Honours Even At The Bridge

By Kevin Whitcher

Online Ed: Arsenal Turn In Much Improved Cup Performance against Chelsea

If you’d have offered Gooners a goalless draw against Chelsea before the kick off of this first leg League Cup semi-final, most would have have bitten your hand off. Stamford Bridge was packed for the game, and I would imagine, after this, the Emirates, with tickets ranging from a fiver (for kids and OAPs) to £20 (upper tier adult price) should sell out for the return leg.

Effectively, it’s a game Arsenal will have to win, as it is difficult to envisage 120 minutes without a goal, the only way the tie can be decided from the penalty shoot-out. If it’s a score draw, Antonio Conte’s side go through, although only after extra time. This assumes the rules remain as they were.

Arsene Wenger was once again in the stands, although unlike the previous time he was banned from the bench at the Bridge, rather than sit amongst Chelsea supporters, he has a seat in the press box, next to Jens Lehmann and some security heavy. Did they expect the journos to start giving him abuse or something?

Anyway, the team selection was interesting. Per Mertesacker swapped places with Calum Chambers, who was on the bench for the embarrassment at the City Ground on Sunday, as Arsenal lined up with a back three, Holding and Mustafi the other two. Up front, Mesut Ozil was supposedly still injured, whilst Alexis Sanchez was confined to the bench. To clarify, the Chilean being cup tied for the final in the event that he does move to Manchester City (and Pep Guardiola’s side qualify), is not an issue. Sanchez played against Doncaster in an earlier round. The reason that the number 7 was on the bench was because a move is likely and the manager wanted to minimize the risk of injury by restricting his game time.

City are prepared to offer £20 million to get Sanchez now. Arsenal want more. So it’s a stalemate. City will probably call Arsenal’s bluff and at the end of January, Sanchez will move for the £20 million to boost City’s Champions League squad. Arsenal will get a further couple of weeks out of the player, but with his sale almost certainly sacrifice any lingering hopes of making the top four. There is very much a feeling that the decision on Wenger’s future has already been made. It appears as if he was given a season to turn around the decline seen last season, and without the distraction of Champions League football for the first team players, there is no good reason he should not have been able to do better in the league. It hasn’t happened. There is a clause in the contract where both parties can decide that the final year of the deal does not happen, and I imagine that would mean the manager gets his final year’s salary as pay-off. The arrivals of Sanllehi and Mislintat, and the procuring of young Greek centre-back Mavropanos (on the bench last night) on the latter’s recommendation, are the beginning of the post-Wenger era. And for most fans, it can’t come to soon. It was interesting to see there has been a change of tune regarding Mavropanos. Before even seeing him train, the manager was stating he would be going out on loan. Translated – I decide who plays for this club, not some scout, so I won’t be having him around until I can credit his abilities on developing at another club rather than giving Mislintat any credit. Now, he has looked good enough in practice to (in tandem with the evident decline of Mertesacker and the unreliability of Koscielny) suddenly be part of the manager’s plans.

As for the long term. I’ll discuss the Carlo Ancelotti story and its implications tomorrow, but change is definitely afoot. Let's get back to the game. It was interesting to see a Wenger team effectively decide to prioritise containment over possession. Perhaps this was a consequence of their often having trouble keeping possession when they got anywhere near Chelsea’s penalty area. The home side had by far the better chances, although there weren’t as many gilt-edged ones as they enjoyed at the Emirates last week, or that Forest had on Sunday. Ultimately though, their attempts were either wide or comfortable enough for Ospina to gather. The Fabregas header near the end of the first half was one a better header of the ball would have converted.

Arsenal’s defenders played with far greater conviction than we often see. With the amount of injuries (Koscielny, Monreal) and the loss of form of the club captain, both Holding and Chambers have the opportunity to get a run in the team and convince the doubters. There is no doubt that not playing such a high line helped both. All three centre-backs made key interceptions over the course of the 90 minutes to frustrate the home side. The midfield did not give the ball away too cheaply too often, although the quality of Granit Xhaka’s corners is a mystery. How difficult is it to get the ball in the air? It would be nice to see some set-piece routines, because the Gunners’ use of corners is not generally efficient.

