After holding Chelsea to a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago, Arsenal perhaps have the slight edge ahead of the return home leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final encounter at the Emirates on Wednesday (3pm ET).
Chelsea made most of the running during the first leg. They marginally out-possessed and comfortably out-shot Arsenal but were unable to find a breakthrough. Chances were missed and the post was hit a couple of times in what turned out to be a frustrating evening for them.
It was the second time this season that Arsenal had held Chelsea to a stalemate away in West London, and it was a result that extended their unbeaten run against them to five matches. The sequence began with Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over the Blues in last season’s FA Cup final and has continued through the four meetings between the teams so far this season.
Arsenal generally have a pretty poor record against other top-six sides in league play. But in addition to their strong recent results against Chelsea, they also defeated Manchester City at the semi-final stage of their run to a third FA Cup triumph in four seasons last time out.
There is, then, more reason for optimism ahead of Wednesday’s match than Arsenal’s recent performances and results, and the general atmosphere at the club, would perhaps merit. Prior to their resounding 4-1 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday, they had won just three of their previous 11 matches in all competitions. Unrest among supporters has been growing.
Manager Arsene Wenger has leant on FA Cup successes to justify his continuation in recent seasons. The club’s early elimination from that competition this time around leaves just two paths to trophies open to the Gunners. While the Carabao Cup (formerly the League Cup) doesn’t have quite the same cache as the Europa League, it is undoubtedly Arsenal’s most feasible route to silverware.
Progressing to the final will, however, require a strong and disciplined performance on Wednesday. Chelsea are sure to make it a competitive and hard-fought encounter and Arsenal may be required to step out of their comfort zone if they are to get the result they need.
After a sequence of five consecutive normal-time draws, Chelsea came to life with a 4-0 thrashing of Brighton on Saturday. Goals from Eden Hazard and Willian inside the opening six minutes set them on their way, and Hazard and Victor Moses then added further embellishment to the scoreline during the game’s final quarter-hour.
Chelsea’s attacking output has been pretty variable this season. Even with Saturday’s four goals, they are still the joint lowest scorers (alongside Arsenal) in the top six. Hazard and Willian are both performing well, but despite a solid total of 10 league goals, Alvaro Morata hasn’t quite lived up to expectations up front. He has scored just twice since the start of December, and Antonio Conte has urged him to overcome his “stupid” confidence issues.
It is therefore unsurprisingly that Conte has elected to lean on defensive stability to keep his side going in all four of the major competitions they are involved in this season. The clean sheet in the weekend win over Brighton was their seventh in their last nine matches in all competitions, and Chelsea have conceded just nine times in 20 matches since the start of November.
It is the sort of approach that seems tailor made for knockout soccer, and despite failing to get on the scoresheet on home soil, Conte and his side will feel that they have the required tools to get the result they need at the Emirates. Away goals do not come into force until after extra time but it is nevertheless a potential advantage for them if things go that way.
Given that Chelsea have already secured results away to Atletico Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and indeed Arsenal this season that if replicated (with or without extra time, depending on the case) would see them progress, they can feasibly be considered the favorites on Wednesday. If they can create as many opportunities as they did in the first leg, surely this time one or two will be converted to see them through.
Our Preview’s Arsenal vs Chelsea Betting Picks & Predictions
Despite being on the road, Chelsea are favorites with the American-friendly offshore sportsbooks. They probably have that right, so we have one advised betting prediction and pick for this Arsenal vs Chelsea League Cup matchup: