Chelsea, Arsenal play out forgettable 0-0 draw in Carabao Cup semifinal
LONDON -- Here are three thoughts on Wednesday's 0-0 clash between Chelsea and Arsenal in their Carabao Cup semifinal first leg.
1. Stars fail to shine in another Chelsea, Arsenal draw
Chelsea and Arsenal played out a draw for the fourth time this season as the attacking talents on both sides were stifled in a goalless Carabao Cup semifinal first leg at Stamford Bridge.
On a night when Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata struggled to make a difference for Chelsea, Arsenal's record signing, Alexandre Lacazette, also failed to shine, with all three forwards replaced by their managers before 90 minutes had elapsed.
The game was light on goal threat and controversy, with the only moment of debate coming in the first half, when referee Martin Atkinson rejected the opportunity to use the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) following a Victor Moses challenge on Ainsley Maitland-Niles that led to calls for an Arsenal penalty. Television replays backed up Atkinson's decision.
But with the run of draws stretching back to last August's Community Shield at Wembley, when Arsenal won 4-1 on penalties, the failure for a winner to emerge ensures that the second leg of this tie at the Emirates remains in the balance. But whether Alexis Sanchez is still an Arsenal player when the two teams meet again on Jan. 24 remains to be seen.
The Chile international started on the substitutes' bench, coming on for a 24-minute cameo that heightened speculation that he will complete a move to Manchester City in the coming days.
2. Wenger gets tough with Sanchez, lets Iwobi off the hook
Injuries left Arsene Wenger with few options for his starting lineup at Stamford Bridge, but having insisted he would take action against Alex Iwobi for partying less than 48 hours before Sunday's humiliating FA Cup third-round defeat against Nottingham Forest, the Arsenal manager chose instead to select the winger and begin Wednesday's game with transfer-seeking Alexis Sanchez on the bench.
Wenger might have felt that despite Iwobi's lack of professionalism, he represents a problem he'll have to deal once the transfer window closes later this month, as opposed to Sanchez, who appears destined for Manchester City. But in a major semifinal, and in the only domestic competition that Wenger has never won as Arsenal boss, it made little sense for Iwobi to get the nod.
While he remains an Arsenal player, Sanchez should be one of the first names on the team-sheet, especially when the likes of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud are unavailable, but he did not enter the fray until the 66th minute.
Sanchez is a world-class player, while Iwobi has yet to prove that he is good enough for the Premier League, making Wenger's decision all the more bewildering. It left Arsenal without their most potent goal threat but also sent the message to Iwobi that his weekend indiscretion had been quickly forgiven.
Wenger should have dropped Iwobi and restored some kind of discipline. He should also have selected Sanchez and given Arsenal a bigger chance of claiming a first-leg advantage.
3. Drinkwater sinking at Chelsea
A few eyebrows were raised last August, when Chelsea paid £35 million for Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater, but after allowing Nemanja Matic to leave for Manchester United, there was some kind of logic to the move.
Tiemoue Bakayoko's arrival from Monaco was designed to plug the Matic gap, but with the France international injured when he signed for Chelsea, Drinkwater offered experienced cover for Antonio Conte. But five months into his Chelsea career, Drinkwater is struggling to make an impression.
The 27-year-old midfielder was poor once again against Arsenal, even though he's playing alongside his old Leicester midfield partner, N'Golo Kante, in front of the Chelsea back four with all the reassurance that would seemingly bring.
Drinkwater was outstanding during Leicester's title-winning season two years ago, but that campaign is beginning to look like a flash in the pan. He looks some distance short of the quality required to play in midfield for Chelsea, especially when compared to recent stars such as Matic, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele, but Bakayoko's struggles have also highlighted how tough it can be to settle into the team at Stamford Bridge.
Ross Barkley, a £15 million buy from Everton last week, might ultimately benefit from Drinkwater and Bakayoko's travails if Conte chooses to move Cesc Fabregas back into a deeper role, therefore opening up a slot for Barkley higher up the pitch.
But right now, there is no obvious solution for Conte in the heart of midfield alongside Kante.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_