Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea: Gunners through to Wembley as they display tactical flexibility

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After the opening six minutes in which Chelsea had the ball in the net twice, and Arsenal looked like they wanted to hand the opposition the game on a silver platter through carelessness and poor decision making, I have to say I was a bit worried. Conceding that early is never ideal, but we responded quickly as Nacho Monreal forced one of the goals of the season to equalise just five minutes after they went ahead.

After a Hector Bellerin cross had been turned behind for a corner, the full back got on the end of the set-piece, and like Señor Billiardo, played a beautiful double cannon by heading the ball into the woolly noggin of Marcos Alonso, in turn deflecting it off Antonio Rudiger, thus leaving the keeper stranded by his genius as the ball dropped over the line to make it 1-1. You’ve never seen Cristiano Ronaldo do that, let me tell you.

Overall though, Chelsea had the better of the first half and it was interesting to hear Jack Wilshere say afterwards we’d got the formation wrong. Speaking afterwards, he said:

It was strange, we might have got our formation wrong in the first 20 to 25 minutes and they took advantage of that. They’ve got players who can damage you through the middle and they did, but we came back into it and showed good character, I thought we were the better team in the second half.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. In the second period we were by far the better side, we looked more composed as we used Mohamed Elneny to shift to a back three. The Egyptian had a fine game and showed that while he’s never going to be the most expansive player, he’s a good squad option, and one which allows us and the manager to demonstrate some tactical flexibility.

Wilshere and Ozil were excellent on the ball, with passing accuracy of 93% and 95% respectively, while the team in general defended really well. Mustafi made 11 clearances, Monreal was imperious, like Señor Interceptio as he read the game brilliantly, and ultimately David Ospina stood there like a Colombian highlighter marker with very little to do.

As funny as the story was when it broke, you can actually see why Chelsea wanted to buy Andy Carroll, because they had nothing to offer going forward. It would have been an industrial option last night to bring on a player like that but it wouldn’t have been a bad one. All the same, I’m enjoying the obvious conflict between Antonio Conte and the Chelsea board who now seem unwilling to back him in the transfer market, and the delicious irony of that club complaining it can’t compete with City and United when it comes to wages should not be lost on anyone who understands they, as much as anyone else, have driven salaries as high as they are now.

Anyway, enough about them, and our winning goal was scored by renowned penalty box poacher Granit Xhaka who had clearly been instructed to get forward as much as possible last night. Whether than instruction came from Arsene Wenger is another question, but whatever voice was telling him to do it, he obeyed, so when Lacazette’s cross deflected into his path he was there to stick out a leg and poke the ball home from close range for what turned out to be the winner.

Chelsea brought on players who made no difference whatsoever to the way they played or how dangerous they were, but credit for that also has to go to the way we defended and stayed organised. Bellerin made a great block from Alonso, who he has had in his pocket in every game since the Chelsea man’s snide straight-arm rendered him unconscious at Stamford Bridge last season, but beyond that all they had to offer was set-piece threat and even that wasn’t much to worry about.

At the other end Iwobi showed there’s room for improvement in the final third but once again he put in a good shift throughout and, as I wrote after the Palace game, he’s responded well to his public indiscretion. You could see how, with a bit more pace (Mkhitaryan) and bit more firepower (Aubameyang?), we’d have taken greater advantage of their need to push forward and score a goal, but I don’t think there’s any real doubt we deserved our win last night, and our place in the final against Man City on February 25th.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:

I felt that in the first half there were psychological and tactical reasons for us not expressing the quality of our game. We rectified that at half-time and in the second half we won the ball higher up, we could then get our midfield, who is technically very talent into the game and then we controlled the game. I felt in the second half basically we looked always like we could win this game and that’s what we did.

It’s interesting that although there seems to some uncertainty about our defensive system at the moment, we do now possess an ability to change things which we’ve never really had before – beyond playing ALL THE STRIKERS. There was a clear problem in that first half, and we rectified it to good effect.

When you get to the semi-final stage of any competition, you want to win it, and we’re now 90 minutes away from a trophy. It may not be the most prestigious piece of silverware, but it’s one that Arsene Wenger has never won during his tenure, and it’d be great if we could do that. City will, of course, be tough opposition, but as we showed at Wembley last season in the FA Cup semi-final, there’s something more to these kind of games and we’ve been probably the best cup team in England for a few years now. It’s definitely something to look forward to, and thumbs up all round to the team and manager for getting there.

There wasn’t much more from Arsene about the transfer market and the pursuit of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The latest from both sides appears to be two clubs publicly posturing as they thrash out a deal that’s acceptable to both parties. I really hope this one goes through because that, on top of reaching a cup final, would be a real boost as we head deeper into the second half of the season.

Anyway, this morning is about last night, and there was plenty to like about it. All the news throughout the day on Arseblog News, and I’ll be back tomorrow with an Arsecast and all the rest. Until then.