Jack Wilshere captained the side, which was good to see, but there will be worries over the injury that forced his withdrawal during the second half. The club’s current midfield options don’t look very extensive, especially with the sale of Francis Coquelin. However, once one of the left backs returns to fitness, it would be no great surprise to see Ainsley Maitland-Niles slot in there. For now though, it looks like a Xhaka – Elneny partnership. It should cope with the immediate Premier League matches, which are hardly taxing.

One thing that will be of perhaps greater immediate concern is the difficulty Arsenal had getting their attacking game together. There was a good attempt by Iwobi in the second half (and it shows how bad things are that the manager could not punish the player by leaving him out of the picture for a couple of weeks for his weekend partying), but not too much else. Assuming Sanchez goes, it looks like, creatively it will all be down to Ozil to unpick locks. And if the player cannot be relied upon to start away matches habitually, it's going to be a long second half of the season.

Alexis did enter the game with three quarters of the game gone, and did spark things a little. But nothing really came off at the key moments and Arsenal looked to have weathered the Chelsea storm, where, in the earlier part of the second half, a goal looked almost inevitable. Conte’s side came close a few times, but lacked a clinical finish.

This was the first time that Videa Assisted Refereeing (VAR) was used in an Arsenal fixture. It meant a couple of delays, but no change of decision. Get used to it, I am confident it will be in full use next season.

With Arsenal needing to win the second leg to progess to the final, we wait to see who will be available for the return match in a fortnight’s time. Sanchez may still be at the club then, and we will know whether Manchester City await in the final. Currently injured players will hopefully be back, especially Wilshere, who seems the one creative element at present. Conte’s disappointing record against Arsenal remains. He has only once beaten the club in a competitive match.

Here’s an omen for you. Last season, on the weekend Arsenal were scheduled to face Manchester City in the League, the fixture had to be postponed because they had reached the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, where they played against… Manchester City. This season, Arsenal are due to host City on the weekend that the League Cup Final takes place at Wembley. We’ll see.

To finish, a gag from Doktor Schneide reflecting on the Iwobi party story and the team’s recent form - Arsene Wenger was stunned today by another report involving an Arsenal player partying late before a key game in surroundings where drugs such as speed and cocaine were freely available. The bemused French manager responded by saying, “I have no idea about this. I mean, judging from our results recently it’s clear that no one at Arsenal Football Club has been anywhere near a performing enhancing substance.”

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11th January 2018 11:03:40


Comments and Reaction

User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.

Yes its Ron  11:54am 11th Jan 2018

Decent show in all fairness. Chelsea a bit profligate in front of goal but a draw there isnt bad. Far to much made of the Iwobi thing i reckon. If he wasnt drunk or out really too late for comfort and if he was behaving OK, whats all the fuss about? Hes a grown man and 48 hrs pre game being out provided he conducted himself ok shdt really be an issue should it? Unless im missing something and provided all was in place i think Arsenal and Wenger are right not to offer his head on a plate to the media muppets. - Post No. 111746

markymark  11:55am 11th Jan 2018

Kevin - it will be interesting to hear your view on Ancelotti . Le Grove are still saying he’s here for 2 years. I hope upon hope he is out his year! Am I being too optimistic ? - Post No. 111747

Exeter Ex  11:59am 11th Jan 2018

It's a paradox that a manager who dominates the club and its identity can also be so weak. Doesn't mind if the Sanchez is now or June... gives Ozil a match off whenever he likes in the hope he'll re-sign... the avoidance of conflict, the pathetic defence, the lack of coaching. He's a politician that's slithered into every corner of the club, both ineffectual and immovable. - Post No. 111748

