Arsenal have a League Cup final at Wembley to look forward to next month as Arsene Wenger aims to add the only domestic trophy in England he has yet to win into his trophy cabinet.
In a week in which Alexis Sanchez swapped London for Manchester and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arrived as the Chilean’s replacement, a rejuvenated Gunners side pushed their luck but managed to see out the game against a plucky Chelsea side to win 2-1 on the night, and on aggregate.
Wenger joked with journalists in his pre-match press conference for the match at Emirates Stadium by saying the press “celebrate some teams who have not been in a final for 25 years”, referencing Arsenal’s three FA Cup triumphs in the last four seasons.
Indeed, he may be correct in one sense because while the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham have impressed with their tactical displays this season, neither team appear any closer to winning any silverware.
The Frenchman’s tactical changes in big games have been lambasted over the years but the decision to put Mohamed Elneny in a deeper lying position to cover Eden Hazard’s movements across the pitch in the second half was one which paid dividends.
Egypt international Elneny is undoubtedly a limited player but he offers more positional discipline than departed defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin and he showed his capabilities of performing when it really matters .
Similarly, Granit Xhaka is a player who attracts criticism from many yet he showed in abundance why his versatility, vision and positional sense remains such an asset for Arsenal.
The Swiss international claims to be a ‘deep lying No.10’ but could be seen on the right flank and advanced midfield positions at times. His footballing intelligence is underestimated and it looks like he will eventually go on to pay back his £35 million transfer fee with more disciplined performances.
Lack of team balance has been the main reason behind Arsenal’s inconsistent season although Sanchez’s departure has clearly made an impact where team morale is concerned. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has recorded just one victory over Wenger in seven previous games against the Frenchman and he was once again bettered by his more experienced counterpart.
Antonio Rudiger’s own goal and deflection to set up the winner certainly helped, but it was no less than Arsenal deserved.
The final will see Arsenal play Manchester City twice in a week and the naysayers will mark that down as the week where Arsenal’s season potentially derails. However, Wenger and his team have shown that they can always find something from within in big games, as last season’s FA Cup semi and final against City and Chelsea proved.