Chelsea and Arsenal played out an entertaining – if goalless – draw at Stamford Bridge to leave their EFL Cup semi-final well poised before the second leg.
Arsene Wenger watched on from the press box, still serving his three-match suspension, and saw his team put in a stubborn defensive display.
The only blot on the copybook for the Arsenal manager was an injury to Jack Wilshere, although it did not appear to be too serious.
Chelsea vs Arsenal: Player ratings
Here are five things we learned from Stamford Bridge:
Wilshere’s form isn’t a flash in the pan…
When Wilshere ran the show on his first-team return away at West Ham, people said it was a fluke. When he dominated the middle of the park against Liverpool, people said he wouldn’t be able to maintain his good form. But again and again, the England international has made his critics eat their words.
He has been in such good form that it seemed like only injury would stop him. And so it came to be against Chelsea in the EFL Cup on Wednesday evening. The midfielder was the best player on the pitch in the first half, but took a whack to his leg at the beginning of the second and eventually hobbled off for Mohamed Elneny.
It was a cruel twist of fate; Wilshere has been brilliant over the last month. Both Arsenal and England supporters will hope he isn’t ruled out for long.
… but Lacazette left with work to do
But while Wilshere flourished, Alexandre Lacazette struggled. The 26-year-old moved to the Emirates Stadium amid great fanfare but has largely underwhelmed and looks bereft of confidence leading the line for Arsenal.
One first-half miss seemed to epitomise his struggles more than most. Picked out by a gorgeous floating pass from Wilshere, Lacazette zipped into space down the right but lost his cool at the pivotal moment, wildly slashing his shot into the upper reaches of the Matthew Harding stand.
His positioning, movement and first touch were superb, his finishing less so. He is clearly over-thinking things and desperately needs a few more goals to settle his nerves.
Wenger shows who is boss
After Arsene Wenger chose to pick Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Liverpool, days before the midfielder departed the Emirates for Anfield, the manager was castigated for what seemed a strange decision. Here he did not make the same mistake, leaving Alexis Sanchez on the bench despite the EFL Cup being Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season.
It seems only a matter of time before the Chilean forward leaves for Manchester City and it will be a massive blow to Arsenal when it happens, but Wenger can at least make clear with his selection policy that he will not pander to his disillusioned players.
VAR adds a little tension
A lull in the first-half was spiced up when the referee, Martin Atkinson, called upon VAR to assist with a potential penalty decision in the Chelsea box. Victor Moses had lunged in on Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who tumbled to the turf, and Atkinson was seen to mouth “Let’s take a look” several times as Arsenal asked the question.
Supporters gleefully chanted “V. A. R! V. A. R!” as the referee listened intently to his earpiece. A couple of replays proved he was right not to award the penalty and the match went on – a brief interlude which added a little tension, and if VAR goes on like that it will be no bad thing.
Morata off-key once more
Alvaro Morata made an explosive start to his Chelsea career, quickly racking up goals and assists for fun, but he has stumbled in recent weeks and this was another timid display. He seems bereft of confidence and this display will surely only encourage his manager to dip into the transfer market this month to strengthen Chelsea’s attacking options.