GoonerRon  12:12pm 11th Jan 2018

Given we started without 7 shoo-in first team players it was probably as good as I dared hope for. Clean sheet unexpected but very welcome. As always with us the balance is rarely right - we’re either too open and concede easily or defend pretty well but lack any offensive fluency. Still in the tie which was job one on the night. - Post No. 111749

Paulo75  12:20pm 11th Jan 2018

Solid defensive performance so credit due for that, albeit we offered next to nothing going forward. Was surprised how subdued Chelsea were, Morata again poor. Hopefully the behind the scenes rumours have some substance. There definitely seems to be change afoot. - Post No. 111750

Bob Bayliss  12:36pm 11th Jan 2018

Serious question.....as Chelsea fans coined the song "Arsene Wenger we want you to stay". Are their team deliberately doing what they can to keep him in post whenever they play us? They are clearly a better team than us but do seem to under-perform against Arsenal these days.... - Post No. 111751

Scruff  12:42pm 11th Jan 2018

Boring boring Arsenal!! Will take that all day long and have stated in the past our first 11 with a good tactically astute manager can beat any team in the league. Wenger just can't get the balance right and even though I want him gone he shut up a load of gobby inbreds(Chelsea fans) last night. - Post No. 111752

markymark  14:21pm 11th Jan 2018

Bob Baylis - Wenger has a Mourinho bogie not a Chelsea bogie . Separate Chelsea and Mourinho and Arsenal’s record is not so disastrous. If Mourinho decided to manage Bournemouth we’d start getting thumped by them. - Post No. 111753

mbg  14:39pm 11th Jan 2018

He's still at it even in the stands, what an arrogant whinger. wenger out now. - Post No. 111754

mbg  14:51pm 11th Jan 2018

So fans are getting all dizzy, hopeful, and even optimistic ? about another bore draw against a top side, Sad or what. wenger out. - Post No. 111755

ClockEnd_90  14:55pm 11th Jan 2018

Great assessment, Exeter. Did you read Tony Adams' book, Sober? Tone says players were turning up late for training and rather than enforce the club rules AW put the start time back. TA went ballistic and said he wanted to stand up for club discipline. Interesting stuff. All that said, 0-0 a decent result last night - Post No. 111756

CORNISH GOONER  16:17pm 11th Jan 2018

Blimey, that WAS boring but another "get out of Jail" card for the Old French Rascal. Does look as if things are happening behind the scenes though. Any old Looney Tunes fans out there might be interested to know that OGL was seen muttering a variant on Tweetie Pie's famous song - " I thought I saw a Mislintat a kweeping up on me - I did I saw a Mislintat as plain as he could be". - Post No. 111757

Bob Bayliss  17:01pm 11th Jan 2018

Mark, to say Wenger has a "bogey" among any of the big boys is to disguise his shortcomings. He is their bitch. My point was that Chelsea seem to be the ones who recently take pity on him, for what I suspect may be machievellian reasons. Sacrificing the odd cup is worth it to them if it puts off the day when we are able to compete with them for serious honours. - Post No. 111758

Yes its Ron  17:46pm 11th Jan 2018

Hi Bob - in fairness (and i gulp as i defend AW), i think you ll find most of the top Clubs bosses are the bitches of each other at different times and for different periods. Wengos stats v the top clubs falls badly from 2012. Its right tho in that the cretin Mourinho has had him up the air throughout his time here. His times been and gone though thankfully. He looks as old as Wengo now and his aura has gone. Not totally sure he ever really wanted that OT job. Conte is right about one thing and thats Mournhos obsession with Chelsea. Its good to see his slow decline and him being so sullen and sulky about it. The PL is the Pepster, Kloppy and Conte show now for sure and Mourinho doesn't like it one bit. Hes no longer the poster boy. How he ever was beats me! - Post No. 111759

