Sunday, January 14, 2018

Leicester 0-0


Chelsea 0 Leicester City 0: Stalemate at Stamford Bridge as Blues fail to overcome 10-man Leicester

Sam Wallace

There was a time when every decision Antonio Conte made seemed destined to yield results, from his radical new formations to his substitutions, which is why when he replaced Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas before the hour without even a sympathetic glance, one assumed that a goal was coming.

Conte is not a man who is prepared to die wondering what might have been and yet as his Chelsea side failed to overcome a Leicester City team down a man for the last 22 minutes plus stoppage time after Ben Chilwell’s red card, their manager was out of options. This was the club’s third consecutive goalless draw, after those in the FA Cup and EFL Cup, and while their defence of the Premier League title has long since turned to dust, this one felt the most damaging of all.

Much of the blame will rest on Alvaro Morata, now five goals without a game, and given his fragile confidence this was the wrong time to run into the outstanding Harry Maguire, winning challenges and carrying the ball clear like a farmer delighting in his new 4x4. Even when Chilwell was sent off for two yellow cards within the space of six minutes, the second of which was for a reckless challenge on Victor Moses, there was no breaking Leicester.     

The most damning verdict was Conte’s response to Hazard and Fabregas, the creative soul of his team, early in the second half when the Italian did not even bother to wait for an hour before he hauled both of them off. Hazard did his best to suppress his displeasure at the indignity of it but Conte had clearly seen enough for him to feel that Pedro was a better option than one of the Premier League’s finest players.

Hazard was overshadowed by Riyad Mahrez, especially in the first half, when his flickering feet and bursts of acceleration was a constant source of concern for Chelsea’s left-sided defender Antonio Rudiger, who nevertheless stuck grimly to his task. There was frustration at Conte’s line-up with a five-man midfield that included another full game for Tiemoue Bakayoko, a more obvious substitution, it appeared, when Conte tried to ramp up the pressure with Pedro and Willian.

There were boos for Chelsea at the final whistle, and afterwards Conte defended his players citing the exertions of Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, although it should be noted that Hazard felt fresh enough to attend the NBA game at the O2 Arena. Their manager rejected the notion that he should jettison the unpopular 3-5-2 in favour of last season’s title-winning 3-4-3 system and said that he just did not have the players.

And there was the mandatory response to the latest Jose Mourinho intervention, Conte responding to the Manchester United manager’s view that he held his counterpart in “contempt”. This answer might not have been the incendiary response of one week earlier but this feud will simmer, even if Conte accepted he would be willing to call a truce if his counterpart did likewise.

“I think I said I'd stop,” Conte said. “It's the same for me [that he would halt the back-and-forth if Mourinho did likewise]. I don't know if he said this for me. I'm not worried. I sleep very well.” He might sleep less well knowing that never before have Chelsea strung together three goalless draws in their history and with no imminent move in the transfer market, for Alexis Sanchez or any other attacking player, it will be down to the Italian to change things himself.

“I think the problem is for the team, not only for Morata,” Conte said. “Compared to last season, we are conceding less and showing great solidity defensively. But, at the same time, we are not showing great quality in our finishing. This is the truth. But not only for Morata. Defenders have had chances from corners, and we've not taken those chances to score. We have to try to improve on this aspect. But the problem is not only for Morata or [Michy] Batshuayi when he plays. It's for all the team.”

Conte said that he saw “a lot of players very tired” and when asked again about whether the club might consider a bid for Sanchez, he was non-committal. “I'm the coach. I'm trying to do the best with my players, to try and improve my players, to try to work and give every day 110 per cent. Sometimes this is enough. It [transfers] is not my business.”

Leicester had dominated the attacking parts of the first half, and Mahrez was a constant thorn in their side. Shinji Okazaki in particular should have scored from a cross and they ended the half with 12 attempts on Chelsea’s goal which was more, their former player Gary Lineker pointed out, than any away side in a first half at Stamford Bridge in 15 years.

Chelsea lost Gary Cahill to injury but mostly they were just struggling to build any attack of significance. Mahrez seemed to drag his foot into Cahill’s replacement Andreas Christensen on 55 minutes and was denied a penalty by referee Mike Jones. Chilwell’s first yellow card was for a foul on Willian, Fabregas’ replacement, and he was sent off on 68 minutes for the challenge that left Moses limping. Claude Puel declared both of the cards “harsh”.

“When we watch our game [back], we lost two points,” Puel said. “Of course there's a little disappointment at the end, but a good feeling to show our quality. They are champions playing at home, so it's a good feeling to see my players with this quality, and all the chances we created this afternoon.”

Chelsea had one final chance when substitute Vicente Iborra gave away a dangerous free-kick in the third minute of injury-time but Marcos Alonso dragged his shot wide, and it would have been hard to say they deserved the three points.



Chelsea take fortunate point from lively 10-man Leicester as fans grow restless

Chelsea 0 - 0 Leicester

Dominic Fifield at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea heaved in search of a winner deep into stoppage time here, the locals howling in exasperation as Kasper Schmeichel turned Marcos Alonso’s free-kick round a post, but plucking a victory from this mess of a display would have been an injustice. Too much of what they had offered up was inadequate. Discontent is welling in these parts and, for the first time, some of it is being directed at the dugout.

There were boos when Eden Hazard, for the fourth time in four starts, did not see out the game, and another disgruntled chorus to greet the final whistle. A third successive goalless draw represents a club record and underlines that this team’s domestic campaign has rather run aground. Leicester made them feel so ineffective, of course, and more than merited reward for a display that verged on dominance until the last half-hour. Yet the champions, even with their cluttered schedule, should offer more than this.

They have become too predictable, too overreliant for comfort upon their Belgium forward and with too few team-mates contributing at Hazard’s side. Álvaro Morata is enduring a lull in his first season in these parts and, one dart to the byline aside, was anonymous until booked three minutes from time, but the striker’s crisis in confidence is seeping into other areas of this collective. In the aftermath of Schmeichel’s save, Victor Moses sliced a shot so wide it almost drifted out for a throw-in. That, or Antonio Rüdiger dawdling in possession to be robbed by Jamie Vardy inside Chelsea’s penalty area, was more typical of his team’s display.

Antonio Conte was apparently not looking for excuses but cited the quick turnaround from Wednesday’s draining draw against Arsenal as key to this lethargic display. “I saw a lot of players very tired, very tired,” he said. “We suffered a lot in the first half and at the start of the second.” He cited fatigue for his decision to remove Hazard and Cesc Fàbregas just before the hour mark and pointed to the burst of energy provided by Pedro and Willian as key to a slightly more acceptable last 20 minutes. “But we must improve if we want to score and to win.” There have been four successive draws since the turn of the year.

The visitors might normally have been satisfied having played the last 22 minutes with their number depleted after the dismissal of Ben Chilwell, but the better chances and more coherent play had always been theirs. “If it had finished 11 versus 11, we would have got the win,” offered Claude Puel. His own players, their schedule less energy sapping and recovery time awarded in midweek, were sprightly in comparison and had swarmed over their hosts for long periods. No visiting team has managed as many as Leicester’s 12 first-half attempts since the first season of the Roman Abramovich era in south-west London. It was Chelsea’s good fortune that none was taken.

It was profligacy, a lack of “cutting edge” according to Puel, which saw them survive. An experienced back three were tormented by the pace of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who would still blot his copybook with a second-half dive over Andreas Christensen’s outstretched leg in search of a penalty. Gary Cahill had started ahead of the young Dane as the back-line’s central pivot, though he was left dizzied by a brutal first half-hour and would eventually depart prematurely clutching his right hamstring. It was telling that Christensen, rather than David Luiz, was summoned as a replacement.

By then, the contest should have been settled. Shinji Okazaki, poking awkwardly over the bar, and Vardy, who guided a shot into the side-netting, had both benefited from Chilwell’s fine delivery early on. Wilfred Ndidi thought he had registered at Mahrez’s deflected corner only for Thibaut Courtois to conjure a save at full stretch, with a succession of centres fizzed across Chelsea’s goalline somehow eluding Leicester’s players. There would be further opportunities after the break, with Courtois static and helpless as Mahrez’s shot catapulted off Christensen and dribbled just beyond a post.

Rarely under Conte’s stewardship has this side been so disjointed. their set-up clumsy and tentative in the face of their opponents’ frantic press, and uncertainty prevailing with so many players straining to rediscover form and rhythm. Even Hazard could not haul them from their malaise, the Belgian overelaborating in his desperation to make an impact. Conte was asked post-match about José Mourinho’s apparent “contempt” for him but merely batted it back with: “I’m not worried.” His team’s displays will be causing him far more concern.



Chelsea toothless once again as 10-man Leicester earn deserved point

Chelsea 0 Leicester 0: The Blues were thoroughly off colour and were perhaps fortunate to escape with a share of the points despite Ben Chilwell's sending off

Matt McGeehan Stamford Bridge

Chelsea endured a third successive goalless draw in an enthralling encounter against excellent 10-man Leicester.

Antonio Conte had been wary of the Foxes and his concern proved well founded as the movement and energy of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki troubled Chelsea.

Leicester were relentless, playing like champions, with the intensity of their pressing forcing mistakes.

Ben Chilwell was sent off for two bookable offences in quick succession, leaving the visitors down to 10 men with 22 minutes remaining.

Yet still Chelsea, who had won their previous seven Premier League home games since September's loss to Manchester City, could not break the Foxes down as the Blues followed stalemates with Norwich and Arsenal with a third in a week.

Conte tinkered with his defence for the visit of Chelsea's predecessors as champions.

David Luiz was Conte's first choice in the centre of his back three in last season's title-winning campaign.

Now the Brazilian is apparently not even second choice as Gary Cahill was deployed in the central role, with Andreas Christensen rested on the bench alongside Luiz.

Cahill lasted just 33 minutes before going off clutching his right hamstring.

He had been given a torrid time by Vardy, who showed no signs of the groin injury which deprived him of a return to his former club Fleetwood a week ago.

The Foxes cut through their hosts time and again, with left-back Chilwell creating chances for Okazaki and Vardy, who next dragged an effort wide across goal.

Wilfred Ndidi's free header was saved by Thibaut Courtois before Cesc Fabregas forced a save from Kasper Schmeichel at the other end.

Only a well-timed Cahill tackle stopped Mahrez from shooting following a mazy run and then Eden Hazard should have punished the Foxes at the other end, only to shoot tamely at Schmeichel.

A race with Vardy culminated in Cahill stretching for the ball before hobbling off. Christensen went on, with Luiz not even asked to warm up.

Mahrez then drilled the ball across goal, but there was no-one in a black and gold shirt to convert.

Vardy then robbed Antonio Rudiger inside his own box. The ball went to Okazaki, whose effort was blocked into the path of Marc Albrighton. He fired wide.

Schmeichel saved from Fabregas before the break and Leicester continued to pressurise their hosts on the resumption.

Vardy nicked the ball off Christensen and found Mahrez, who initiated contact by kicking the Denmark defender.

The Foxes forward went to ground, seeking a penalty, but referee Mike Jones was unmoved and not inclined to dole out a yellow card for diving.

Mahrez next blasted a shot into Christensen and it deflected wide.

Conte had seen enough and made his final two changes. Willian and Pedro were sent on for the ineffective Hazard and Fabregas.

Willian lured a foul from Chilwell, who was booked after 63 minutes.

The left-back then caught Victor Moses late and was sent off after 68 minutes.

Long-range shots from Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko were symptomatic of Chelsea's struggles to break Leicester down.

And Schmeichel turned a Marcos Alonso free-kick behind for a corner in stoppage time as Chelsea missed their last chance.


