It wasn’t the most scintillating match in the history of the rivalry between two of London’s titans with Chelsea looking a bit disorganized going forward, and Arsenal failing to take any real advantage of numerous long spells of relatively unchallenged possession. Both teams had their focus on more defensive matters, knowing that this is a two-legged tie and not wanting to shoot themselves in the foot for that second match.
Chelsea had the better scoring chances, but some poor communication in the final third and dreadful set-piece execution — something that plagued Arsenal as well in this match — meant that nothing came of them. With Arsene Wenger watching from the sidelines while he’s suspended, Arsenal were happy to hold Chelsea off while occasionally probing at Antonio Conte’s defense, though they were even less successful than their old rivals.
There were a pair of potential penalty shouts — one for Arsenal at the end of the first half, and one for Chelsea at the end of the second — but referee Martin Atkinson waved play on both times after brief consultations with his assistants. The best scoring chance of the day came from Victor Moses, who unleashed a nasty-looking shot from the edge of the box in the 65th minute, but Shkodran Mustafi cut it out with a key block that sent it over the goal.
The result means that Chelsea will need to score early and often in the second leg at Emirates Stadium to make sure they beat Arsenal on the Gunners’ home soil. Blues fans will wish that they had taken better advantage of their own home-field advantage while they could, but in the end, all that will matter is who takes the field in the League Cup final at Wembley Stadium in February.
Three things we saw
Arsenal and Chelsea are playing for the second leg
While the match wasn’t pretty to watch, in context it made perfect sense. This is a two-legged tie in a busy spell of the season for both clubs, so there’s little reason to overextend themselves here and wear themselves down too much while exposing themselves to a loss at a rivals’ hands. The second leg at Emirates Stadium in two weeks was always going to be the more important match, and the way Arsenal and Chelsea played on Wednesday showed it.
Chelsea didn’t have functioning communication in the final third
That said, Chelsea had the better of the few scoring chances that arose, but a shocking lack of cohesion and apparent communication among their attackers kept them from taking advantage. At any given moment, Eden Hazard didn’t seem to know where Alvaro Morata was going, Morata didn’t seem to have a clue where Cesc Fabregas was coming from, Moses was making runs that no one paid attention to, and N’Golo Kante spent ages running up the field with the ball looking for anyone to make themselves available for an aggressive pass.
It was a showing very out of character for a typically well-drilled Conte side, and one that didn’t inspire confidence in fans who have been growing restless with Chelsea’s wildly inconsistent attacking form of late. This is the third time in six all-competitions matches they’ve been held scoreless, and even when they’ve been scoring goals of late, they’ve still looked a touch flat and out of sync — the 5-0 win against an awful Stoke City team aside, obviously. But other than that explosive day, Chelsea’s attack has been playing far below the level they’re capable of, and that’s starting to become a growing problem at Stamford Bridge.
Both teams were shocking on set pieces
Even with both teams looking to the second leg for the game that will actually be a real game, either team would have gladly taken a goal or two from a set piece to take an advantage going into that match. And there were chances aplenty for both Chelsea and Arsenal to score off a set piece, both from free kicks and corners — but both clubs were shockingly poor at taking them on Wednesday.
Corner kicks were consistently fired way too short or way too long, free kicks were often blasted straight into the wall or completely mishit, and in the end, there were just way too many wasted opportunities from dead ball situations. Chelsea got a bit better at them in the second half -- Andreas Christensen got on the end of a couple of corners to threaten at goal — but even those chances were just of an average level, and the fact that they were the best set pieces of the day was telling of the poor quality of the rest.