Shkodran Mustafi

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League Cup: Chelsea, Arsenal not so thrilling in 0-0 draw

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One of the great — or, in some instances, not-great — things about soccer is that every game is different: the same two teams can meet just seven days apart, and everything about those games can — and likely will — be completely different, from the victors, to the final score, to the flow and tale of the game.

[ MORE: Man City come back to lead Bristol City, 2-1, in other semi ]

Take, for instance, Wednesday’s League Cup semifinal first-leg meeting between Chelsea and Arsenal. On Jan. 3, the two sids played to a thrilling 2-2 draw that went down as an instant Premier League classic. Tuesday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge, which finished 0-0, was… very different.

Arsene Wenger watched this one from the stands, as the Gunners boss continues to serve his three-game touchline ban for poor behavior inside the referees’ locker room. He won’t have been impressed by much of anything he saw over 90 minutes.

Alexandre Lacazette got in behind the Chelsea defense for the game’s first real scoring chance, in the 22nd minute, but the Frenchman skied his right-footed blast from the edge of the penalty area roughly 15 rows into the stands.

[ MORE: Guradiola credits Bristol — “They came here to play” ]

Victor Moses proved Chelsea’s truest threat from start to finish, as the Nigerian international forced David Ospina to make a pair of tough saves — first in the 24th minute, when Moses cut inside from the right wing and unleashed a powerful, dipping shot with his left foot; and, again four minutes later, when the Nigerian international ran circles around Ainsley Maitland-Niles before attempting another left-footed strike from a tough angle.

Moses and Maitland-Niles were involved in a controversial moment seven minutes before halftime, as the former appeared to make the slightest bit of contact with the latter inside the penalty area. Maitland-Niles went down after it became clear the ball was going to run out of bounds, but referee Martin Atkinson was unmoved and opted not to use video review — which was available for this game — to assess the incident.

[ MORE: Conte and Mourinho’s war of words continues ]

Moses again threatened to break the deadlock in the 66th minute, but a last-second block by Shkodran Mustafi bailed out Ospina who appeared to be beaten. After Cesc Fabregas’ free kick was headed away, Marcos Alonso put the ball back into the box and it eventually fell to Moses near the top of the box. His shot was struck hard and low, but Mustafi intervened at the far post.

Jack Wilshere left the game in the 57th minute with an(other) apparent ankle injury, and Alexis Sanchez — amid continuous rumors that he’ll leave for Manchester City this month — came off the bench in the 66th minute.

The second and decisive leg will be played at the Emirates Stadium in two weeks’ time, Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Player Ratings: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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A big London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea didn’t disappoint with a pulsating 2-2 draw seeing plenty of top performances from individuals on both teams.

[ MORE: 4 things we learned ]

There were also some very shaky displays, especially defensively.

Here are marks out of 10 for the players who contributed to a cracking encounter.


Arsenal

Petr Cech – 8 – Made two fines saves from Hazard and Alonso early in the second half.

Callum Chambers – 5 – Bad mistake early on let in Morata. Shaky display overall.

Shkodran Mustafi – 6 – Decent enough defensively and tried to start attacks by pushing into midfield.

Rob Holding – 6 – Steady enough but struggled to contain the runs of Morata and Hazard.

Hector Bellerin – 6 – Silly challenge for the penalty kick, even if it was harsh, but somewhat redeemed himself with a fine half volley in stoppage time.

Granit Xhaka – 6 – Did his job breaking up the play but failed to provide an adequate shield for the back four in the second half.

Jack Wilshere – 7 – Scored his goal, crunched into a tackle with Cesc Fabregas and probably should have been given a second yellow for diving. A mixed night for the Englishman but his best form is returning.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles – 7 – The youngster playing out of position at left wing-back excelled. Composed on the ball, solid defensively and provided a threat going forward.

Mesut Ozil – 8 – Simply sublime on the ball at times and was the creative hub of an impressive attacking display from Arsenal.

Alexis Sanchez – 7 – Went close with his shot that Courtois tipped onto both posts and drifted around the attacking line looking for the ball.

Alexandre Lacazette – 7 – Didn’t get a goal but was tireless up front and his link-up play with Ozil and Sanchez is underrated.

Subs:
Danny Welbeck (on for Lacazette, ’80) – 5 – Struggled to get into the game and wasted a few good crossing opportunities.
Theo Walcott (on for Chambers, 88′) – 5 – No real impact but did help Arsenal salvage a draw by being around the box during the equalizer.


Chelsea

Thibaut Courtois – 8 – Superb stops to keep Chelsea in the game, the Belgian used his full size to tip a Sanchez shot onto the post, then smother other efforts. A fine display.

Cesar Azpilicueta – 6 – Solid as ever defensively but was shackled by Arsenal and couldn’t whip in any of his now trademark crosses from center back.

Andreas Christensen – 7 – The young Danish defender had a telling interception at a crucial moment early on and was Chelsea’s best defender.

Gary Cahill – 6 – Solid display at center back but did struggle to contain Ozil, Sanchez and Lacazette, as most defenders do.

