One week on from a thrilling encounter at the Emirates, and Chelsea and Arsenal met once again in the first leg of this seasons EFL Cup semi final. Having used a mixture of development and fringe players throughout the competition, Antonio Conte chose to put out a strong line-up now that Chelsea were in the mix for some silverware.
For Arsenal there was no Mesut Ozil or Petr Cech and Alexis Sanchez began the game on the bench. An additional interest for those watching was the fact that VAR (Video Assistant Referee) was being used for the first time by either club.
? Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 10, 2018
With Arsene Wenger taking his place in the press box, Arsenal got the game underway. After each team had spread the ball around their respective teammates, the first opportunity predictably fell to Alvaro Morata, having been played through, predictably, by Eden Hazard. The Spaniard was only able to fire into the side netting from a tight angle.
It was a fairly evenly matched first quarter of the game, with both sides sharing possession and showing good attacking intent, without troubling the keepers. As ever Eden Hazard appeared to have the ‘hex` over an Arsenal side, who`s only way of stopping him, like so many, was to foul him.
Arsenal`s first real chance came mid-way through the half when a well timed run by Alexandre Lacazette gave a clear shot on goal, which he sliced into the Matthew Harding. Shortly after came Chelsea`s best chance when Victor Moses cut inside Ainsley Maitland-Niles, fired off his shot, which Ospina briefly spilled with Morata in close attendance.
With Moses once again getting the better of the Arsenal youngster, he fired another low shot to Ospina near post that he just managed to keep out with it`s help, before the ball was cleared.
VAR was bought into the use when Moses appeared to clip Maitland-Niles as he charged into the box, the on-field referee Martin Atkinson didn`t call a penalty and the off-field video assistant didn`t overturn it.
As the half wore on, it was Chelsea who had the upper hand and looked the likelier to score. A deft Cesar Azpilicueta chip into the box found Cesc Fabregas, who was not able to direct his header across Opsina and the keeper scooped the ball up. Had that been Morata instead of Fab, that would have been another assist and goal for the league`s deadliest partnership.
Half time came and like the league game one week ago, it was 0-0. Ross Barkley was introduced to the Stamford Bridge faithful during the break.
There were no changes of personnel as the half began. Chelsea came out of the blocks quick and had a corner a minute after the restart, the result of which saw N`golo Kante crack a goalbound shot into Andreas Christensen, as the young Dane tried to jump over it. Seconds later, a Kante cross found Christensen stretching again as he directed a header over.
It was a good period of the game for Chelsea as they kept the Gunners penned in their own half. A bit like the league game earlier in the season at the Bridge, Arsenal were putting up a good backs to the wall performance.
Morata was fashioning chances but not taking them. Could he make one of those chances stick. It would be good to take an advantage of some sort to the Emirates.
Andreas Christensen had another chance to score, when he had a clear sight of goal but missed the target with his header. Antonio Conte made his first change on 67 minutes, with Willian replacing Danny Drinkwater. The ex-Leicester man hadn`t made a great impact on the game and when fit, Conte may well have a better option in Barkley.
With 75 minutes on the clock, that man Willian, had a sighter from distance on goal, which Ospina covered. Another long range effort from Alonso also ended in the keepers arms. There was a lot of huff and puff, but the house wasn`t coming down.
With 7 minutes remaining, Antonio Conte pulled off one of his weirdest substitutions of his time at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea looked to get something from the game. He hooked Hazard, again, and replaced him with Tiemoue Bakayoko. Would it pay off for him?
Two minutes later and Morata, who once again, lacked confidence in the attacking third, found himself subbed off for Michy Batshuayi.
VAR had its first proper run out with two minutes remaining, when Cesc Fabregas was caught in the box and he went over, Atkinson didn`t give a penalty and eventually, it was flagged up for a discussion. The outcome of which was no foul.
For all their efforts, the game ended 0-0 and the two teams will contest the second leg in two weeks time at the Emirates.