Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg between Chelsea and Arsenal was just the second English football match to use VAR (Video Assistant Referee). The fact that the new concept stole the show with no incorrect or controversial decisions says everything you need to know about the game of football.
The two London sides played out a goalless draw, which saw the Gunners holding onto the stalemate for the majority of the second-half. It means that when both teams head to the Emirates for the second leg in two weeks’ time, it’s still all to play for with the chance of another Wembley final very appealing to the two clubs who are familiar with that part of the capital.
Wenger in the stands
As Arsene Wenger was serving his second game of a three-match touchline ban, his frustration was regularly vented during the first half, probably because he was unable to argue with the fourth official or Antonio Conte. However, his side were resolute in the opening exchanges as they thwarted Chelsea pressure and applied some of their own. The Frenchman put out a surprisingly weak team much to the anger of the Arsenal supporters, while Conte went for his strongest line-up with Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard leading the line.
It was the hosts who looked most likely to break the deadlock and Victor Moses almost did just that. He took the ball past Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who had slipped on the edge of the box, and after his attempted cross came straight back to him, the Nigerian wing-back fired a low shot towards David Ospina’s bottom corner only to see it ricochet off the base of the near post. Calum Chambers was fastest to react and cleared the ball before any of the onrushing Blues attackers could take advantage of the parried effort.
Every half-decent Arsenal attack went through Jack Wilshere and when he chipped the ball over the Chelsea defensive line, before the Moses opportunity, it looked for all the world that Alexandre Lacazette was going to test Thibaut Courtois. But his shot was wild and aimless as it flew deep into the Stamford Bridge crowd and forced a punch from Wenger; luckily, it was just the table in front of him that took the hit.
The VAR was then allegedly used as Moses was potentially adjudged to have tripped Maitland-Niles in the box after Alex Iwobi’s shot was saved. Martin Atkinson referred to the technology and returned with the answer of no penalty, which seemed pretty much spot on.
Blues turn up the heat
It was clear that Chelsea were desperate to gain a lead going into the second leg, which they ultimately didn’t, as the pressure increased. The chances came thick and fast, the first falling to Andreas Christensen, who nodded his header over the bar from inside the six-yard box after N’Golo Kante’s lofted cross was flicked towards the back post by Marcos Alonso. Morata then threatened Ospina with a powerful 25-yard drive but the Colombian was equal to it with a strong save.
One thing that was disappointing for England and Arsenal fans alike was that Wilshere was forced off through injury after what looked like an over-extension and he awaits yet another scan. The English international had looked good both defensively and going forward and when Mohamed Elneny was introduced in his place, it really was backs to the wall for the visitors.
Moses, once again, came close with a rasping effort from 18 yards that was blocked fantastically by Shkodran Mustafi as it looked destined for the bottom corner before Christensen should have done better from another corner. The young Dane penned a new four-year deal at the Bridge earlier in the day. It was a night of frustration for the hosts who should have taken advantage of at least one of their 21 attempts and they must now win the second leg in North London for a place in the Carabao Cup Final against either Manchester City or Bristol City.