After drawing 0-0 with Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal, Arsenal put two past the Blues at the Emirates to earn a trip to Wembley for the final.
Both teams looked lively enough at the start of the match, but Arsenal had a few sloppy giveaways that let Chelsea pin them back deep in their own half of the pitch. In just the fifth minute Pedro put a header into the back of the net, and although he had been offside and it was immediately disallowed, Chelsea kept the pressure on and scored their first two minutes later. Pedro threaded a pass to Eden Hazard, catching the defense a few steps too far up the pitch, and Hazard waited for Ospina to get off his line before shooting it past him.
Chelsea’s goal seemed to be a wake-up call for Arsenal, and they got after it immediately when play restarted. After chasing Chelsea back into their own half, Mesut Özil’s 12th-minute corner kick found a completely open Nacho Monreal. Monreal’s header was on target, and it was a powerful one, bouncing off the heads of Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rüdiger in a fraction of a second and then arcing over goalkeeper Willy Caballero and into the net. It was eventually recorded as a Rüdiger own goal.
Monreal's header deflects off two Chelsea players before finding the back of the net. 1-1 pic.twitter.com/tv4fRQuvgm— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) January 24, 2018
That angle doesn’t do the human pinball game justice, so here’s another one:
Alternate angle of Monreal's equaliser pic.twitter.com/hgXHNMuXJl— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) January 24, 2018
Arsenal defended better after their equalizer than they had during the opening minutes of the game, but by the midpoint of the first half neither team looked quite as sharp, mostly taking turns passing it around the middle portion of the pitch without posing much of a threat. In the 28th minute, Chelsea lost one of their better players—Willian limped off with an injury and was replaced by new signing Ross Barkley. The forced change limited Chelsea even further, and Arsenal were less porous at the back than they have been recently—having Mohamed Elneny just in front of the back four to fill in the gaps gave the centerbacks extra cover and allowed Granit Xhaka to get a little farther up the pitch.
The first half ended tied at 1, and the second started with an Eden Hazard faceplant. Hazard had broken away in the 53rd minute and was dribbling straight at David Ospina, but with Gunners closing in, he tripped over his own feet and landed face first on the grass. It was neither a rough challenge nor a dive, just a straight fall.
Except for Hazard’s early foray into the Gunners’ territory, Arsenal had the bulk of possession and kept it in Chelsea’s half, and in the 60th minute they got their second. Alexandre Lacazette’s pass attempt took a hard deflection off of Rüdiger, and Xhaka, after making a Ramsey-esque trot in behind the defenders, was just close enough to it to toe-poke it home.
Xhaka puts Arsenal in front against Chelsea, 2-1 pic.twitter.com/gNUOPlYBrO— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) January 24, 2018
After taking the lead, Arsenal kept the pressure on, and for their opponents, the cracks were starting to show. Victor Moses earned himself a yellow card for an ugly tackle on Alex Iwobi, and we were all reminded that VAR was in use for this game as play was stopped briefly to determine how bad the hit had been (the card stayed yellow). Chelsea manager Antonio Conte brought on Michy Batshuayi for Pedro in the 65th minute and then Davide Zappacosta for Moses in the 72nd, but neither made much of an impact, and Arsenal continued their good play. The Gunners nearly scored a third with fifteen minutes to go, but Iwobi’s shot needed a little more pace, and Caballero made a relatively comfortable save.
With ten minutes to go, Arsenal finally backed off a little, and with Sead Kolasinac coming on for Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey for Iwobi, they sat back and focused on defending. Sitting back has backfired on them in the past, but the game had gotten a bit chippy and the back line stayed solid—Chelsea didn’t have any chances as good as their earlier ones. Their last corner in the final minute of stoppage time yielded nothing, and Arsenal’s two goals proved enough to put them through to the final.
Arsenal booked themselves a trip to Wembley next month to play Manchester City in the cup final, and with this win coming after their beating Crystal Palace 4-1, they should get some momentum for their league campaign as well. Now that the Alexis transfer hoopla is finally over, the team can settle down and focus on potential silverware in this cup and in the Europa League. If they beat City in the final, then they will win their first League Cup, and Arsene Wenger will complete his collection of English trophies.
The final is on February 25th, and the Gunners’ next match is a league game against Swansea next Tuesday.