There was something unavoidably familiar about Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final second-leg clash between Arsenal and Chelsea.
This was the fifth time the two sides had met already this season, and yet again they were hard to separate. Their opening goalscorers were far from surprising too, the dependable Nacho Monreal, via a double deflection, for the hosts and the in-form Eden Hazard for the visitors.
Chelsea looked more in control of proceedings in the first half and created the better chances, but Arsenal improved hugely in the second period. They often had the side from west London camped out on their own 18-yard line and after going ahead though Granit Xhaka could have finished the game off but for profligate finishing. In a match of a few chances, it was Arsenal who did just enough to reach their eighth League Cup final.
Both sides are trying to sign strikers in January – and it’s not hard to see why Both sides currently have transfer delegations abroad in Europe; Arsenal in Dortmund to try and negotiate a deal for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Chelsea in Rome to try and wrap up a deal for Edin Dzeko.
This quintet of matches between the two teams could hardly have summed up the need for more firepower any better. Across 480 minutes of action, no striker scored for either team. Hazard netted twice, but otherwise the goals were shared between five defenders and two midfielders. On Wednesday, Antonio Conte left Michy Batshuayi on the bench while Arsenal’s club-record signing Alexandre Lacazette failed to muster a single shot; Chelsea only had two shots on target across the 90 minutes themselves. Together, the two clubs spent £122m on strikers in the summer – but you would hardly know it. While Chelsea were struggling without a frontman, Dzeko was scoring for Roma Conte has clearly lost faith in Batshuayi as an understudy to the injured Alvaro Morata – who himself is going through a barren run of form – and Dzeko would provide the experience, physicality and goals he craves, netting an injury-time equaliser for Roma against Sampdoria while Chelsea’s attack was labouring. Similarly, Lacazette – who did not last 90 minutes yet again – would benefit from the support and competition of Aubameyang.
The performances from both sets of midfielders were riddled with mistakes (Picture: Getty) If the previous leg showcased Arsenal’s little-seen resolve and solidity – which was in evidence again at the Emirates after going a goal down – this one underlined the occasional lack of spark in midfield. Henrikh Mkhitaryan will help unlock defences higher up the pitch, but in the heart of the midfield they lacked a controlling, dominant presence.