London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal will meet for a place in the League Cup final.

By 90Min
January 09, 2018

Chelsea host north London counterparts Arsenal in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semifinal, with the return set for the Emirates in two weeks. The sides meet for the second time in a week, with last Wednesday's Premier League showdown ending in a brilliant 2-2 draw.

After both sides endured disappointing weekends in the FA Cup, they will look to put one foot in the Carabao Cup final with a good performance. A much-changed Chelsea side labored to a goalless draw at Norwich, with holders Arsenal succumbing the defence of their title at the first hurdle, going down 4-2 to plucky Nottingham Forest.

Chelsea, five-time winners, will be looking to move towards an early piece of silverware in Antonio Conte's second season, with the Blues well behind Manchester City in the league and a last-16 date with Barcelona in the Champions League.

Arsenal, with their only other realistic chance of silverware in the Europa League, will be looking to reach another Wembley final and add another accolade to Arsene Wenger's glittering CV.


Classic Encounter

The last time the London clubs met in the League Cup was in the final itself, 11 years ago, when then-champions Chelsea took on a youthful Arsenal side, presenting another opportunity to see old adversaries Jose Mourinho and Wenger lock horns. The match remains the only League Cup final the two have contested against one another, despite their bitter, decade-long rivalry.

The Gunners started with a side possessing an average age of less than 21, with Wenger opting for future talents, such as Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott in Cardiff. 

It proved to be a masterstroke from the Frenchman, with the then-17-year-old Walcott using his blistering pace to leave Ricardo Carvalho for dead and slot past Petr Cech for a 12th-minute lead. It was the young Englishman's first goal for the club and stunned Chelsea.

Arsenal's lead didn't last for long, with talismanic Didier Drogba adding his 27th goal of the season just eight minutes later to level. The Ivorian ran onto a lovely ball by Michael Ballack and rifled past Manuel Almunia. Undeterred, Wenger's charges continued to press and controlled the match, with the two sides entering the break all square.

Drama ensued after the break, with a seemingly innocuous corner leading to John Terry diving for a header, only to meet Abou Diaby's outstretched boot to the face. The England captain swallowed his tongue, was knocked unconscious and taken off on a stretcher.

Fired up by the loss of their captain, Chelsea pressed on and took advantage of tired Arsenal legs, with Drogba popping up six minutes from time to head home his second and win the Carling Cup for Mourinho's men. 

The game finished under a cloud, when a clash between John Obi Mikel and Kolo Toure spread into an all-out brawl between players and staff, with referee Howard Webb sending off the two instigators and Emmanuel Adebayor. It made for an ugly conclusion to the last final at the Millennium Stadium, falling just months before the opening of the new Wembley.


Key Battles

Cesar Azpilicueta is widely seen as one of, if not the most consistent defender in the league, but will face the unenviable task of containing Alexis Sanchez. Despite his drop in form this season, the Chilean remains one of the most dangerous prospects in world football, and Azpilicueta will have his hands full for the whole 90 minutes.

Down the other end, Calum Chambers will be under pressure to man-mark Alvaro Morata out of the game, after losing him several times at the Emirates. 

Were it not for the Spaniard's woeful finishing, the match would have been over as a contest long before Arsenal had a chance to level late on. The young Englishman will need to step up his game to contain Chelsea's number nine.


Team News

Eden Hazard missed the trip to Norwich at the weekend with a knock and could remain sidelined for the visit of the north Londoners. David Luiz played 90 minutes in the FA Cup to continue his recovery from injury but is unlikely to be risked for the midweek game.

Arsene Wenger could be without up to six first-team players, with Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey in a race to be fit for Wednesday's match. Nacho Monreal, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud remain long-term absentees.

Predicted Chelsea Lineup: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Pedro.

Predicted Arsenal Lineup: Cech; Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny; Bellerin, Xhaka, Wilshere, Maitland-Niles; Ozil, Lacazette, Sanchez.


Prediction

With Chelsea mere seconds away from victory at the Emirates last time out, before that sensational Hector Bellerin strike stole a point for the hosts, one has to imagine the Blues will make home advantage count this time.

Arsene Wenger will demand a reaction from his players after meekly exiting the FA Cup at the weekend, with the visitors' side more than capable of getting a result at Stamford Bridge. Similarly, the west Londoners will be roused into battle looking to banish memories of their limp 0-0 draw at Carrow Road on Saturday.

With the absence of Eden Hazard, the match is evenly poised, but the big-game knowledge of Antonio Conte's men should prove telling compared to the often naive way Arsenal set up.

The Italian will not make the same mistake as a week before and can see out the victory, sending his team halfway to Wembley.

Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Arsenal

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