Wednesday night ended up being very enjoyable at Arsenal despite the presence of thousands of glory-hunting chavs and no trains after the game from Arsenal Station. There’s something about winning a semi-final that takes away those small annoyances.
For 25 minutes we were battered by Chelsea. The Arsenal team was almost unrecognisable from the one that destroyed Crystal Palace last weekend which is completely bizarre when all ten outfield players were the same. In hindsight the turning point seems to have been when Willian went off injured, something I have to admit I hadn’t thought of until I heard someone say it to his mate as we were leaving the ground. In that first part of the game we barely made it out of our own half and Hazard seemed to be constantly finding space in between our centre-backs. It was obvious watching that Koscielny simply didn’t have a clue where the Belgian was. Somehow we got through that period and the players got it together and started to close down properly all over the pitch.
That foothold allowed Wilshere and Ozil to come in to the game and Arsenal dominated midfield from that point on really. Kante and Bakayoko looked far removed from the players who everyone saw at Leicester and Monaco. Elneny and Xhaka also played their part in that with Xhaka playing a more advanced role than usual, as he had done against Palace. Alex Iwobi also never stopped working and was very good against Moses defensively, while not really going at him as Maitland-Niles has done in a couple of games recently at the other end of the pitch.
Both of our goals had a huge element of fortune. When a header takes two deflections to go past a stranded goalkeeper then you can’t argue with your luck. I suppose the Chelsea fans must have felt the way everybody else did on the many occasions Lampard saw a shot hit a defender and end up in the opposite corner of the net. You can also say that maybe Nacho Monreal has earned his luck with the way he has performed in the last few years. He is far and away Arsenal’s most consistent performer and was a deserving man of the match on the night. It’s great that he is finally being recognised by the pundits for his displays at Arsenal. The second goal also benefitted from a deflection as Lacazette, having held the ball up very well to allow support to arrive, tried to lay it back to Iwobi but saw his pass fall instead to Xhaka who turned home a very nice finish from close-range.
I thought Chelsea never really threatened after that with their best chance being from a corner where Ospina went walkabout and was lucky to get away with it. There were no opportunities from open play for them, while Iwobi should have buried the chance to put us home and dry. I have to give a word here to Mohamed Elneny who had been moved back to play in the centre of a back three. I thought the Egyptian turned his best performance for Arsenal in what became a defensive masterclass from him. His positioning was perfect, he won tackles and attacked everything in the air winning every header he jumped for. I was crying out for Wenger to bring on Chambers when I saw where Elneny was now playing but he proved to be more than up to the task on this occasion. Credit where it’s due, as ever. At the other end Ozil was outstanding again and it will be interesting to see whether his form (when he hasn’t been on holiday) in the last two months is a sign he is happy at Arsenal, or whether it is a shop window ahead of him going elsewhere.
So we are off to Wembley again, somewhat unexpectedly in the League Cup. My Dad said to me on the way out that, for all we want Wenger gone, Arsenal are in a fourth final in five seasons. We’ve become absolutely a cup team, with the players seemingly able to get themselves motivated for some one-off big games in a way they can’t in the Premier League all that often. I suppose I’d rather be a cup side than a nothing side - I wonder who I could possible be referring to..?