Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
Chelsea and Arsenal remain level in their Carabao Cup semi-final showdown after running to a 0-0 stalemate in their first-leg encounter at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening.
The Video Assistant Referee was the main talking point of the evening, courting controversy as both teams were denied appeals they felt were valid.
The Gunners will host Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium for the return leg on Jan. 24, at which point we’ll know whether Manchester City or Bristol City will be lining up in the League Cup final.
Jack Wilshere captained Arsenal against a Chelsea side that was close to full strength, with Danny Drinkwater being about the only name on their teamsheet who hasn’t been a regular starter this season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, started Calum Chambers and Rob Holding alongside Shkodran Mustafi in central defence, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left wing-back and David Ospina between the posts. Alexis Sanchez started on the bench, while Mesut Ozil missed out through injury.
Alex Iwobi also courted a starting spot from Gunners manager Arsene Wenger despite recent revelations he attended a party the night prior to Sunday’s disappointing FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, per BBC Sport.
Wenger started his three-game touchline ban for his comments toward a referee in the defeat to Forest and again took up his spot in the press box at Stamford Bridge, per Squawka News:
Squawka News @SquawkaNews
Arsene Wenger serves his second game with a touchline ban by watching from the stands. https://t.co/Op6Y4EEkwZ
Chelsea were keen to apply pressure on their opponents in the Arsenal half early on as wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso flew up the field, with the former enjoying a feisty duel with makeshift defender Maitland-Niles.
And Maitland-Niles was the one at the centre of the half’s biggest controversy.
He went down under a challenge from Moses in the area, and though referee Martin Atkinson consulted VAR to make sure of his call, football writer Dan Levy found some fault with the fashion in which the new format was used:
Dan L @danlevy1
I’d always envisaged way VAR would work would be – rather than the ref constantly checking in for validation of his/her decisions – s/he refs as normal, VAR reviews everything and lets him/her know of any egregious errors (and then if necessary play is called back).
Iwobi came the closest to scoring of any Arsenal player but was denied by Blues stopper Thibaut Courtois, with Chelsea racking up the greater share of attacking chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Cesar Azpilicueta has formed a potent partnership assisting Alvaro Morata so far this season, but it was another Spanish compatriot, Cesc Fabregas, he almost teed up for a headed opener on the cusp of half-time.
Ben McAleer of WhoScored.com highlighted the hosts would have likely been one up at the break had it been a certain other of Chelsea’s Spanish contingent on the end:
Ben McAleer @BenMcAleer1
Cesc Fabregas, who heads straight at David Ospina, with the best chance of the first half after being picked out by Cesar Azpilicueta. Would have probably been a different story if it were Morata on the end of that…
Andreas Christensen almost celebrated his new Chelsea contract by thundering the Blues into a lead with his headed attempt early after the restart, while several misplaced touches saw Morata miss out on several chances.
It was bad news for Wilshere around the hour mark, when the ball was thumped into his problematic ankle and he needed to be withdrawn. Sanchez made his way on not long after, although some of the travelling support will have been aggrieved to see he replaced record signing Alexandre Lacazette.
The Chilean provided a spark in launching his runs from deep, but the second half was lacking in chances and seemingly motivation for either team, as ESPN’s James Tyler emphasised:
James Tyler @JamesTylerESPN
Maybe a few cans of Carabao will inspire Chelsea and Arsenal to make more of an effort.
Fabregas had reason to appeal for a penalty after Maitland-Niles appeared to trip him while challenging for the ball in the box, but after belatedly referring to the VAR, the decision not to award a penalty stood.
The Gunners clinched a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge for the second time this term and their third overall draw against Chelsea this season, with Wenger sure to be the happier of the two managers heading into the second leg.