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Chelsea 0-0 Leicester: Blues left frustrated by Foxes as Antonio Conte's men fail to score for a third successive game despite Ben Chilwell red card

By Oliver Holt For The Mail On Sunday

Chelsea took advantage of a brief lull in the fighting between Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho to play a football match at Stamford Bridge.

But if Conte was hoping the contest with Leicester would bring him some respite from the fractiousness that is lingering around him and the club, this goalless draw with a purring Leicester side was not the game to do it.

Conte’s side were comprehensively outplayed by Claude Puel’s visitors for two thirds of the game and were lucky to escape with a point. Even when Leicester were reduced to 10 men in the 67th minute courtesy of Chilwell’s second yellow card, Chelsea rarely looked like breaking them down.

They are without a win in four games now and they left the field to yells of dismay from the crowd.

The result will do little to lift the air of siege that has settled around a manager who could do no wrong in his first season in west London but who has been a restless, fretful discontented presence during this campaign and has allowed himself to become thoroughly rattled by Mourinho’s expertly aimed barbs.

The build-up to this match had seen him fending off suggestions that he would leave the club at the end of the season and that either Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri or Luis Enrique had already been lined up to take over from him. The way his team played during this game suggested that all the off-the-field distractions may be taking their toll.

In this meeting of the two most recent Premier League champions, Leicester had begun playing as though it was they, not Chelsea, who were the current title holders. For much of the first half, they turned the clock back to the glory days of that fairy-tale season under Claudio Ranieri.

They overwhelmed Chelsea with the pace and guile of their play. Conte’s team struggled to cope with the combination of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in particular. Their understanding seemed telepathic. The opening 45 minutes featured a succession of Leicester chances interrupted occasionally by a Chelsea foray upfield.

All the fluency and the technique belonged to the visitors. Chelsea looked slow and cumbersome and when they did have the ball, even Eden Hazard was careless in possession. Much of what he did was sublime. It always is. But after he had worked his magic with the ball, he too often gave it away.

Leicester should have taken the lead after eight minutes when Chilwell ran on to a long diagonal ball on the left flank and cut sharply inside. He dragged a cross back from the byline into the path of Okazaki but he could only lift it over the bar from close range when he should have scored.

Leicester spent the next few minutes peppering the Chelsea goal. Vardy flicked out a foot to steer a long ball from Chilwell into the sidenetting and then, a minute later, ran on to a through ball from James and drilled a shot across goal but just wide of the right hand post.

Leicester had another fine chance to open the scoring in the 12th minute when a corner from the right was allowed to bounce in the area. Ndidi guided the ball goalwards. Courtois flung himself to his right and palmed the ball away. Chilwell pounced on the rebound but his shot was blocked by Alonso at close range.

Only Fabregas offered much in the way of creative play going forward for Chelsea. Schmeichel saved well from him at his near post but it was not long before the home side were on the defensive again. This time, they were indebted to a fine saving tackle from Cahill that denied Mahrez after he had played a clever 1-2 with Okazaki.

Cahill went off soon afterwards with what looked like a hamstring injury and ten minutes into the second half, his replacement, Christensen, was at the centre of a penalty controversy. Mahrez burst into the box and even though Christensen did not make a tackle, Mahrez tumbled over him and Leicester bayed for a spot kick. Referee Mike Jones waved play on. It was the correct decision.

Mahrez was aggrieved by the decision and a minute later, his search for justice nearly brought a goal. He ran across the edge of the box from right to left and unleashed a shot at the Chelsea goal. It took a heavy deflection off Alonso that left Courtois rooted to the spot but it bounced just wide of the left hand post.

Leicester continued to dominate but Chelsea finally began to gain a foothold in the game when Conte brought on Willian and Pedro for Hazard and Costa and 22 minutes from the end, they were given another boost when Chilwell was sent off for second booking in six minutes, a studs-up tackle on Moses that might have been a straight red.

Chelsea pressed for a winner in the dying minutes and Schmeichel saved well from a bouncing Alonso free kick but Chelsea never really looked like getting the goal they needed. The air of gloom and infighting around Stamford Bridge lingers on.

CHELSEA: Courtois 7 – Azpilicueta 6, Cahill 7(Christensen 33 6), Rudiger 6 – Moses 5, Kante 6, Fabregas 7(Pedro 57 6), Bakayoko 4, Alonso 4 – Hazard 6(Willian 57 7), Morata 4.

SUBS NOT USED: Cabellero, Zappacosta, Batshuayi, David Luiz


LEICESTER CITY: Schmeichel 7 – Amartey 6, Maguire 6, Dragovic 6, Chilwell 6 – Mahrez 8, Ndidi 7, James 7, Albrighton 7 – Okazaki 6, Vardy 7(Gray 82 6).

SUBS NOT USED: Gray, Iheanacho, Hamer, Slimani, Iborra, Benalouane

BOOKED: Chilwell, James, Okazaki

SENT OFF: Chilwell


REFEREE: Mike Jones




Chelsea 0 - Leicester 0: Fans turn on Blues after another lacklustre performance

JEERS from the home fans filled the air at Stamford Bridge after the final whistle as Chelsea’s players trooped off in silent dismay. They’ve been heard more than a few times through years, of course.


What has never happened before, not once in the 113-year history of this proud football club, is a run of three consecutive 0-0 draws.

That incredible statistic revealed the poverty of Chelsea in the past week, with goalless encounters with Norwich and Arsenal in cup-ties, and now against vibrant Leicester in the Premier League.

It explained the agitation of the Chelsea fans even though their club are still in all four competitions, and joint second in the League table this morning.Three goalless draws in succession --- that’s the number which matters, much more than another Chelsea could pluck out that says they have lost only once in their last 18 games.

And Chelsea were supremely fortunate to get a 0-0 yesterday because Leicester were clearly the superior team here.

They were more intelligent, more diligent and far more spirited. On another day they might have won by a couple of goals as their recent progress under manager Claude Puel was plain to see.

A key factor in that has been the revitalisation of Riyad Mahrez, who has found his dancing feet and precision passes.

Mahrez was the conductor of Leicester’s attacking orchestra, on song from the start. They created and spurned a series of early chances as Shinji Okazki scooped over the bar from close range and Jamie Vardy flicked an effort into the side-netting.

There should have been a goal when Mahrez waltzed to the touchline and crossed low across the face of goal --- but no team-mate could find a touch. Moments later Marc Albrighton shot inches wide.

Chelsea’s crowd were noisily frustrated, both by the dominance of Leicester and the poverty of their own side.

Morata was caught offside far too often; a player trying too hard for his own good. Cesc Fabregas was wayward in his passing and Tiemoue Bakayoko simply anonymous.

They had but one effort in the opening period, a fierce drive from Fabregas tipped over the bar by Kapser Schmeichel just before the break.

Whatever words of wisdom or anger Conte delivered to his team, the pattern remained the same in the second half; Leicester superior and creating the opportunities to score.

When Mahrez had a shot deflected just wide it prompted a double substitution, with the rare sight of Hazard being withdrawn, correctly, in an attempt to improve the team

Nothing helped Chelsea, not even the dismissal of Leicester left back Ben Chilwell in the 68th minute after a second yellow card for a lunging studs-showing challenge that caught Victor Moses on the shin.

Nobody could complain about that decision, but Leicester kept their discipline and organisation to comfortably hold out for a draw, the very least they deserved from the match.

Chelsea were restricted to long range shots. The only threat was deep into injury time when Schmeichel pushed away a curling free-kick from Marcos Alonso.




Chelsea 0 Leicester 0: Watch highlights as Blues squander huge chance to go second in the Premier League with goalless draw against ten-man Foxes

Ben Chilwell saw red in the second-half for two quick yellow cards, with Claude Puel's men clinging on by the end

By Andrew Dillon

EDEN HAZARD was substituted for the fourth game in a row as Chelsea’s wobbling front line struggled again.

The Belgian superstar revealed only this week that he is set to sign a new deal at the club once his compatriot and Blues 'keeper Thibaut Courtois does first.

But the £200million-rated midfielder was hauled off by frustrated boss Antonio Conte with more than half an hour left of an ineffective performance.

Hazard, 27, still has two-and-a-half years left on his £200,000-a-week deal with the Premier League champions but knows Real Madrid and most of the top sides would jump at the chance to sign him.

He took a long look at the Stamford Bridge scoreboard as he trudged off the field this afternoon to make a note of the time at which he was hooked.

It was the 58th minute of a game in which Chelsea were under the cosh from Leicester, in particular winger Riyad Mahrez. And they barely mounted an attack in response.

Hazard was also taken off early in Wednesday Carabao Cup semi final against Arsenal and in the Premier League match against the same opposition a week earlier.

Hazard was left out altogether from the weekend stalemate in the FA Cup at Norwich which replays on Wednesday.

Chelsea keeper Courtois was forced to make a drastic one-handed save from Wilfred Ndidi and striker Jamie Vardy shot into the side netting inside the first ten minutes.

Leicester had to play the last 22 minutes with ten men after left back Ben Chilwell was sent off for being booked twice - in four minutes.

Chilwell got his first yellow for fouling sub Willian and then lost his composure and put his studs into the shin of Victor Moses in the 68th-minute for the second.

Cesc Fabregas had a shot tipped over by Kasper Schmeichel in the first half.

Ultimately though, as Chelsea ramped up the pressure late in the game, the Foxes were able to cling on to a creditable draw.


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Chelsea 0 Leicester 0: Foxes give Blues big scare and hold on with 10 men

A family of four are giving Chelsea problems off the pitch – and yesterday their progress on it was held up by 14 players from Leicester.

By Paul Hetherington

And Leicester’s 14 men - including substitutes - also frustrated Chelsea for long periods in this entertaining match - and not through being negative.

The Foxes had 12 shots in the first half alone - the highest number by a visiting team at The Bridge for 15 years.

They ended the match with ten men following the sending off of Ben Chilwell, but it would have been unjust if they had left Chelsea empty handed.

It’s now three matches without a goal for Chelsea, who missed the chance to climb above Manchester United and go second in the table.

Storm clouds seem to have been gathering at Chelsea all season, despite last season’s title triumph.

And after their initial purposeful start, they could have been blown away by Leicester’s response.

In the space of four early minutes, the Foxes were close to scoring on three occasions.

On the first occasion, Shinji Okazaki sliced Chilwell’s inviting delivery across the face of the goal, then Jamie Vardy’s first-time effort from the full back’s fine pass travelled wide.

Leicester were then back again and Thibaut Courtois had to dive full length to keep out Wilfred Ndidi’s header.

The danger had not disappeared, though, and Victor Moses blocked Aleksandar Dragovic’s follow-up effort.

Chelsea finally threatened through Cesc Fabregas, but Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel was down quickly to make a smart save.

Leicester’s slick movement continued to cause Chelsea problems and Gary Cahill made a fine block from another Vardy effort.

The Chelsea crowd weren’t liking what they were seeing at that stage and murmurs of disapproval grew in volume.

The champions weren’t helped, either, when skipper Cahill had to be substituted in the 33rd minute with a hamstring problem.

Alvaro Morata got the crowd going with a fine run, but Leicester were always a threat and a Riyad Mahrez cross whistled across the face of the goal without anyone managing to get a touch.

Chelsea, at least, always had hope when Fabregas was involved and his second fine effort of an open match was turned over the bar by Schmeichel.

It was a surprise, therefore, when Fabregas was one of the players substituted by a clearly-unhappy Antonio Conte in the 58th minute.

That was just a minute after Leicester and their fans felt they should have had a penalty when Mahrez went down in the box.

But replays indicated that the Leicester winger had actually made contact with Andreas Christensen, rather than the other way round.

