A week on from a thrilling back-and-forth encounter in the Premier League, Chelsea and Arsenal meet again when the former host the latter at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday (20:00 GMT, live on Sky Sports).
There were four goals and plenty of incident in the 2-2 draw at the Emirates last week. Jack Wilshere gave Arsenal the lead, goals from Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso saw Chelsea reverse the scoreline, only for Hector Bellerin to score a well-taken, last-gasp equaliser.
It was an emotional roller coaster, with a couple of controversies. Arsenal were unhappy with the award of the penalty from which Hazard scored, while Chelsea felt that Wilshere should have received a second yellow card earlier for an apparent dive. Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger have since traded a few barbs, upping the ante ahead of Wednesday’s encounter.
Chelsea’s Conte does, indeed, seem to be getting increasingly frisky in his confrontations with other coaches. In addition to Wenger, he has recently been drawn into a ferocious war of words with Jose Mourinho, whom he called “fake” and “a little man” after the Manchester United coach made reference to an old match-fixing investigation that later cleared Conte of any wrongdoing.
The two teams meet on February 25 in a match between sides who are most likely to fight it out for second spot behind champions-elect Manchester City at the end of the season. With that and continued involvement in three cup competitions, Chelsea still have plenty to play for. They have an FA Cup third-round replay against Norwich to come, after a 0-0 draw between the sides on Saturday, but their priority will be the Champions League campaign.
Conte’s side had a few problems adjusting to new personnel and a shift to a 3-5-2 formation (from a 3-4-3) earlier in the campaign. While they have struggled to achieve the same consistency they showed in powering to last season’s league title, a tightening up of their defence has seen them lose just one of their last 16 matches in all competitions – a spell in which they have conceded just eight goals.
Arsenal are, in fact, the only side to have scored more than once against Chelsea since the end of October. The Gunners seem to have rediscovered their confidence in their own offensive potency now that summer signing Alexandre Lacazette has clicked with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to form a fearsome front three, but have at the same time showed increasing disregard towards defensive organisation.
That has been particularly clear in their recent matches against other top-six sides, which have all been open and action-packed encounters. There was a 1-3 home defeat to Manchester United that could easily have gone the other way had they taken their chances, a pulsating 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool and then last week’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea.
Whether this new gung-ho approach, also evident in a 3-2 win away to Crystal Palace at the end of December, represents the best way of getting back into the Premier League top four and of tackling their remaining cup engagements – now minus the FA Cup, following their 2-4 defeat to Nottingham Forest on Sunday – remains to be seen, but it certainly makes for entertaining matches.
Wenger and Arsenal got one over on Conte in knockout competition by defeating Chelsea in last season’s FA Cup final, and his overall record against his opposite number on Wednesday is actually very good. Since Conte took over at Chelsea at the start of last season, the teams have met on six occasions, producing three wins for Arsenal (one of those on penalties), one victory for Chelsea and two draws.
Chelsea have, however, won five of the last six meetings between the sides at Stamford Bridge, with Arsenal’s last victory there coming back in 2011. That home advantage should be enough to give them the slight edge this week in what should be an exciting encounter and one that will set the tie up perfectly for the return leg at the Emirates.