Chelsea took an early lead in the second leg of this Carabao Cup semi-final but go out of the competition on a night when the breaks did not go our way.
It was Eden Hazard with his 12th goal of the season who found the Gunners net but before long the scores were level due to an unfortunate own-goal that came off the head of Toni Rudiger. The German was left cursing his luck again in the second half when it was he who inadvertently diverted the ball into the path of Granit Xhaka who gave his side the lead, and there proved to be no way back for the Blues despite putting pressure on in the closing minutes.
A first-half injury to Willian led to a debut for Ross Barkley.
There were plenty of predictions beforehand that this game would be far more open and entertaining than the cagey first leg and so it proved, although neither side was gung-ho in their attacking approach. After all, there was a Wembley final at stake.
With his team having rediscovered our goal touch after the run of 0-0 draws of which the first leg of this tie was one, Antonio Conte made a single change to the Brighton starting line-up for tonight’s game. That was Pedro, free from suspension, back in the front three with Michy Batshuayi making way.
Chelsea’s start on this north London Wednesday night was bright while Arsenal’s contained errors. Tiemoue Bakayoko’s ambitious attempt at goal, the first by anyone on the pitch, went high and wide. Pedro very nearly ‘did a Morata’ by belying his lack of inches and heading in an Azpilicueta delivery, but although he hit the net, he had marginally strayed offside.
The Blues did not have to wait long though to break the deadlock as Hazard was well onside when played through by Pedro, the Belgian having let Kante’s pass run past him and on to the Spaniard. A player of Hazard’s class was never likely to miss when one-on-one with David Ospina and Chelsea had the lead, and an away goal, with just six minutes on the clock.
Willy Caballero, continuing in goal with Thibaut Courtois still out injured, made a block from Jack Wilshere as the home side attempted a rapid response, and the Gunners were level on 12 minutes, and not without a touch of misfortune for Chelsea.
We were culpable in leaving Nacho Monreal in too much space to head at goal from a corner but it took a double deflection, off Marcos Alonso first and then Rudiger to give Caballero no chance of making a save. With the touch off the German redirecting the ball at goal after Alonso’s had probably been sending it wide, it is likely to go down as an own-goal.
Hazard became the game’s first booking for tangling legs with Mesut Ozil who was mounting a counter-attack. Willian could have restored our lead in the 20th minute but dragged a shot wide.
Arsenal had reverted to a back-four defence rather than the three used in the game at Stamford Bridge, and they looked uncertain there at times in the first half. Pedro was inexplicably allowed to collect a ‘lost-cause’ pass near the Gunners’ goal but a combination of Willian and a Hazard rabona could not turn it into an attempt at the target.
Approaching half-an-hour played there was a new problem for Chelsea, with Willian forced to walk off injured, although that opened the door for Barkley’s debut.
A minute after taking his bow, our newest midfielder was sent sprawling by Wilshere who was booked. Barkley then quickly conceded a free-kick that also took a deflection when fired at our goal by Xhaka, and needed Caballero to fingertip it over.
However it was the west Londoners who pushed harder for a lead coming up to half-time although right on the whistle we were grateful to see an Ozil drive, again deflected, narrowly miss the target. We reached the interval at 1-1 both on the night and on aggregate.
Speaking yesterday, Conte said that playing against Arsenal away you expect ‘to suffer’ at times when you don’t have the ball, and it was the home side who had the majority of possession and territory at the start of the second half. They had changed their shape.
A couple of Hazard runs tried to redress the balance, although it was so unfortunate for Bakayoko that one excellent pass forward came to nothing when Hazard slipped over en route to goal.
Lady Luck did not seem to be smiling on the Blues tonight and Rudiger in particular. On the hour Arsenal took the lead when the ball fell kindly to Xhaka to finish from close range in front of goal. It came to him from Lacazette’s pass, which had taken a big deflection off the leg of our German defender.
Batshuayi came on for Pedro as we embarked on our attempt to salvage this semi-final, but Arsenal could have wrapped the tie up with a swift break with 15 minutes left. Caballero saved superbly with his leg from Alex Iwobi, and Chelsea were quickly down the other end where Alonso flashed the ball across the face of the Gunners’ goal.
There was to be one more chance to score for Alonso, from a free-kick 30 yards out, but he could not keep his strike down sufficiently. Arsenal had upped their game in the second half and it was enough to send them to Wembley to face Manchester City at the end of next month, while Chelsea focus turns to the other domestic cup, and a home tie against Newcastle on Sunday.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Caballero; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Moses (Zappacosta 72), Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian (Barkley 30), Hazard, Pedro (Batshuayi 65).
Unused subs Eduardo, Cahill, David Luiz, Drinkwater.
Scorer Hazard 7
Booked Hazard 17, Moses 62.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny (c), Monreal; Wilshere, Elneny, Xhaka; Ozil, Lacazette (Kolasinac 83), Iwobi (Ramsey 83).
Unused subs Macey, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Nketiah.
Scorer Rudiger o.g. 12, Xhaka 60
Booked Wilshere 31, Monreal 66
Referee Michael Oliver