The Foxes were also unhappy when Chilwell was sent off in the 68th minute for a foul on Moses - his second yellow card in five minutes.

The busy N’Golo Kante, playing against the club with whom he made his reputation, tried to find a way through for Chelsea.

But his on-target strike was beaten down by Schmeichel.

Leicester ended the match reduced numerically, but not in resolve.

And their defence, with England’s Harry Maguire again impressive, stood firm.

But Schmeichel had to go full length to keep out a Marcos Alonso free kick in the fourth minute of added time.

Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Cahill 6 (Christensen (33rd) 7), Rudiger 5; Moses 5, Fabregas 6 (Pedro (58th) 5), Kante 7, Bakayoko 6, Alonso 6; Hazard 5 (Willian (58th) 6); Morata 6.

Leicester: Schmeichel 7; Amartey 6, Dragovic 7, Maguire 8, Chilwell 6; Mahrez 7, Ndidi 7, James 6 (Iborra (90th)), Albrighton 6; Okazaki 6 (Fuchs (73rd) 5); Vardy 6 (Gray (82nd)).


Arsenal 0-0


Chelsea 0 Arsenal 0, League Cup semi-final first leg: VAR in the spotlight in London derby stalemate

Jason Burt

The ‘VAR’ was used but this was more a ‘Very Average Response’ as Chelsea and Arsenal played out a goalless stalemate in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.

The Video Assistant Referee was called upon, to help adjudicate on two penalties claims, one for each side, and it was correct that neither was given even if the sight of the official Martin Atkinson pressing his finger to his ear added to the fans’ confused frustration.

Instead it was an encounter which also left Arsenal supporters wondering if Alexis Sanchez will be at the club for the second leg, in a fortnight’s time, after he started on the substitutes’ bench and with a January move to Manchester City appearing increasingly likely.

Arsene Wenger later denied that was the case while confirming that Jack Wilshere, his captain for the night, had suffered yet another injury to add to Arsenal’s worrying roll call of absentees. However the midfielder’s apparent ankle strain, received in blocking a shot, should not keep him out too long. It is hoped.

Wenger watched the match from the press box – serving the second game of his three-fixture ban – and was, frankly, more entertaining that what happened out on the pitch, at times. It was a close-by study for reporters on the agonies that a manager goes through as he slammed his desk, kicked the seat in front of him and failed to stifle the odd shout over decisions or his players not being in position even if he was 25 yards away.

By the end Arsenal commendably kept Chelsea at bay and there was also a sense that there is too much of a familiarity about these two teams now. This was their fourth meeting of the season, their fourth draw, but this was a far cry from the thrilling 2-2 draw at the Emirates last week.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte marched onto the pitch to speak to Atkinson at the final whistle – having drawn an imaginary ‘TV’ with his hands, presumably calling for another video referral – but later said he had only questioned an offside call.

There were chances. But, crucially, both Chelsea and Arsenal are carrying strikers at present who are suffering from a lack of confidence which was evidenced in the opening two minutes when Alvaro Morata was put through by Eden Hazard only to snatch at the chance and prod the ball into the side-netting.

Then, with Arsenal’s first, and best, opening, superbly fashioned by Wilshere, who was their most positive, influential player, as he lifted the ball through, Alexandre Lacazette had the chance to run at goal but slashed wildly at his shot from just inside the penalty area and struck it high over the cross-bar. He had to do better.

Arsenal will, of course, come away the happier and rightly so. It is all to play for but they are at home and after going out of the FA Cup so pitifully last Sunday, away to Nottingham Forest, this was a performance that showed the resolve and determination they so sorely lacked.

It was a different XI, also, although Alex Iwobi – accused of partying late too close to the Forest game – surprisingly kept his place while Sanchez, expected to start, was benched before he came on in the second-half but to little effect.

Chelsea will feel they created enough opportunities to have won, maybe even to have put this tie to bed, but it is three draws in a row for them in all competitions and further evidence as to why they are looking for another striker during this window with Morata needing a rest, and back-up, and little faith in Michy Batshuayi who also came on as a late substitute and headed over the one opening that came his way. Neither could Conte turn to new signing, Ross Barkley, who was not deemed fit enough.

Chelsea struck the post in the first-half, from a Victor Moses shot, although goalkeeper David Ospina will have felt he had it covered, and did so again late on when Cesc Fabregas’s cross was deflected onto the outside of the goal-frame.

The first penalty claim came when Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois beat out Iwobi’s powerful shot, after a mistake by Antonio Rudiger who unwisely tried to pass the ball out of his own area to Danny Drinkwater only for it to be intercepted. The rebound fell to Ainsley Maitland-Niles and he attempted to burst past Moses, going down.

There were chants of “VAR” from the Arsenal fans but the penalty appeal was rejected after Atkinson clearly – with his hand to his ear – consulted with Neil Swarbrick, the official back at the television headquarters.

In the second-half Chelsea laid siege.

Marcos Alonso flicked on a cross to Andreas Christensen who headed over, at full stretch, from a couple of yards out. He should have scored. The ball bounced off Morata at close-range from another corner before the striker ran at goal and struck a powerful 25-yard shot that Ospina turned away. Then Morata hit the side-netting again as the goalkeeper rushed out.

It continued. Mustafi cut out Moses’ goal-bound shot for a corner, Christensen headed wastefully wide once more, Hazard elected to pass when he had to shoot and then Chelsea questioned whether they should have had a penalty as Fabregas went over under Danny Welbeck’s challenge and again Atkinson delayed, pressing his hand to his ear, but again it was not given.

It remains on the edge.


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Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal: Jack Wilshere limps off injured but Gunners hold firm to keep Carabao Cup semi-final in the balance after first leg at Stamford Bridge

By Martin Samuel for the Daily Mail

By the time this tie is decided, Arsene Wenger will be back where he belongs. This cannot have been the most comfortable evening for him, hustled into the press box, flanked by minders, courtesy of his touchline ban.

Wenger is so experienced at being barred from the dug-out that he even knows his preferred view from the naughty chair here.

He didn't like the second tier last time — too complicated getting down to the dressing rooms. Told the proximity of the team area to the press box, he opted for that instead, taking his place alongside people who had variously told him to quit, stand down or that his era at Arsenal had run its course.

A goalless draw at Chelsea was not the most defiant riposte, but nor was it the white flag some had expected when Arsenal's best player, Alexis Sanchez, was named on the substitutes' bench.

The sight of Chelsea's creative heart, Eden Hazard, being replaced by Tiemoue Bakayoko with 10 minutes to go including stoppage time was therefore a victory of sorts for Wenger; a concession by Antonio Conte that Plan A had failed.

Indeed, while Chelsea had the better chances and the best of the play, this felt like a more pleasing night for Arsenal. Some of the scorelines between these teams in recent years — Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0, Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Arsenal 1 Chelsea 4 — would have negated the worth of a second leg. Instead, going level to a rematch at the Emirates, Arsenal are right in this.

Much will depend, of course, on the team Wenger is able to field. Will Sanchez be in the pale blue of Manchester City by then; will Jack Wilshere be fit having left the field injured after 57 minutes here?

He walked off, which we might take as a good sign had Wilshere not once announced he was fine after completing 59 minutes of an England friendly against Denmark, only to discover he had a fractured left foot. You never know with him.

Here, he suffered a problem with his left ankle after blocking a cross from Danny Drinkwater. He had treatment, tried to continue, sat down on the pitch, walked off.

The Chelsea supporters jeered him, heartlessly and with scant concern for the bigger picture. Wilshere had just been getting into his stride again and that is good for England, as well as the player and Arsenal.

He was excellent in the first half, and few of his countrymen can play with his vision and speed of thought in midfield. He was a step above his opposite number Drinkwater, who was withdrawn soon after, too, but for different reasons.

Chelsea had the best of it, not least in the second half when they came out with renewed purpose. Andreas Christensen should have scored with a free header at the far post, after David Ospina had come for the ball and found his way blocked, while Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso came close with shots. The fact remains, though, this was a good result for Arsenal.

Perhaps it would do a number of managers good to observe a game from the press box, if only to dispel a few myths about their character. You know how we imagine Wenger has this benign, rose-tinted view of his players? Nothing they do is wrong, it's always the fault of the referee? It isn't like that.

The first shows of emotion — palms slammed down on the blue table, a whack on the metal bar that houses the strip lighting — were invariably in reaction to mistakes by Arsenal. A tame, short free-kick when something more imaginative was called for; some sleepy defending.

Later, he warmed to a familiar theme with cries of 'What?' every time Alvaro Morata or Hazard went down. Those seated in front of him reported the sort of kicking to the framework of the seats that Tony Adams and Steve Bould meted out to strikers, certainly once Wenger noticed he could see every incident replayed on the press-seat television monitors.

For a while, the Chelsea fans forgot his presence, too. When they remembered they mocked him. 'Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay,' they chorused, trying to get a glimmer of recognition or reaction. Neither came. What did they expect, these noisy boys? Do they think somebody who has taken charge of more Premier League games than every other manager in the top flight put together gets distracted by a bit of shouting?

Wenger stayed laser-focused throughout. The intensity with which he studied the game was almost startling. He will never be able to use that excuse about not having seen a controversial incident again, though. He plainly does not miss a thing, the crafty sod.

Not that there was too much to absorb in comparison to the last meeting of these teams. That was a metaphorical roller-coaster ride, a 2-2 draw that could have seen 10 goals shared.

Here, chances were limited. In the second minute, Hazard found Morata, who ran out of pitch and hit the side-netting.

From there it was 20 minutes before either side mustered a shot at goal — an underwhelming effort from another big-ticket signing. Wilshere put Alexandre Lacazette through but his shot was hopeless — rash, wild and high. The opposite of what Wenger, or any manager, would have wanted from a marksman.

Chelsea dominated from there, with Moses shooting on sight around Ospina. He came close twice and Christensen should have done better with two headers.

This was another match with the safety net of the video referee but its worth came largely in confirming what had not happened, rather than what had.

So, a tussle between Calum Chambers and Cesar Azpilicueta, which ended with the Chelsea man on the turf while waiting for an Arsenal corner, was judged worthy of a conversation with the pair, no more. And Ainsley Maitland-Niles's fall after a challenge by Moses was viewed as the result of evasive action rather than contact.

Then, with two minutes to go, Cesc Fabregas fell under pressure from Danny Welbeck. Play continued, the ball went out for a corner, then Martin Atkinson delayed delivery. Clearly, he was getting a steer remotely. The fans waited in anticipation. Wenger looked on intently but without emotion.

His monitor had told him long ago that Welbeck got a touch on the ball. As Atkinson was also informed, eventually. Handy place to be sometimes, the press box.

Chelsea starting XI: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Christensen 6, Rudiger 6.5; Moses 6.5, Kante 7, Fabregas 7, Drinkwater 6 (Willian 68, 6), Alonso 6.5; Hazard 7.5 (Bakayoko 84), Morata 6.5 (Batshuayi 87)

Subs not used: Eduardo, Luiz, Zappacosta, Pedro

Booked: Kante

Goals: n/a

Manager: Conte 6.5

Arsenal starting XI: Ospina 6; Chambers 6, Mustafi 6.5, Holding 6; Wilshere 7 (Elneny 57, 6), Xhaka 5.5; Bellerin 6, Maitland-Niles 5.5; Iwobi 5.5, Welbeck 7; Lacazette 5.5 (Sanchez 66, 6)

Subs not used: Macey, Mavropanos, Mertesacker, Nelson, Walcott

Booked: Xhaka, Elneny

Goals: n/a

Manager: Wenger 7

Ref: Martin Atkinson

Attendance: 40,097 


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Norwich 0-0


Norwich 0 Chelsea 0: Toothless performance leaves Antonio Conte with unwanted replay

Antonio Conte faces another 90 minutes of football this month

Sam Dean, at carrow road

Who would have thought, barely 48 hours ago, that Antonio Conte would end the weekend with a pair of rather pressing problems? The first of those is a certain Jose Mourinho who, as we learned on Friday night, is hellbent on waging a campaign of media warfare against the Chelsea manager. The second is an unexpected addition to Chelsea’s already congested fixture list, as a dogged Norwich City side held the Premier League champions to a deserved draw at Carrow Road.