Victor Moses – 5 – Subbed off in second half and a very poor display. Offered nothing in attack.

N'Golo Kante – 7 – One fine tackle to set up a big chance for Fabregas but steady in central midfield as ever.

Tiemoue Bakayoko – 5 – Poor display defensively and Arsenal ran rings around him.

Marcos Alonso – 7 – A constant threat in attack and a fine finish for his goal to make it 2-1. What a signing he has been.

Cesc Fabregas – 7 – Lovely passes and flicks to get Chelsea back into the game. Subbed off in second half and applauded by most of the home fans. Nice to see.

Eden Hazard – 8 – Won the penalty kick somewhat controversially but tucked it away. Some superb touches throughout.

Alvaro Morata – 5 – Should have had a hat trick. Missed three glorious chances when one-on-one with Cech. Poor.

Subs
Davide Zappacosta (on for Moses, ’56) – 7 – Great cross for Alonso’s goal and smashed a shot against the bar right at the death. Lively.
Danny Drinkwater (on for Fabregas, 71′) – 5 – His job was to help shore up the Chelsea midfield but Arsenal kept pouring forward.
Willian (on for Hazard, 82′) – 6 – Lovely ball to Zappacosta to help set up the Alonso goal and dangerous in his brief cameo.

Crystal Palace 2-3 Arsenal: Sanchez brace holds off Eagles

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For a time it looked like the hosts would be able to pull out at least a point, but then it was all snatched away by Alexis Sanchez and Co. at Selhurst Park.

Arsenal took home three points on Thursday after picking up a 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace, behind a pair of second-half goals from Sanchez.

[ MORE: Swansea hires Carlos Carvalhal as new manager ]

The Chilean international scored twice in a span of four minutes to restore the Gunners advantage, after Palace had done superbly to level the match early in the second stanza.

Jack Wilshere‘s splendid ball from his own half of the field into the path of Sanchez sealed the match for the Gunners in the 66th minute, just after the Chilean had blasted the ball past Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni.

The Gunners were forced to hold on in the final few minutes though, after James Tompkins narrowed the scoreline to 3-2 in the 89th minute.

It took less than five minutes after the halftime break for the Eagles to get back into the match though, when Andros Townsend finished off a delightful ball from Wilfried Zaha.

Shkodran Mustafi gave the Gunners a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute after Alexandre Lacazette‘s powerful shot was pushed aside by Speroni.

Arsenal continued to mount the pressure after the Gunners scored their first goal, and Mesut Ozil nearly had a second four minutes later when the German tested Speroni again.

After a back-and-forth opening few minutes, Yohan Cabaye nearly gave the hosts the lead on 15 minutes when the Palace attacker blasted a shot just wide of Cech’s goal from 25 yards out.

Both sides will be back in action on Sunday when Palace plays host to league leaders Man City, while Arsenal travels to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion.

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal

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They can’t jump into the top four barring a record-setting day, but Arsenal can draw level with Tottenham if they secure victory as they take on 16th place Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park at 3:00 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Under new manager Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace is unbeaten since November 5th in Premier League play, and they themselves can move all the way up to 13th or even 12th with victory at home over the Gunners.

[ WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal live online at NBCSports.com ]

Arsene Wenger has returned Sead Kolasinac to the starting lineup, with the Gunners returning to a back-three in Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi, and Calum Chambers. Nacho Monreal misses out with an ankle injury, while Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey both find themselves on the outside with hamstring problems.

For Crystal Palace, Christian Benteke returns to the side after his one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation. He slots right to the head of the attack, while Joel Ward misses out thanks to a groin injury. Wilfried Zaha continues to maintain his steady place for the Eagles, as he looks for his 11th straight 90-minute showing.

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Kelly, Tomkins, Dann, Schlupp, Milivojevic, Cabaye, Loftus-Cheek, Townsend, Zaha, Benteke.
Subs: Hennessey, van Anholt, McArthur, Fosu-Mensah, Sako, Puncheon, Riedewald.

Arsenal: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Chambers, Bellerin, Wilshere, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Ozil, Sanchez, Lacazette.
Subs: Ospina, Walcott, Holding, Iwobi, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Liverpool

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Arsenal host Liverpool on Friday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a huge top four clash to kick off the festive feast of Premier League action.

Liverpool sit in fourth but are just one point and one place ahead of Arsenal who have won 13 of their last 14 home games in the PL, but have lost all three of their last PL matches against Arsenal.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

In team news Arsenal start with Alex Iwobi and keep Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jack Wilshere in the lineup, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac on the bench.

Liverpool start with Sadio Mane and Emre Can who come in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Wilshere, Xhaka; Iwobi, Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Ospina, Walcott, Mustafi, Welbeck, Kolasinac, Coquelin, Elneny

Liverpool: Mignolet; Gomez, Lovren, Klavan, Robertson; Henderson, Can; Mane, Coutinho, Salah; Firmino. Subs: Karius, Wijnaldum, Milner, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold