing before we go to Swansea next Tuesday night. Nothing other than three points will do in that game and who knows we might just have a shiny new striker to show off on the night too. Meanwhile we can enjoy the rest while the teams we are trying to catch have to play in the FA Cup this weekend. Of course I’d prefer to be playing in the cup too, but that ship has sailed and we can only make the best off the situation as it is.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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