Having lost just one game in 15, a trip to face a mid-table Championship side seemed unlikely to pose too much of a challenge. But, then again, neither did a Manchester United press conference following a routine FA Cup victory over Derby County. So here we are, with Chelsea needing to find time for an unwanted replay and Conte having to deal with an escalating conflict with the master of footballing feuds.

Conte’s side never found their groove here, and rarely troubled Daniel Farke’s impressive Norwich outfit, who will perhaps consider themselves unfortunate not to have turned their first-half dominance into a memorable victory. Against a desperately poor Chelsea team, Norwich were the more energetic, creative and exciting side, and frankly, deserved more than this stalemate.

With Chelsea set to face Arsenal on Wednesday in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final, Conte made nine changes to the side that had featured in that thrilling 2-2 draw at the Emirates in midweek. The rotation meant that David Luiz was selected for only the second time since October, while backup goalkeeper Willy Caballero and the Brazilian Kenedy made just their fourth appearances of the season.

There was also space for Michy Batshuayi, who has largely failed to impress his manager in a turbulent first half to the season but boasts an impressive record against lower league opposition. In four matches against sides below the Premier League before this trip to Carrow Road, the Belgian had scored seven goals and created two others.

The wholesale changes appeared to take their toll in the first half as Conte’s unimaginative side struggled for fluidity and coherence in possession. Norwich, meanwhile, looked threatening through electric winger Josh Murphy, their top scorer this season, and the highly-rated attacking midfielder James Maddison.

It would, though, be an exaggeration to say that Daniel Farke’s side looked particularly close to breaching that Chelsea defence in what was a tentative start to proceedings. Maddison had the first glimpse of goal but was blocked by a mass of Chelsea legs, while Murphy curled well over after another of those jinking runs down the Norwich left.

In truth, the home side’s best opportunity in the first half appeared to be to give the ball to Luiz in the hope that he might implode. It certainly looked a viable plan after 25 minutes, when Luiz was unnecessarily caught in possession twice in the space of a few seconds. The first occasion was in his own penalty area, and nearly allowed Norwich forward Alex Pritchard the easiest of openers. The second, just a moment later, gave Pritchard an opportunity to bustle his way towards goal, where his shot was blocked as the overlapping Murphy screamed for a pass.

A difficult return to the side for Luiz, who has been overtaken by Andreas Christensen in the defensive pecking order this season, was then made worse by a yellow card he was awarded for a late challenge on the turning Maddison.

With his speed and weaving runs, Murphy was the game’s stand-out attacking player, and Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger could have been forgiven for needing a brief lie-down at the break. One particularly explosive burst sent the Norwich winger clear in the penalty box as his side continued to dominate, but his final ball was neither shot nor cross.

Murphy’s twinkling feet contrasted sharply with the stodginess of Willian, Pedro and Batshuayi in the Chelsea attack, where the absence of Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas was clearly having a telling impact.

As the game wore on, Norwich grew in confidence. Suddenly, they very much did look like scoring, as Maddison curled over from range and a threatening cross from Pritchard forced Chelsea’s Davide Zappacosta into a crucial clearance.

Thankfully for Chelsea, Willian was a man reborn after the break, dipping between challenges and firing shots on goal. Danny Drinkwater and Pedro also had attempts from range, while Norwich were for a time too preoccupied with defending to overly worry about the other end.

But they were able to regroup, just at the point it looked like the game may be slipping away from them. Pritchard and Murphy went close again, while Timm Klose headed wide. At this stage, though, both sides became frightened of over-committing, and a draw ultimately proved inevitable, even if Zappacosta nearly won it at the death with a strike from range.



David Luiz makes rusty return as Norwich take Chelsea to FA Cup replay

Norwich 0 - 0 Chelsea

Nick Ames at Carrow Road

On this evidence Antonio Conte will have multiple subjects at which to direct his anger this weekend. The buildup to this largely sterile, listless affair had been dominated by the Italian’s mutual antipathy with José Mourinho, a long-brewing feud now unfolding at a rate of knots. If only events here had moved at anything like that kind of speed: Chelsea barely created a clear chance to speak of against a brighter Norwich side that, although toothless, fully merited its replay. The fixtures continue to mount up and so, surely, will Conte’s frustration that his squad lacks the depth to compete capably on all fronts.

David Luiz’s return from a six-week injury absence was the most notable of nine changes made by Conte from the rollercoaster ride at Arsenal. Essentially, the Chelsea manager brought in a number of his less-used senior squad members; the bench, though, was a different matter and alongside Álvaro Morata sat six players with barely 10 appearances between them.

If the away side could be forgiven for other priorities, the same could hardly be said for Norwich, who lie nine points and seven places shy of the Championship play-off spots. Their coach, Daniel Farke, had pronounced himself a “deep believer in cup competitions” and kept alterations to a relative minimum, the main interest being the lack of an out-and-out striker in a fluid front three.

One of them, James Maddison, had a shot blocked within four minutes and it was Norwich who fizzed with intent. Josh Murphy had a go at Antonio Rüdiger down the left and Alex Pritchard, a playmaker of similarly deft touch to the vaunted Maddison, served notice that he would not be limited to a perch on the opposite flank.

Under Farke, Norwich have had few problems retaining possession; that was proved amply in an opening quarter when Chelsea, struggling for both shape and initiative, failed to produce a move of note.

They were almost punished when David Luiz, dithering in his own area, was caught on the ball by Pritchard and fortunate to see it rebound out for a goal-kick. Murphy then cut inside and curled over; in between, the response had been an attempted through ball by Tiémoué Bakayoko that ran harmlessly out of play.

A shot from Kenedy that deflected two yards wide off Christoph Zimmermann was notable mainly because it was Chelsea’s first real moment of threat. That was after 31 minutes and shortly afterwards the Brazilian lost a battle of strength with the diminutive Pritchard in an episode that said plenty for the teams’ respective appetites.

Norwich were keen to set Murphy against Rüdiger, although it was a fair match for pace. When Murphy appeared to have burst beyond him, the defender’s recovery pulled him wide enough to drag a cross-shot out for a throw-in. It was the cue for Murphy to swap flanks in search of a more profitable dig at Gary Cahill; it was the rusty David Luiz, though, who erred again with a foul on Maddison that brought a deserved booking.

Chelsea could hardly have been less incisive and emerged for the second half with more vigour and Zimmermann was forced to clear ahead of the poised Willian almost instantly. Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater missed the target and Willian finally forced Angus Gunn into a sharp save down to his left. He followed that with a driving run into the area and an effort that was gathered rather more comfortably.

There was less rhythm to Norwich now although a clumsy foul by Cahill on Pritchard, again penalised with a yellow card by Stuart Attwell, was a reminder of their variation in the opposing half. Pritchard, seemingly re-energised, watched a shot loop over off Drinkwater as the half’s midway point loomed but the game had yet to stretch out in the manner that both managers – neither enamoured with the prospect of a replay – might have preferred.

If Murphy had kept his cool rather than volleying wide after a fluffed punch by Willy Caballero, Norwich might have had their victory. Their lack of a centre-forward had brought a lack of authority at the sharp end. Michy Batshuayi had, damningly, had a similar effect for Chelsea and was replaced for the final 15 minutes by Morata. But there was no late charge; a winner rarely looked likely.



Norwich City 0-0 Chelsea: Blues held by Championship side in disappointing performance as they are forced into FA Cup third round replay

By Riath Al-samarrai for The Mail on Sunday

Too bad that after all the fighting talk from their manager in the build-up, Chelsea’s second string rocked up in Norfolk without anything like the same appetite for a scrap.
They were weak, lacking in edge, spite and purpose — just about the opposite of Antonio Conte in his controversial performance on Friday, when he didn’t just light the touchpaper on a feud with Jose Mourinho but rammed it into his mouth as well.

While the finer points of Conte’s rant crossed a line in taste, there can be no doubting his side needed some of the fire of his wider message here. It was a mess of a performance, from a flat first half that bordered on the inept to the second, when time and again they were limited to half-chances by the 13th-ranked side in the Championship.

Conte was back on the anti-Mourinho beat straight after the game, saying: ‘We know him very well from the past, but it is always the same. This is his way, which isn’t surprising to me.
‘When you insult another person I think you are a little man. That’s what I think, he is a little man. Life will go on, I’m not worried about him, but for sure, there is an opportunity when we play Manchester United to clarify this in a room.’

As for this game, take nothing away from Norwich City — they did a brilliant job of containment and showed more ambition going forward than most Premier League sides when faced with the bigger creatures of the top flight. Josh Murphy, in particular, had chances to win this game.
Chelsea will now run into extra fixture congestion and for that can blame themselves, because the performance was generally lousy. It was a drastically changed side to the one Conte prefers in the league.

On the specifics, Conte made nine changes, with only Gary Cahill and Tiemoue Bakayoko retained from the side that drew at Arsenal. Most notable among the incoming was David Luiz, playing for the first time since November 22 and still rusty after recovering from a knee injury.
He was caught in possession twice in dangerous areas and each time allowed Alex Pritchard a look at goal.

It is hard to recall a half from Chelsea’s season so far when they have made so many individual errors, sent so many passes to the wrong shirt and delivered so many long punts on purely a whim. Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta, Antonio Rudiger — none of them found any traction in that first 45 minutes. It didn’t help that Michy Batshuayi again struggled to serve as a meaningful target man.

That shouldn’t detract from Norwich’s effort. They controlled the half, forced plenty of the errors and made the only decent openings, such as they were in a period where no shots went on target.
Most of what was good came from Murphy, who repeatedly got the better of Rudiger and might have made a tangible difference with sharper finishing.

Chelsea were better in the second half. Almost immediately the chances came, with Christoph Zimmermann blocking a goalbound Zappacosta header before Bakayoko drilled wide and Willian drew a pair of saves from Angus Gunn.

Still Norwich wouldn’t lie down. Pritchard had a shot deflected over and Murphy had a volley touched wide by Luiz with Willy Caballero stranded, which concerned Conte sufficiently to bring on Alvaro Morata. Nice option from the bench, but it altered nothing.

Norwich (3-4-3): Gunn 6.5; Hanley 6, Zimmermann 7, Klose 6; Pinto 6.5, Tettey 6.5, Trybull 6, Lewis 6; Pritchard 7 (Wildschut 87), Murphy 7 (Oliveira 83), Maddison 6
Unused subs: McGovern, Husband, Vrancic, Hoolahan, Watkins
Booking: Hanley 77, Tettey 86

Chelsea (3-4-3): Caballero 6; Rudiger 5.5, Luiz 5, Cahill 6; Zappacosta 6, Drinkwater 5, Bakayoko 6.5, Kenedy 7 (Musonda 78); Willian 7.5, Batshuayi 5 (Morata 74, 6), Pedro 6 (Sterling 89)
Unused subs: Eduardo, Ampadu, Clarke-Salter, Hudson-Odoi
Bookings: David Luiz 41, Cahill 62

Ref: Stuart Attwell 6.5
MOM: Willian



Impressive Norwich City hold Chelsea to goalless draw and force FA Cup third-round replay

Norwich City 0 Chelsea 0: Antonio Conte mixed up his team selection but fresh legs failed to find a way through the Canaries' stubborn resistance

Derren Howard Carrow Road

An excellent Norwich City earned a deserved replay against Premier League Champions and last year’s FA Cup finalists Chelsea. Norwich were much better than many expected while a lacklustre Chelsea simply didn’t show enough ambition or aggression to break through Daniel Farke’s well-organised team, who are hovering around mid-table in the Championship.
A replay was the last thing Chelsea manager Antonio Conte would have wanted but his team didn’t deserve any better.

