Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: Deep joy as Wembley beckons after Gunners prove London is red
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Arsenal are through to Wembley after beating Chelsea 2-1 in the second leg of the Carbao Cup semi final.
An early goal from Eden Hazard put Antonio Conte’s side ahead on seven minutes but it only took five minutes for the Gunners to draw level through an own goal by Michael Rudiger.
A tense second half then saw Granit Xhaka put the home side 2-1 ahead on the hour mark and Arsene Wenger’s men held on for a famous victory.
The fact the Gunners fielded a strong side against the visitors from Stamford Bridge was indicative of Arsene Wenger wanting to lift the only domestic trophy he has failed to land.
Willy Caballero started for Chelsea after first choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois pulled out earlier in the day, with former Gunners Cesc Fabregas also ruled out.
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Despite the loss of Alexis Sanchez – and the sudden disappearance of Atom and Humber inside the Emirates – Mesut Ozil started, even if new signing Henrik Mkhitaryan was cup tied.
While it may be a delicious thought to pair the two together this tense London derby was not the occasion it would happen.
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The atmosphere didn’t suffer for it. While it may not have been comparable with anything Highbury had to offer, the Emirates under lights in an important game can still generate a substantial amount of noise.
However, those of a certain vintage still recall the magnificent evening on February 24, 1988 when Everton were put to the sword in the Littlewoods Cup semi-final second leg in one of the greatest atmospheres that grand old ground ever produced, and shake their heads knowingly when sound levels at Arsenal’s ‘new’ ground are mentioned.
There was more shaking of Gunners heads on seven minutes after Eden Hazard put the Blues ahead with a left-footed finish after Pedro played him in following a clever dummy.
Thoughts immediately reverted to a long list of early Arsenal capitulations in big games which allowed their opponents to win the match before it had even started in earnest – most notably the two goals in the opening eight minutes against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2008.
For those with shorter memories you only had to cast your mind back to November and those two early United goals, which despite a valiant response from Wenger’s team, saw the visitors leave with a victory.
Yet the home support only had to wait five minutes before achieving parity. Ozil crossed into the box from the right and Nacho Monreal headed forcefully goalwards.
There followed a spot of ping pong in the area as the ball ricocheted off two Chelsea defenders including Antonio Rudiger as the ball wrongfooted Caballero, ending up in the net.
To say there was an eruption of noise would be to underplay it. The joy at the equaliser felt like a release, as if all the frustrations of the season exploded in one stirring moment. It was fair to say the majority of the fans, bar the 5,000 travelling support of course, really wanted to put one over their West London rivals.
There was also joy in sharing Monreal’s delight in helping the ball into the net, not least because it was the fourth time he has contributed to a goal in his last 46 minutes of football.
There was also an acknowledgement the unsung Spainiard is only now receiving his due as consistency personified.
With a goal and an assist in Saturday’s rout 4-1 rout of Crystal Palace topping up his header which led to ping pong in the Chelsea box before Arsenal’s first goal, he showed again he is well on the way to becoming a deserved Gunners icon.
The night may have been a cold one in North London but the temperatures rose on the pitch with bookings for Wilshere, Monreal, Hazard and Victor Moses – with the latter lucky to stay on the pitch after a two footed challenge early in the second half.
One could argue Hazard was fortunate too, after he fell to the ground attempting to implicate the nearby Mustafi who had been marshalling him following the interval. It may have been harsh to call him a diving cheat but with his track record at the Emirates, his previous form preceded him.
A look in real time was enough but afterwards he was dammed as much by his look behind to ascertain where his man was – not to understand his opponents positioning – but to assess how he could draw him into a foul. Thankfully referee Michael Oliver was not fooled by the audacious attempt.
You could argue karma has a way of levelling up such misdemeanours – his dive to win a penalty in the 2-2 draw in the league in early January for starters – and Arsenal benefitted from a spot of fortune to go 2-1 ahead on the hour mark. Blues boss Antonio Conte admitted as much afterwards when he called Arsenal ‘lucky’.
And they were lucky. But don’t forget to add the word determined too.
Good work down the right flank by Lacazette saw the ball enter the box via a Chelsea deflection after the Frenchman’s persistence. It fell to Xhaka who stabbed it home to send the crowd – and he and his team-mates in paroxysms of joy.
Chelsea were rocked by the goal and despite pushing forward they were unconvincing and rarely threatened Ospina.
As the clock ticked down Marcos Alonso blasted a free kick high over the bar as the crowd took great delight.
There was to be a lot more delight after Oliver blew for full time as the Emirates crowd celebrated their team win through to Wembley against a diffident Chelsea side with boss Conte’s days at the club surely numbered.
For one night only forget Wenger in or out, forget Conte’s future, forget Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City waiting in the final – tonight was all about The Arsenal winning through to Wembley.
And if you can’t celebrate that then there really is no hope for you – say it loud and proud, The Arsenal are through to Wembley.
Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29