Alsace  17:52pm 11th Jan 2018

So my darlings. Wenger is only going to lose 50 million dollars on Sanchez rather than 80 or so. Well that's still $50,000,000 less for disposition on Stan's rug collection. Ozil doubtless will be moving as well in a frantic attempt to rescue Wenger's phoney baloney job. Chelsea were all over hut. The only reason we weren't " Gerd muller-ed" is because their strikers could hit a cows bottom with a banjo at the moment. City will destroy us assuming that we get there. - Post No. 111760

Exeter Ex  18:04pm 11th Jan 2018

0-0 being all it takes to get Wenger off the hook after the Forest debacle, and Chelsea failing to take their chances being seen as 'resilience', shows you how successful Wenger has been at lowering the bar. What a politician. ClockEnd, that is a damning anecdote. Perhaps Badarse will come on now and tell us T Adams should keep his 'personal perceptions' to himself. - Post No. 111761

Paulward  20:17pm 11th Jan 2018

A decent defensive display, thought the back three and Xhaka were very good, even if Chelsea were wasteful in front of goal.Its starting to feel a bit like that 93-95 period under George when we were hopeless in the league but reached 4 cup finals, winning 3. The team is clearly up to beating most sides when fully motivated and well organised, and when there is a chance of winning a trophy , but are unable to produce week in week out in a premier league in which they have no chance. Another Cup and another year of Wenger looks a distinct possibility. - Post No. 111762

mbg  21:12pm 11th Jan 2018

Exeter, yes like I said sad isn't it, the faithful back onside, it doesn't take much nowadays, oh how the mighty wenger and his AKB's have fallen, throw them scrapes and they treat it like a feast and then come back for more, sad times indeed. wenger out now. - Post No. 111763

markymark  22:10pm 11th Jan 2018

Maxi boy is going to Chelsea according to Italian Newspapers. Has the Ancelotti to Arsenal story got legs? Let’s hope ao - Post No. 111764

Arseneknewbest  6:15am 12th Jan 2018

He clearly wasn't seen as everyone's solution to our ills, including wengo who often did him down, but I for one was sad about Coquelin being sold. If you were to ask me which player in the current squad most possessed the desire and will to win of formerly great Arsenal teams, then he and possibly Monreal came closest. I was struck by how he immediately helped turn our fortunes around when wengo, reluctantly, called him back from the addicts. All I'm saying is that with Feo, Bellerin,Xhaka,Rambo and other babies in the squad,Coquelin is one of the last players we should have been jettisoning at the moment. - Post No. 111765

Arseneknewbest  6:25am 12th Jan 2018

Errr....Addicks even. I wasn't for a minute suggesting you had to be on mind bending drugs to go on loan to Charlton...a club for who I have a lot of respect. - Post No. 111766

Scruff  10:19am 12th Jan 2018

Bye bye wally you will not be sorely missed! 10 years of nothing you will be remembered alongside all the other greats i.e Hankin Chapman Ceasar etc - Post No. 111767

Exeter Ex  10:34am 12th Jan 2018

Actual quotes from Fat Sam actually saying he wants to sign the Wally. Unbelievable. Why are negotiations 'ongoing'? Take what you can as quickly as you can before Everton wake up! Hopefully Wenger isn't going to mess this up as well by asking for too much. You'd imagine Wally's preposterous wages are an issue though as well. - Post No. 111768

mbg  20:03pm 12th Jan 2018

Exeter, the weasel wenger loves selling expensive and for too much, and demanding every penny he asks, but the tight c**t won't pay what other managers want and asks squabbling over every penny even to the detriment of the team, but when it comes to paying himself utterly obscene wages and contracts he's certainly not worth, there's not a word, he expects to be given/get what he want's, without a squabble. What an arrogant horrible man. - Post No. 111800

Issue #269 - Out Now!

Gooner Editorial

21st January 2018

Life Without Sanchez Gets Off To A Promising Start

Online Ed: Arsenal enjoy a comfortable afternoon against Palace