Norwich, who are unbeaten in their last three games in the Championship, have been knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup for the last four seasons. The last time they advanced into round four was a 3-0 win against Peterborough in 2013 when Norwich had Harry Kane, on loan from Tottenham, as an unused substitute.

Conte didn’t risk the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas but left Alvaro Morata as an option from the bench. Michy Batshuayi started up front and defender David Luiz contested his first match for six weeks following a knee problem.

Norwich are at something of a cross roads. They sit 13th in the Championship and nine points adrift of the play-off places and their Premier League parachute payments end this season. Last campaign, the Canaries ran up a wage bill of £55m, the second-highest recorded in Championship history. Head coach Farke is rebuilding the team while preparing for departures of high earners. The visit of Chelsea reminded home supporters of what they are missing following relegation under Alex Neil two seasons ago.

The hosts started well and enjoyed decent spells of possession. Alex Pritchard and James Maddison, their two best attacking players, looked lively without seriously troubling the Chelsea back three of Luiz, Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger or goalkeeper Willy Caballero, in for Thibaut Courtois.

Norwich’s first attempt on target came from Josh Murphy. The 22-year-old winger advanced down the left, beating Rudiger, and his cheeky near-post effort was well gathered by the alert Caballero. Murphy also wasted a half-chance on 35 minutes as once again he made good progress on the left but lost his composure in the box and dragged his effort, neither a shot or cross, well wide. Norwich were expanding plenty of energy, playing at pace while Chelsea were composed, held their positions without offering too much going forward. They were waiting for Norwich to blow themselves out and then exploit the gaps – it never happened, Norwich were to good and didn’t allow it while Chelsea were too passive to make it happen.

With Premier and Champions League commitments looming, the last thing Chelsea wanted was an FA Cup replay. Conte’s team showed a touch more ambition after the break and Willian had their best effort on 59 minutes when he tested Angus Gunn with a fierce drive from 18 yards after Tom Trybull had lost possession.

Cahill was booked for clattering Pritchard but the former Spurs man was soon back on his feet. He wriggled free in the box and his effort looped off Luiz and dropped narrowly over the cross bar. Still Norwich came forward. Jamal Lewis’ freekick was tamely punched by Caballero but Murphy’s shot once again lacked accuracy – he should have done better.

Last year’s beaten finalists Chelsea have advanced from 20 of their last 21 FA Cup ties against sides out of the Premier League. Morata came on for Batshuayi with just under 20 minutes to go but not even the former Real Madrid man could find a way through well-drilled home defence.
The closest they came was in the 92nd minute when Davide Zappacosta walloped a volley wide of the post.



FEELING BLUE Norwich 0 Chelsea 0 match highlights: FA Cup replay forced by Canaries as second-string Blues fail to make an impression

The likes of Kenedy, Michy Batshuayi and David Luiz were given a chance to stake their claims for a place in the main starting XI

By Anthony Chapman

CHELSEA'S multi-million pound stars were forced into an unexpected FA Cup third round replay after drawing with a plucky Norwich City side this evening.
The Canaries held their own at Carrow Road as Antonio Conte's first-team hopefuls failed to make an impression in East Anglia.

Given Antonio Conte's regular fixture complaints, he would not have wanted a replay, but Championship Norwich frustrated the Blues, who came closest when Willian's effort was turned round a post by Angus Gunn.
And Chelsea, Premier League champions and FA Cup finalists last season, will now host Daniel Farke's men at Stamford Bridge in 10 days' time.

Conte, as promised, rotated his side, with Wednesday's Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Arsenal in mind.
Nine changes were made following the midweek Premier League draw at Arsenal as Conte reverted to his cup side.

David Luiz played his second game since October after a rumoured fallout with Conte and a subsequent knee injury.
The Brazil defender is not the only person to get on the wrong side of Conte this season, with the Italian's feud with Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho escalating on Friday.
Conte says he is "ready to fight...with everyone". And he was as animated as ever in his technical area, despite the "clown" comment from Mourinho which the United boss had insisted was self-deprecating, rather than aimed at the Italian.
Norwich troubled their visitors. Murphy's runs made Antonio Rudiger uncomfortable and Pritchard pounced on two Luiz lapses.

Pritchard stole the ball when Luiz received a Willy Cabellero pass, but his heavy touch saw the ball go out for a goal kick.
Next Luiz's mis-kick was seized upon by Murphy and Pritchard created a chance, but Luiz recovered to block.
This was not to be as straightforward as Luiz's last appearance, a 4-0 win over Qarabag in Baku on November 22.

Chelsea were seeking an outlet, but Michy Batshuayi's control continually let him down, up against imposing pair Christoph Zimmermann and Grant Hanley.
Willian and Pedro, under pressure to perform following the arrival of Ross Barkley, offered little support, while Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater could not get a foothold in midfield.
Murphy again ran at and beat Rudiger, but appeared caught by indecision as his final ball was neither a shot nor a cross. The ball went out for a throw in.

Luiz was booked for catching Maddison late and Batshuayi made his frustration clear by squabbling with Hanley at half-time.
Batshuayi's tame effort early in the second half was Chelsea's first on target. There were plenty off target.
Chelsea's best chance was fashioned by Willian, but Gunn turned his shot around a post. The goalkeeper held another effort from the Brazilian soon afterwards.
Norwich continued to cause problems and Conte had seen enough.
With 16 minutes remaining Alvaro Morata was on, with Batshuayi withdrawn.
Charly Musonda was also sent on, for Kenedy, but Davide Zappacosta's stoppage-time volley wide from distance was the closest Chelsea came to breaking the deadlock.



Norwich 0-0 Chelsea: Antonio Conte's B-team held by Canaries in FA Cup third round - 5 talking points
A much-changed Chelsea side were unable to break down the Canaries' defence at Carrow Road

By Darren Lewis

B team were outplayed by battling Norwich as they were taken to a replay.
The defending Premier League champions put in their worst display since their October Champions League defeat to Roma in Italy.

Conte sent out just two starters from the line-up that drew 2-2 with Arsenal last Wednesday night. But the Blues were still expected to see off a Norwich side 13th in the Championship.
Instead last season’s beaten finalists failed to register a shot in the first half. David Luiz - expected to leave this month after being frozen out by Conte - was poor while striker Michy Batshuayi, another out of favour, struggled throughout.

Norwich, meanwhile, impressed with midfielders Alex Pritchard and James Maddison - both targets for Premier League clubs putting in eye-catching displays.
Daniel Farke’s men remain on course to make it past the past third round for the first time in six years.

1. Do Conte's reserves have the fight?
He’d led from the front with his pre-match tear up with both Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Now Antonio Conte wanted to find out whether his Chelsea fringe players could match him for willingness to fight when the going gets tough. On a day when the Championship clubs showed elsewhere that they were not to be taken lightly, Chelsea could take no chances against Daniel Farke’s Norwich team. The Canaries had come into this contest pumped up courtesy of a win over Millwall last week..Chelsea’s B team had to prove they could cope.

2. Maddison shows what the hype is all about
He is the bright young thing about whom there is a big noise at the moment. Here it was easy to see why. Against superior players in midfield he showed little fear, good distribution and the craft to help create chances. His clever movement rattled David Luiz so much that the fed-up Brazilian eventually hacked him down to earn a yellow card. Late in the first-half, Maddison beat his man to send an effort over the Chelsea bar from the edge of the box. He’d already had a growing army of admirers before this TV game. He’ll have added a few more after this game - and a couple more quid to his rising price tag.

3. Batshuayi put in the show window
If this was to be the last time that we see Michy Batshuayi in a Chelsea shirt then he had to make it count. Conte quite clearly doesn’t fancy the Belgian. Despite the noises to the contrary in his press conferences, the Italian has made that quite clear with his team selection (or lack of it). So this was a rare chance for Batshuayi to remind prospective buyers (or loan clubs) that he still does have it. It didn’t go well during the first half. He struggled to get on the ball and when he did, he couldn’t hold it up. To be fair the Chelsea first-half display was shocking, their worst for some time. But he is the one who needs the regular first team action to get a chance of the World Cup. At the moment it is touch and go.

4. Pritchard shows why he's in demand
Huddersfield want to sign him in this window and it easy to see why. Pritchard is neat and tidy on the ball and produced one of the moments of the first half when he left Gary Cahill for dead on the right before sending the ball into the six-yard box. Terrier’s boss David Wagner will know already that he will have to improve Pritchard’s decision-making if he does land the ex-Spurs man. But he’ll have seen here that there is a lot to work with.

5. Luiz does his cause no favours

If he was trying to put himself into the shop window he wasn’t making a very good job of it. The speedy Norwich forward line ran rings around him in the first half. He very nearly gifted Alex Pritchard a golden opportunity in the 22nd minute when he failed to control a pass from keeper Willy Caballero. He was booked for taking out the promising James Maddison and he kept giving the ball away in dangerous areas. If Arsene Wenger had been watching from the warmth of his living room he’d have probably switched over to The Voice and Will.I.Am after 20 minutes.



Norwich 0 - Chelsea 0: Canaries force FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge with goalless draw
JAMES MADDISON wouldn’t look out of place in the Premier League.

Norwich ground out a 0-0 draw at Carrow Road
And Norwich will be expecting the phone to ring with big clubs asking them how much they want for the 21-year-old wonder kid after he lit up the FA Cup.
The Canaries reckon he’s the most talented Englishman outside the top flight – and you can see why.

The cool-headed youngster wasn’t at all fazed facing the likes of Brazilian defender David Luiz and England international Gary Cahill.
And, at times, the Blues had to chop him down to stop him, Luiz getting a yellow for one tackle.
Maddison, who was spotted at Coventry City, joined Norwich for £3million two years ago this month but has only established himself in the side this season after loan spells back with the Sky Blues and at Scottish Premiership Aberdeen.
He’s already scored seven goals and, on his first-half showing, would have walked into this misfiring Chelsea midfield.

It wasn’t until after the break that the champions woke up after what must have been a big dressing room dressing-down from manager Antonio Conte, who looked more and more disgruntled as the Canaries bossed the first half.
But you always had the feeling that the Canaries had missed their opportunity while they dominated the first half without seriously troubling keeper Willy Caballero.
And it was a different Chelsea in the second half as they carved out several chances but never looked like a team 30 rungs higher up the league ladder.
Tiemoue Bakayoko fired wide, Willian, getting a start as Conte made nine changes from the midweek spectacular against Arsenal, forced Angus Gunn to push his shot around the post and the Brazilian star then shot straight at the keeper.

And Davide Zappacosta almost decided it in stoppage time, his long-range effort fizzing beyond Gunn but the wrong side of the post.
But Chelsea still had their scares over 90 minutes. A rusty-looking David Luiz almost let in ex-Spurs winger Alex Pritchard, who closed him down quickly and got a toe on to the ball.
With a little bit of luck it could have found the target but it went wide.

The Canaries’ attacking trio of Pritchard, the highly-rated Maddison and Josh Murphy were a real handful without being able to supply a finish.
Murphy wasn’t scared of reputations and let fly from well outside the box but couldn’t find the accuracy to match his invention.
A clever turn by Pritchard, which forced Antonio Rudiger into a hasty clearance, had Cahill remonstrating with his midfielders who hadn’t tracked his run.

Despite having history on their side – the Londoners have gone through from 20 of their last 21 ties against teams from a league below them – Conte was a frustrated figure.
The last time City went beyond the third round was five seasons ago but there was no sign of an inferiority complex. Murphy again exposed the Chelsea defence but fi red harmlessly across the face of the goal.
It was that sort of day.


Thursday, January 04, 2018

Arsenal 2-2


Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2: Hector Bellerin scores in 92nd minute to seal draw in Emirates thriller

Ben Bloom

The ‘xG’ – expected goals – for this encounter would have been extraordinary. Five-all? It was entirely possible as there were so many clear-cut chances traded in this capital clash.
There were thrills, spills and, afterwards, inevitable belly-aches with an edgy Arsene Wenger renewing his war on refereeing after an amazing draw that was an incredible advert for the Premier League. It was also an indictment as to why neither of these two teams will win the title this season.

There was controversy, as there always is, with Jack Wilshere claiming his first league goal since May 2015 – a superbly determined strike to open the scoring – after he probably should have been sent off when appearing to dive in attempting to earn a free-kick on the edge of Chelsea’s penalty area, as he anticipated a challenge from Andreas Christensen. He had already been booked for a foul on Cesc Fabregas.
Meanwhile, Arsenal raged at the penalty award that drew Chelsea level, just four minutes after Wilshere’s goal, when Hector Bellerin was judged to have fouled the other No 10 – Eden Hazard – as they vied to reach a loose ball.

Having expressed his anger at the penalty given against Arsenal in the draw away to West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Eve, Wenger was at it again. The Arsenal manager had a case then, though badly expressed, but not so much here.
Bellerin clearly kicked Hazard’s foot. It was a penalty – maybe the only possible accusation against Hazard is that he exaggerated his fall – and Wenger needs to drop his conspiracy theories.

If sport at the highest level is about fine margins, then it was caught in the 90 minutes of this full-throttle match. Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata could have had a hat-trick, missing three one-on-ones that a forward of his calibre should have finished, and it is hard to imagine Diego Costa, who opened his account for his new club, Atletico Madrid, as this game was being played, spurning them.
Then, after Bellerin’s 92nd-minute equaliser, cancelling out Marcos Alonso’s goal following yet more appalling Arsenal defending, Chelsea should still have won it when Morata erred for the third and final time. Even then the ball broke to substitute Davide Zappacosta, who thumped his half-volley against the crossbar.

The wing-back should have scored but so should many other players. Both goalkeepers were outstanding, making a string of improbable saves, to add to the misses, with maybe the pick of them being a brilliant one-handed stop by Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois to turn away a poked shot by Alexis Sanchez. Even then the ball struck one post and then ran across the goal-line, rebounding off the other before Courtois eagerly grabbed it.

It means that Arsenal remain frustratingly in sixth place while Chelsea, in third, missed the opportunity to leapfrog Manchester United and return to second spot.
Chelsea will – marginally – be the happier, with Arsenal five points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool. Given the absentees in their back-line it was, evidently, and maybe as ever with Wenger, a case of attack being the best form of defence.
But it meant they were as chronically vulnerable to conceding as they were likely to score. The fact it remained goalless at half-time was the biggest surprise, given how both sides simply went for it. And made mistakes.

Morata missed the easiest of his chances early on, allowed to run onto a hopeful long ball by Victor Moses, which Shkodran Mustafi completely misjudged and Calum Chambers left, both believing it would run through to Petr Cech, only for Morata to collect.

But Morata got his angles horribly wrong as he side-footed the ball wide. It was then end to end and back again. The xG – the new measure used by statisticians to show how many goals should have been scored – went through the roof.
Arsenal claimed a penalty, arguing Moses had clipped the heels of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Courtois denied Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette, and was relieved to see Mesut Ozil’s shot drift narrowly wide. At the other end, Cech pushed Tiemoue Bakayoko’s shot over the bar and Fabregas side-footed wildly over from Hazard’s clever back-heel.
There was no let-up. If anything it became more intense. Cech denied Hazard, with an outstretched leg, and then turned away Alonso’s header before Courtois was again called into action, thwarting Lacazette from close range.

He was finally beaten. The breakthrough came and the Emirates erupted as Rob Holding’s first-time pass rebounded off the hapless Morata to Wilshere, who had instigated the move, with the midfielder’s powerful, rising first-time effort cannoning off Courtois’s near post and into the net. They pressed on and only another save from Courtois denied Lacazette.

Would Wilshere grab the headlines? Hazard did not allow it. He won the penalty and dispatched it, steering the ball to Cech’s right as the goalkeeper dived left. The momentum swung.
Morata missed again, lifting the ball over when through on goal before Zappacosta easily beat Maitland-Niles down the right and fired in a cross. Alonso stole in ahead of the dozing Mustafi and turned it home, right-footed.

The mood shifted. Would it be another game of recrimination for Arsenal? To their credit, they responded valiantly. The pressure built and Bellerin latched onto Alonso’s clearing header to steer a crisp half-volley beyond Courtois’s grasp. Honours even? Zappacosta should have won it but did not.
It was a fair result, even if Wenger cried foul, again.



Hectór Bellerín makes late amends for Arsenal after Chelsea comeback

Arsenal 2 - 2 Chelsea

David Hytner at the Emirates Stadium

Arsène Wenger strode purposefully towards the fourth official, Craig Pawson. The Arsenal manager was a long way from his technical area and there was steam coming out of his ears. His team were in the lead, thanks to Jack Wilshere’s goal, which, after all the midfielder’s injury misery, was a beautiful moment for him.

But the referee, Anthony Taylor, had pointed to the penalty spot and all of Wenger’s conspiratorial pre-match fears had seemingly been realised. Wenger had railed against poor officiating against his team this season and Taylor always stood to be a central character. Wenger had clashed with him last January to earn a four-match touchline ban.
There was no injustice here. Hectór Bellerín’s lunge at Eden Hazard inside the area was not just ill-advised, it was reckless. He caught Hazard’s foot, the Chelsea forward went down and, if the fall seemed exaggerated in real time, Taylor’s decision was vindicated with every replay.

Hazard beat Petr Cech from the penalty spot and things came to look even more bleak for Wenger and Arsenal when the Chelsea substitute, Davide Zappacosta, rinsed the inexperienced wing-back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, to cross for Marcos Alonso, who touched home in front of the flat-footed Shkodran Mustafi.

Enter Bellerín, again. In stoppage time, at the other end. After Alonso had only half-cleared with a header, Bellerín crashed a half-volley goalwards and it was still rising when it ripped into the net. On this occasion, his timing was glorious.
Arsenal did their best to throw it away. Not for the first time their patched-up back-line evaporated into the night sky and there was Álvaro Morata, running on to a simple long ball, with only Cech to beat. He could not do so – the goalkeeper stood up to make his most important save of the game – and Zappacosta rattled the rebound against the crossbar.

Wenger looked shot to pieces at full-time, overtaken by the emotion, and he saw conspiracy at every turn. He wanted to talk about the spectacle and how entertaining it had been, which was certainly true. Why could we not discuss the football alone? In the next breath he was throwing around some pretty serious accusations about how he knew his team would be punished by the referee. Again.

This was the latest harum-scarum Emirates Stadium ride – after the 3-1 loss to Manchester United and the 3-3 draw against Liverpool. The common denominator has been Arsenal’s defensive looseness and their desire to engage their opponents in a toe-to-toe slugfest. Wenger’s team have played with so little control and structure that it has been difficult to argue their wounds have not been self-inflicted.

It would have been worse had it not been for Morata, who endured a torrid evening. The Chelsea striker’s first one-on-one chance came on 14 minutes after Calum Chambers had inexplicably ducked underneath Victor Moses’s hopeful punt forward and Mustafi had melted away.
Suddenly Morata was in and he opened up his body for a side-footed finish. He botched it horribly. Morata would also shoot high after brushing past Chambers in the 68th minute. The angle was tighter than his other openings but it remained a glaring miss.

Wenger’s hand had been forced by the injuries to Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac, and his callow replacement back-line was jittery throughout. But Wenger is not the sort of guy to dwell on defending. His focus, as usual, was on what his team could create.
They enjoyed a purple patch leading up to the midway point of the first half and they would have led were it not for the reflexes of Thibaut Courtois. He tipped Alexis Sánchez’s shot on to the inside of his right-hand post and watched the ball run across his line, kiss the other post and spin to safety. The Chelsea goalkeeper then saved from Alexandre Lacazette after the striker had spun sharply away from Gary Cahill.

The thrills and spills were plentiful – together with the belly laughs. Maitland-Niles provided one of the latter when he clipped his own heel inside the Chelsea area on 16 minutes and went down. He was lucky to escape a yellow card. Wilshere, who was booked for a foul on Cesc Fàbregas, flirted with a second caution when he went to ground too easily from a challenge by Andreas Christensen. He might not have been on the field to score his goal – a thumping, first-time, left-footed drive.
Hazard shimmered with menace while Fàbregas twice teed up Tiémoué Bakayoko before the interval with sumptuous passes. From the first Bakayoko saw Cech tip over while he did not read the second. Fàbregas shot high when well placed on 45 minutes but he was otherwise excellent. When he was substituted some of the Arsenal supporters rose to applaud him.

Fàbregas played in Hazard early in the second half only for Cech to save while Courtois denied Lacazette at the other end. Mesut Özil had gone close before Wilshere bludgeoned Arsenal into the lead, after Rob Holding’s low pass had flicked off Morata. Lacazette promptly worked Courtois but the game would turn sharply on the Chelsea penalty.



Arsenal's Hector Bellerin snatches draw in thrilling finale against Chelsea to deny Marcos Alonso's winning moment

Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2: The right wingback slammed in a half-volley from just inside the box at the end of a helter-skelter second half full of incident

Miguel Delaney Emirates Stadium

It was another ludicrously entertaining if imperfect top-six match at the Emirates that somehow, but somewhat fairly, ended up perfectly balanced at Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea.

One of the key figures appropriately characterised this. Hector Bellerin was responsible for the foul that brought Eden Hazard’s penalty and a distinctive change in momentum, but then scored the sensational last-minute equaliser. It further summed up the game that many might dispute the penalty, not least an irate Arsene Wenger. Then again, given the already booked Jack Wilshere appeared to dive just before his goal, Antonio Conte might well have a response. And this was the thing. Both Arsenal and Chelsea could complain about refereeing errors, both could complain about their team’s errors, but no one could really complain about the final result.

The watching audience meanwhile couldn’t complain about an ending like that, as Marcos Alonso’s 86th-minute strike was cancelled out by Bellerin, and Davide Zappacosta even hit the bar after that. If the game finished so supremely, though, Alvaro Morata did not. The match won’t do much for his confidence, and the final result won’t do much for either side’s season beyond Arsenal just about keeping pace in the race for the top four but it will do a lot for the Premier League’s marketing – even if they weren’t here selling perfection.

This was an epic yet error-strewn match to go with Manchester United’s trip here as well as Liverpool’s, but thereby not one that went with the recent history of this London rivalry.
This is a fixture that, perhaps more than any in the Premier League, has followed distinctive patterns over long periods of time. There was over a decade of almost singular Arsenal dominance between 1993 and 2004, before over a decade of almost singular Chelsea dominance between 2004 and 2016, with both of those spells characterised by a control and calculation that comes from just knowing how to beat the other side. There was none of that here, just colour and chaos.

