They may have only played each other seven days ago but tonight Chelsea and Arsenal get to do it all over again as they face off in the first leg of their Carabao Cup Semi-final tie. Last Wednesday saw honours even at the Emirates as the two teams played out a pulsating 2-2 draw as the both had to make do with a share of the Premier League points on offer.
But since then there has been F.A. Cup action with neither side managing to win last weekend, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea traveled to Carrow Road last Saturday and could only manage a goalless draw against the EFL Championship meaning they have the unwanted task of an additional fixture to deal with in what is already a busy calendar.
Although what Arsenal would give for a replay right now after the 2017 F.A. Cup winners were dumped out at the first hurdle by Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, it was an abject performance by the Gunners who were without the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette.
It’s fair to say that Arsene Wenger’s decision to play a weakened team backfired, the first eleven was perhaps not the problem but the fact that he could not rely on his big guns in an obvious time of need with such a weak bench ultimately played right into Nottingham Forest’s hands.
That game saw Arsene Wenger start the first of his three match touchline ban and once again he will have to make do with a seat in the stands this evening, whether his lack of presence in the technical area was also a factor as to why they lost on Sunday can be argued.
But the question that will now be asked is whether or not, Wenger once again goes for a fringe lineup. The trophy winning options have now diminished from three to two and this game takes on even more importance, not only in their quest for silverware but also to calm a very angry fanbase after defeat last Sunday.
You almost get the feeling that Wenger can ill afford to put out a weakened team especially as Antonio Conte has already identified the fact that he will be naming a full strength Chelsea side after making wholesale changes for the trip to Norwich last Saturday.
They managed to come away from East Anglia unscathed but the fact that it was a second string outfit meant that Norwich certainly fancied their chances of claiming a major scalp, unfortunately for Daniel Farke’s team it was not to be and now they are going to have to create an upset the hard way in the replay next week.
The league encounter between Arsenal and Chelsea was one of the games of the season and to be honest Arsenal have probably be involved in the top three games of the season so far, however they have come at the Emirates with their away form being something of a different proposition.
That said the last time they came to Stamford Bridge was back in September when they and Chelsea played out another draw, this time it was a goalless stalemate in a game where Arsenal fans may well have felt that they were better side and should have won. Especially after their side did have the ball in the net before it getting chalked off for offside.
The fact that Chelsea are going to go strong in terms of their lineup, should in turn coax Arsene Wenger to name a full strength lineup, if he doesn’t then it could be something of a mercy killing with the tie already over before we get to the second leg.
The tie cannot be won tonight but it certainly can be lost, even in defeat as long as the margin is not too big then the difference can still be overturned in the second leg. I think Chelsea will edge this one even though Antonio Conte has only beaten Arsene Wenger once in seven attempts since becoming the Blues boss. Home win for me.