Xhaka nets winner as Arsenal rallies to League Cup final against Manchester City
Arsenal fought back from a goal down against old foe Chelsea to reach the League Cup final as Granit Xhaka poked home to complete a 2-1 second-leg win on Wednesday that set up a Wembley showdown with Manchester City.
Nothing separated the sides after the semifinal’s first leg at Stamford Bridge ended goalless two weeks ago, but the stalemate was swiftly broken as Chelsea took the lead through Eden Hazard after seven minutes at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has faced perennial questions about his side’s steel in the face of adversity, but these were swept away as it levelled five minutes later through a fortuitous Antonio Rudiger own goal before it turned the match on its head.
Midfielder Xhaka turned predator 15 minutes after halftime to finish from close range and Arsenal stayed rock-solid at the back for the rest of the game to set up an enticing final against Premier League leaders City on February 25.
Arsenal had been under the cosh for much of the first half but it came out after the break a changed side, taking the game to the visitors.
“In the first half we gave Chelsea too much respect and distance. We were a bit scared to go for it,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who has never won the League Cup.
“We were not playing in the right position but we amended that in the second half and took control of the game.
“We lost a great player in Alexis Sanchez but when a team doesn’t know what’s going on in the dressing room there is less clarity and focus on performances,” he said. “We know we have to deal with it now.”
The sides were meeting for the fifth time this season and it was clear that familiarity had bred a certain degree of contempt as the tackles flew in during a fiercely contested opening.
Arsenal had lost only one of its previous seven games against Chelsea.
It was Chelsea’s first defeat since December 9, yet it has now failed to win six out of its last seven games, if you discount its penalty shootout win over Norwich in the FA Cup.
“There is a big disappointment ... there was great will to play at Wembley,” Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said.
Conte also said he has little impact on the club’s transfer market, adding his squad was under pressure due to a number of injuries.
“I don’t have a big impact in the transfer market,” he told reporter, seemingly unhappy at a lack of activity in the transfer market.
“About the transfer market, from the summer there is the club and the club decides for every single player.
“I don’t like to speak about the transfer market, the club decides our transfer market, as I said before my task is to try to improve my players,” he said.