It was as if both sides realised how vulnerable the other was after the Christmas period, with that first signalled by – well – a clear lack of signalling between Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers in the centre of the Arsenal defence on 15 minutes. That allowed Morata a clear run at goal, except he just produced something seen much more recently. As happened twice against Stoke City on Saturday, he showed this remaining and frustrating lack of ruthlessness in his game, badly squandering a one-on-one. It was also a signal of what was to come.
In the meantime, more action kept coming. Thibaut Courtois brilliantly turned an Alexis Sanchez onto the post only for it to also hit the other, before getting down low to save from Alex Lacazette as Cesc Fabregas then shot too high.

The way Hazard set up that chance did reflect that there was maybe a greater vulnerability to Arsenal’s makeshift centre-half pairing, and the constant concern for them throughout the game was when – rather than whether – the playmakers excellence would expose them. He should really have done so just after half-time, but a low and slightly lax shot was diverted by Petr Cech.
Errors were hardly confined to Arsenal’s defence, or Chelsea. There was then the decision from referee Taylor, too, as he missed a dive from Wilshere when the midfielder was on a booking.
It was to be instantly influential. On 65 minutes, after yet another attacking move was disrupted, a defensive touch from N’Golo Kante didn’t have enough on it and fell to – inevitably – Wilshere. He lashed the ball past Courtois to make it 1-0.

Within moments, however, Wenger was shouting about the ref himself. Hazard naturally had the ball in the box, Hector Bellerin went in on him, and the Belgian went down. A penalty was given and Hazard himself naturally took the opportunity to make it 1-1.
It wasn’t just the opportunity for an equaliser, but an opportunity to eke out proper control of the game. That was how affected Arsenal were, how emboldened Chelsea were. Morata had two more chances to score and missed, before Alonso showed him how it was done. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was also done – but his team weren’t.

Bellerin made it 2-2, in a match that still had too much to come.

As to what it says about what is to come from either side? There was Morata’s misses, Wenger’s complaints, character from both and errors from both, but sometimes there’s not much that can be read it into it. Sometimes there’s no extra meaning. Sometimes it’s just chaos. That was this, albeit in beautifully entertaining fashion.



Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea: Hector Bellerin nets injury time equaliser after Marcos Alonso looked to have secured late winner in pulsating Emirates clash

By Martin Samuel for the Daily Mail

It was one of those games. Marcos Alonso looked to have won it for Chelsea, then made the mistake that gave Arsenal their injury-time equaliser.
Hector Bellerin gave away the penalty that brought Chelsea back into the game, then earned Arsenal a point with almost his last kick. And Jack Wilshere scored his first Premier League goal since May 24, 2015, a momentous occasion Arsenal celebrated by holding that lead for all of four minutes.
In other words, a mess. An exhilarating, entertaining, lovely mess — but a mess nonetheless for two teams angling to secure places in next season’s Champions League.

The result probably suited Chelsea more as they are higher up the table and were away from home, but there were still grounds for concern. When a striker has three one-on-one chances and misses all of them, a manager should worry. Alvaro Morata was supposed to replace the intimidating presence of Diego Costa. On Wednesday night he appeared to be channelling the spirit of Fernando Torres at Stamford Bridge. And not in a good way.

We have come to expect games like this against the elite at the Emirates Stadium this season. Losing to Manchester United, drawing with Liverpool, it was very much the same. Knockabout; no structure. Manchester City can concede goals, we know that, but they have a clearly defined game plan. Arsenal have a go, then the other lot have a go. It finished 2-2, it could have been 5-5.
Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech made excellent saves. Morata and Alexandre Lacazette missed plenty. Even after Bellerin had made it level, Davide Zappacosta had time to hit the bar. It is thrilling, but will it get Arsenal back in the Champions League next season? Probably not via domestic qualification.

If Tottenham beat West Ham tonight, Arsenal will be four points and at least 10 goals adrift of them in sixth place — and they are already five points off Liverpool in fourth. This was great fun for the neutrals, but it lacked the precision required to nail down Arsenal’s future. They may have to take the Europa League route pioneered by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United last season. Watch UEFA get the vapours if England get five clubs into the Champions League, back to back.

That’s for another day, though. For now, what a game. Four goals in the last 27 minutes and every one changed the balance of power. Arsenal led, Chelsea equalised. Chelsea led, Arsenal equalised. Both sides will feel as if they won, and lost.
Chronologically, the action begins with Wilshere’s first league goal since the final game of the 2014-15 season, a 4-1 home win over West Bromwich. This, most certainly, should have made a bigger splash. A significant intervention. Wilshere has been in lovely form since finally getting his chance again, but the goals do not come. Just one, in a 6-0 Europa League victory over BATE Borisov. Not what one might call crucial.

This would have been different. A finish that belied close to a three-year goalscoring drought. Mesut Ozil cut the ball back, Rob Holding vied with Morata on the edge of the area, the Chelsea man getting a fateful touch. Wilshere collected the scraps and, outstripping none other than N’Golo Kante, defeated Courtois with a superb, powerful, first-time shot.
It would have capped an excellent spell in the first team for Arsenal’s prodigal son. Instead, his side gave the lead away at the first opportunity.

The moment Chelsea tried to force a way back, Arsenal blinked. Bellerin had no need to make the challenge on Eden Hazard, clipping the bottom of his foot as they jostled for the ball in the area. The home fans cried dive, but it was a foul. Hazard stepped up, waited for Petr Cech to commit and, cool as you like, brought Chelsea back into the game.

Three minutes later, Morata missed his second one-on-one of the match. In the first half, he had let Arsenal spectacularly off the hook after their naivety had presented him with a gift.
A long ball hit in hope from the back was allowed to drop by Calum Chambers, who cannot have appreciated the position occupied by team-mate Shkodran Mustafi. Either he didn’t see him, and presumed Morata was offside, or he saw Mustafi and presumed he was already dealing with the loose ball.
So Chambers stopped and let it roll, and Morata ran on, somewhat surprised, and now with only Cech to beat. Instead he flopped, embarrassingly so, missing at the far post, just as he did when set clear by Cesc Fabregas in the 70th minute, Chambers in pursuit.

It remained for a full back, Alonso, to show Chelsea’s striker how it should be done. The goal was simplicity itself. Zappacosta, brought on to test Ainsley Maitland-Niles with fresh legs, did exactly that, turning the young man inside out before crossing for Alonso, who got in front of Mustafi for his sixth goal of the season. He has 12 in the Premier League since the start of the last campaign, five more than any other defender. Wilshere would kill for such a return.

And that looked like Arsenal done. But are they ever? Leicester, Liverpool, how many times at the Emirates this season have they been written off, only to rally? Alonso’s poor headed clearance put Chelsea under pressure, substitute Danny Welbeck got a touch, Bellerin met the loose ball just inside the area, rifling it past Courtois. What remained? Another Morata miss. One-on-one again, straight at Cech, Zappacosta off the bar with the rebound.

Earlier, Alexis Sanchez contrived to hit both posts — Courtois tipped it on to his right, it travelled across the goal-line and hit the left — Morata missed his kick at the near post, and Lacazette let a couple of sitters go to waste.
Tiemoue Bakayoko should have scored at least two, Ozil came close, and Wilshere escaped a second yellow for diving having already been booked for a late tackle on Fabregas.
Phew. And now breathe. The players, apparently, have been left absolutely exhausted by this holiday schedule. What this match would have looked like had they been properly at it, then, heaven knows.

Arsenal (3-4-2-1):
Cech 8.5; Chambers 6 (Walcott 88), Mustafi 6, Holding 6.5; Bellerin 6.5, Wilshere 7, Xhaka 6.5, Maitland Niles 6.5; Ozil 7, Sanchez 7; Lacazette 6 (Welbeck 80).
Subs not used: Mertesacker, Ospina, Iwobi, Coquelin, Elneny
Manager: Arsene Wenger 7
Goals: Wilshere 63, Bellerin 90
Yellow cards: Wilshere 31, Holding 53, Ozil 67

Chelsea (3-5-2):
Courtois 7; Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7, Cahill 6.5; Moses 5.5 (Zappacosta 56, 7), Bakayoko 6.5, Kante 7, Fabregas 7 (Drinkwater 70, 6), Alonso 7; Hazard 8 (Willian 81), Morata 4
Subs not used: Caballero, Rudiger, Pedro, Batshuayi
Manager: Antonio Conte 7
Goals: Hazard (pen) 67, Alonso 84
Yellow cards: Fabregas 42, Courtois 89

Ref: Anthony Taylor 6.5
Att: 59,379
MOM: Cech



Arsenal 2 - Chelsea 2: Hector Bellerin bags dramatic leveller after controversial penalty
IT WAS two-and-a-half years since Jack Wilshere last scored a Premier League goal but it took an injury-time volley from Hector Bellerin to secure even a point.


Even then the Emirates crossbar was left vibrating long after the final whistle by an even fiercer Davide Zappacosta effort that could yet have snatched the win for Chelsea.

But while the late equaliser saw Arsenal fans head into the night largely happy, it cannot hide the fact they are 23 points off the pace and desperately need to tie down at least two of their three best players before they head off into the sunset.

Wilshere they hope to get chained down in the coming days. But increasingly, the recent improvement in performances from Mesut Ozil look at best a negotiating ploy and at worst a share of the determination that Sanchez seems to have to use this month to put himself in the shop window.
With so much focus on Arsenal’s want-away stars at the top of the formation, it did at least distract attention from the very flimsy foundation Wenger had constructed behind it at the back.

Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding had just 16 Premier League starts between them in the season so far and it took just one giant punt upfield from Victor Moses to highlight that lack of experience after just 14 minutes.

The ball bounced between the three of them, Chambers pointed forlornly to suggest Petr Cech might to dash 30 yards from goal and suddenly Alvaro Morata was 10 yards clear with only the Arsenal goalkeeper to beat.
More than enough time to pick a spot; inexplicably, the one he chose was several feet wide of Cech’s far post – the glaring miss not enough to spare Arsenal’s defence a classic Wenger rant from the touchline.
Further forward, at least Arsenal were looking much brighter with – that’s right, you’ve guessed it – Alexis Sanchez leading the way.

A sublime one-two with Ozil teed Sanchez up for a 12-yard shot which not only hit the inside of one post but agonisingly trickled along the goalline to strike the other before bouncing away to safety.

In the 23rd minute, the Germany international picked out Alexander Lacazette around the penalty spot as only Ozil can. For once, the disappointingly goal-shy France striker picked the perfect spot but Thibaut Courtois somehow got his paw down to the ball just inside the post and turned it away.
A similarly inventive defence-splitting pass from Cesc Fabregas gave Tiemoue Bakayoko an opening, only for Cech to palm the ball over the bar.

After moaning about so many soft penalties conceded, Wenger would not have minded if referee Anthony Taylor had pointed to the spot when Ainsley Maitland-Niles fell with Victor Moses close behind – quite rightly, the Cheshire official was having none of it.
Instead, the match remained evenly poised, so much so that when Wilshere scythed through Fabregas to pick up the game’s first yellow card, the former Arsenal player felt it only right he should even up the bookings with a similar challenge just before the break.

Chelsea were quickest out of the blocks in the second half, Cech saving well from Hazard and then turning aside a Morata header when Bakayoko quickly launched the ball back into the danger area.
Lacazette’s frustrating season continued when in the 52nd minute a world class turn bamboozled Cahill but then his shot arrowed straight at Courtois, who saved with his heel.

Then came the moment the Emirates had waited so long for. Holding’s pass took a deflection off Morata but Wilshere did not mind that - his stretching, left-foot effort flying in off the post to spark emotional celebrations by the corner flag.

