Weblog: The football punter
Chelsea can land Arsenal another knockout blow
League Cup semi-final first leg
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 8pm
THREE days after Arsenal lost their grip on the FA Cup, back Chelsea to make it a double dose of knockout blues for the Gunners at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal’s creaking defence was painfully exposed by Chelsea in a pulsating 2-2 draw in the Premier League at the Emirates last Wednesday.
At the weekend, however, Sky Bet Championship side Nottingham Forest weren’t so wasteful, sending Arsenal tumbling out of a competition they’ve won three times in the past four years.
With the title race over and no Champions League commitments, the League Cup suddenly takes on extra significance for Arsene Wenger, who will be sending out a strong side at the Bridge in the first leg of their semi-final against their London rivals.
The problem, however, is that a strong Arsenal at the moment includes a weak defence, one which has been misbehaving for weeks and looks desperately vulnerable.
No clean sheets in five and 12 goals conceded are statistics that tell their own story. A defence built around Calum Chambers and Rob Holding is going to struggle to hold its own but Wenger has little choice with injuries biting.
If Per Mertesacker can’t complete a second 90 minutes in four days then Arsenal really are scraping the barrel.
Those defensive issues are the reason why they have failed to win ten of their 15 away games this season.
We know about their attacking potency and Wenger will never compromise on that, though it’ll be interesting to see if Alexis Sanchez plays given constant speculation that the Chilean is on his way out of the club.
All three matches this season between these fierce foes have ended in draws, which is a 3-1 shot.
But Chelsea, who made nine changes at Norwich in the FA Cup third round on Saturday, have had an extra day off and a full battery of big guns to recall – including fit-again Eden Hazard – and Antonio Conte’s champions are hard to dislike.
Chelsea have been going well with just one loss in their last 16. They’ve kept four clean sheets in five, and the only goals conceded since before Christmas were the stunners from Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin in last week’s draw.
That was a match in which Chelsea carved out 19 chances and a combination of rank wastefulness and Petr Cech's heroics proved decisive.
That’s not to say Arsenal weren’t good value that night. But while it's always been hard to criticise them going forward, it's a different story at the back.
There could well be goals again. There’s no obvious evidence to back up the notion that the mindset is different somehow because this is the first leg of a cup semi. Wenger is what he is; Conte has his style. Whatever the occasion more often than not entertainment looks on the cards between these two.
Both teams to score and over 2.5 goals are both odds-on. Chelsea to win, however, is preferred.