Ozil out, Alexis benched & Wilshere injured again but Arsenal show spirit at Chelsea

Alexis Sanchez Arsenal Chelsea
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The under-strength Gunners dug in for a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their League Cup semi-final showdown with Chelea at Stamford Bridge

Arsene Wenger made his debut in the press box at Stamford Bridge for Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg and he certainly would have given his squad better player ratings for an improved performance, just days after going out of the FA Cup third round to Championship side Nottingham Forest.

Wenger recently urged the media in his press conference to write more about the "coincidental" refereeing decisions that have been awarded against his Arsenal team over the past few weeks.

Fortunately for the Frenchman, there were few decisions to moan about on Wednesday night, with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) making its debut in the Carabao Cup for the first time.

Arsenal came up against a full-strength Chelsea side and while they leaked several chances to the Blues frontline, an improved performance from the likes of Rob Holding, who had his confidence shattered at the weekend, will certainly have done the Englishman and many of his team-mates the power of good.

Alvaro Morata Chelsea Arsenal

Without their main creative hub in Mesut Ozil, chances were few and far between for Wenger’s men in west London, and matters worsened in the second half as Jack Wilshere limped off with an injury.

The Carabao Cup is the only domestic trophy Wenger has never won and it’s a piece of silverware he’ll be keen on picking up come February.

However, the decision to leave wantaway Alexis Sanchez on the substitutes bench is one that will spark further questions regarding the Chilean's Arsenal future, with Goal of the understanding that a transfer to Manchester City remains likely to happen this month.

Alexis was laughing and joking with former Barcelona team-mates Cesc Fabregas and Pedro before and during the match. The Chilean appeared relaxed throughout and even offered words of encouragement to Holding when the defender misplaced a pass out of play in the latter stages of the game.

Alexandre Lacazette Alexis Sanchez Chelsea Arsenal

Jack Wilshere Chelsea Arsenal

Wenger was agitated throughout and could be seen jumping up in dismay when a foul was given against Ainsley Maitland-Niles towards the end of the first half. However, he was rightly proud of his players for digging out a 0-0 draw. 

"You want first to be solid," he mused. "Ideally, you want to score as well. We were close a few times.

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"But I felt there was great togetherness. We didn't give many chances away. I am pleased with the spirit and determination."

Wenger will be even happier if Ozil and Co. return in time to turn it on in the second leg at the Emirates later this month, when the same level of discipline and determination will be essential.

For now, though, while Wenger’s touchline ban continues, Arsenal’s search for self-belief and solidity might just be over.