They were to be short-lived. Within minutes, Bellerin made a mess of trying to tackle Hazard, kicked his foot and the Belgium international did the damage himself from the spot.
Alonso’s easy tap-in from Zappacosta’s low cross was another defensive horror-show and although Bellerin’s rescue will lead to talk of character and never-say-die attitude, going forward Arsenal would swap that for Chelsea’s more genuine collective strength in a heart-beat.



Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2: Hector Bellerin scores last-gap equaliser in Premier League thriller
HECTOR BELLERIN struck in extra-time to earn a thrilling draw for Arsenal.

By David Woods, Chief Football Writer

His amazing goal came on a night when Arsene Wenger’s referee conspiracy dossier grew even fatter.
Jack Wilshere’s first Premier League goal since May 2015 gave Arsenal the lead in a cracking game of attacking football.
But their 63rd minute advantage was to last just four minutes when Bellerin made his first big impact on the game.

He stuck out a foot and caught Hazard on the leg, and the Belgium ace went down like a stack of waffles, provoking ref Anthony Taylor to point to the spot.
Taylor was the fourth official who Wenger abused and pushed at Burnley in January of last year following the awarding of a spot-kick, earning the Frenchman a four-match touchline ban.
Hazard himself made no mistake at The Emirates, sending the ball straight down the middle as Petr Cech dived to the left.

Wenger’s foul mood grew even worse when Marcos Alonso pounced in the 84th minute.
But Bellerin raced to the rescue in the second minute of added time, smashing a shot high into the net to calm Wenger a little.
The Frenchman’s nerves, though, were tested even after that as his dopey defenders allowed Alvaro Morata to race clean through.
His tame shot was beaten away by Petr Cech and Davide Zappacosta struck the rebound against the bar.
England midfielder Wilshere hadn’t scored in the top flight since a home goal against West Brom in May 2015.

But he ended his drought when he smashed home a rocket.
Wilshere pounced when Morata inadvertently deflected a Rob Holding pass straight into the Arsenal No.10’s path and his powerful drive flashed in off the near post.
Before all the goals Chelsea’s former keeper and their current one had taken centre stage at The Emirates.

Arsenal’s Cech and his successor at Stamford Bridge did everything in their powers to stop another goalfest in north London.
Liverpool drew 3-3 with Arsenal on the Friday before Christmas and this clash with also packed with incident.

Cech was chasing a 200th Premier League clean sheet, something no other keeper has done before, whereas Courtois was bidding to make it five in a row in the top flight this season.
The Gunners had a massively lucky escape in the 14th minute. Right wing-back Victor Moses punted a ball upfield with his left foot and Calum Chambers allowed it to drop over his shoulder.
Morata was away from him in a flash and looked set to score as he bore down on goal. But he overdid his sidefooted attempted finish and put it wide.

In the 17th minute the Blues had an even bigger dose of fortune. First referee Taylor waved away claims for a penalty when Ainsley Maitland-Niles fell in the box, with replays showing the youngster had tripped himself after being brushed by Victor Moses.

But the ball still broke to Alexis Sanchez in the box, the Chile striker poked a right-foot shot which hit Courtois brilliantly pushed onto his right post, the watch it roll along the line and struck the other one before he gratefully collected.
Courtois and Cech then took it in turns to pull of smart saves. But then Wilshere struck and Hazard bagged that controversial penalty.

Alonso pounced after sub Zappacosta got past Ainsley Maitland-Niles - who had been excellent up until then. Alonso nipped in front of Shkodran Mustafi to bury a right foot shot.
A Wenger red rage looked on until Alonso headed out poorly and Bellerin whacked his half-volley - and even Courtois could got near it.
It ensured the Arsenal boss went off without waiting for Taylor.
But with his team 23 points off leaders Manchester City he has little to be cheerful about.
As for Antonio Conte he will wonder how star striker Morata fluffed those two great chances ensuring Chelsea stay third.



Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea: Hector Bellerin strikes in stoppage time to secure dramatic draw - 5 talking points

The Gunners took the lead through Wilshere but were pegged back when Bellerin was judged to have brought down Hazard

By Darren Lewis

Hector Bellerin struck in stoppage time to secure a dramatic draw for Arsenal against Chelsea.
Arsene Wenger was left fuming after Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso staged what had appeared to be a stunning smash and grab raid for Chelsea.
Jack Wilshere had shot Arsenal to within 25 minutes of only their third victory in their last eight Premier League games.
The strike was the midfielder’s first goal in 43 Premier League matches, with his last against West Brom in May 2015.
But referee Anthony Taylor ruled Hector Bellerin had fouled Eden Hazard in the box just two minutes later. The Belgian then netted from the spot.

With six minutes left Alonso rifled in from close range from substitute Davide Zappacosta’s cross.
But with the clock ticking, Bellerin struck for the Gunners.
Here are five key talking points from the thriller at the Emirates.

1. Wilshere tremendous once again

He has been terrific in his bid to win friends and influence people, namely Wenger, the man who makes the decisions over a new deal.
The question marks over his ability to influence a high-intensity game, however, remained. Not any more. What tremendous character he showed here.
At times he was given the runaround by Cesc Fabregas who was offensively more astute and defensively more productive.
Wilshere’s 33rd-minute yellow card, for clattering into his Spanish counterpart, looked to be frustration.
Smashing in that 64th minute sizzler was a far better way of expressing it. Wilshere is back - and he means business.

2. Sanchez has exploded into life again

Fascinating how he has suddenly exploded into life again after a subdued four weeks or so.
There have been times over the past month or so when Sanchez has looked as though he has been marking time as he runs his contract down.
Now, with the window open, Chelsea and Manchester City in need of reinforcements and Liverpool about to lose Coutinho, Sanchez is on fire again.
Just to refocus a few minds that might have forgotten what he brings to the party.
He is in a win-win situation of course - a big club this month, big money if he leaves on a free in the summer.
But if you didn’t know better, you’d think someone was angling to get out of north London before February.

3. Clean sheets could help Chelsea's charge

If any one can put together a run to get anywhere near City at the moment it is Chelsea.
They have had their injuries and (as always) their political problems, but right now they are back in the zone.
We all know what they can do going forward but at the back they are as solid as a rock.
They’d come into this match hunting their fifth successive league clean sheet.
They rode their luck here for sure when Alexis Sanchez’s shot was pushed onto one post, rolled across the goal line and hit the other.
But overall during their current run, they have made their own luck with their ferocious work rate.

4. Courtois kept Chelsea in the game

He might not have signed a new deal just yet, he might still have some who pine for the glory days of Petr Cech, but Courtois showed here just why he is so important to Chelsea. The brilliant Belgian kept them in it.
He was smartly down to his left to save one-handed when Alexandre Lacazette span his defender in the box and fired goalward.
Before that Courtois was simply outstanding to push Sanchez’s shot onto the post when the Chilean looked for all the world as if he had opened the scoring. And what a tremendous block that was, minutes after half time, from Lacazette.
He has no chance with that Wilshere strike but he'd been let down for that by his defence. Courtois is still the man for the big occasion for Chelsea.

5. Cech matches the Chelsea keeper

Anything Courtois can do, Cech can do just as well.
The former Blue is always fired up against his former club and this occasion was no exception.
He made himself big in the 14th minute to worry Morata out of a one-on-one from which the Spaniard looked certain to score.
He saved again, a minute later, from Morata at his near post. He parried Bakayoko’s shot on the 28th minute.
He saved superbly with his legs from Hazard five minutes after the break.
From the follow-up Cech pushed away Marcos Alonso’s header. There is life in the old dog yet. His old club will bear witness to that.



SAVED BY THE BELL Arsenal 2 Chelsea 2: Hector Bellerin strikes in injury time to earn point for the Gunners after stunning London derby

Marcos Alonso thought he had secured a stunning comeback for the Blues as his late goal looked to have sealed victory for the champions after Eden Hazard had levelled Jack Wilshere's opener

By Neil Ashton

IN the end, it was a belter.
It is the sort of goal, deep into injury time, that will be talked about down the years at Arsenal.
That somehow Hector Bellerin’s stunning equaliser will transform Arsenal’s fortunes and take them into the top four again.
That their miserable Christmas form — three draws and a win at Crystal Palace — can be forgotten.
That this is the new Arsenal taking shape, reborn after showing incredible fighting qualities to somehow scrap out a draw.
They deserve a pat on the back — but that is where it ends.
This was a ridiculous game, played at a furious tempo between two teams with very different ambitions these days.
Chelsea thought they had won it, with Eden Hazard equalising from the penalty spot and Marcos Alonso nosing them in front six minutes from time.
Arsenal still had a big say in it.
They had been ahead, with the feel-good factor filling the nostrils of nearly 60,000 Arsenal fans when Jack Wilshere fired in.

It was a scorching strike, screeching Arsenal into a 1-0 lead the moment it pinged off his left boot 63 minutes in.
Arsenal, this being Arsenal, could not hold on to the lead.
Bellerin, thrown one way and then the other by Hazard, could not resist chopping him down.

Hazard, a touch subdued, equalised from the spot.
It sent poor old Arsene Wenger into meltdown, screaming into the face of fourth official Craig Pawson. Thing is, the referee got it right. This time.
Chelsea, their opponents in next week’s Carabao Cup semi-final, are durable, obstinate and damn well  difficult to beat.
The biggest chance of the first half went Chelsea’s way.

Calum Chambers and Shkodran Mustafi managed to let a hopeful, looping ball drop behind them. Alvaro Morata raced clear, only the keeper to beat, to put Chelsea in front. Instead he missed, poking his effort hopelessly wide of Petr Cech’s left-hand post.
Arsenal responded, playing like a team with a lot of work to do to bridge that gap between Ropey League and Champions League football.
For a time they looked good for it.
Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Wilshere were the driving force as Arsenal got about these Chelsea boys.

Thibaut Courtois was a towering presence every time Arsenal got in behind Chelsea’s defence. It almost turned into his night.
He got a glove to Sanchez’s chance that rebounded off both posts, turning on to the paintwork before it rolled across the line and against the other.
Arsenal grew in confidence, with Ozil and Wilshere matching Cesc Fabregas and Hazard for the fancy footwork.
Ozil provided the next chance, with Gary Cahill sliding all over the penalty area when Alexandre Lacazette turned him in the area.
The striker swivelled, shooting at Chelsea’s goal, but Courtois came to the rescue again.

Chelsea turned a corner, with Cech tipping Tiemoue Bakayoko’s chance over the bar, after a clever combination between Hazard and Fabregas.
From the corner, Morata headed over the bar.
Both teams were coming to the boil, with Wilshere cautioned after taking Fabregas clean out. The Spaniard soon got him back and he, too, was booked.
Hazard came alive at the start of the second half, with Cech down to his right to claw away his effort.

From the follow-up, he got down to his left in time to flip Morata’s header away for a corner.
Ozil and Sanchez combined again to set up Lacazette for another big second-half chance. Instead he fluffed it, failing to get the solid connection that would have put Arsenal ahead.
Courtois stopped Ozil next, throwing out a leg to prevent Arsenal’s magic man putting them in front.
They got there eventually.
Wilshere got it, rifling his effort into the top corner after starting the move off on the edge of the area.
It did not last long. Chelsea got a penalty, awarded when Bellerin clipped the bottom of Hazard’s boot.
The Chelsea man scored from the spot, drilling his effort beyond Cech to level.
Alonso thought he had the winner as he turned in a Davide Zappacosta cross.
But Bellerin beat Courtois from distance to earn Arsenal a point. Somehow, they just about deserved it.