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Wilshere plays down latest injury in social media post

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You can forgive Arsenal fans for assuming the worst after Jack Wilshere left Arsenal’s League Cup match with Chelsea on Wednesday with a leg injury.

Luckily for them, and Arsenal as a whole, the injury is not as bad as once feared.

That’s according to Wilshere himself, anyway, who posted on his official Twitter account to thank the fans for their messages of support and to update everyone, stating he’d only be out “a couple” of days.

Wilshere appeared to hurt his ankle closing down Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta about 10 minutes into the second half. After getting some quick treatment, Wilshere returned to the field only to fall back to the turf and need to be substituted off.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger had already ruled Wilshere out for Sunday’s match against Bournemouth. Wilshere is coming off his first consistent string of 90-minute performances for Arsenal for the first time since early in the 2014-2015 season.

After Bournemouth, Arsenal is off during the mid-week as it prepares for Crystal Palace on January 20.

Wenger, Conte support VAR despite being a “cause of anxiety”

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Add Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte, two of the most powerful managers in the game, to the list of notable figures who support the use of a video-assistant referee (VAR).

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

The VAR, which made its debut in the upper reaches of English soccer (Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Crystal Palace — FA Cup) on Monday, was available to referee Martin Atkinson during Wednesday’s scoreless League Cup semifinal first leg between Arsenal and Chelsea. While none of his initial calls were overturned by use of the VAR, Atkinson did consult the additional (off-site) assistant on multiple occasions — a non-penalty incident between Danny Welbeck and Cesc Fabregas, and a no-cards-shown extra-curricular confrontation between Calum Chambers and Cesar Azpilicueta.

After the game, Conte voiced his support of the fledgling system, even though it was his side which was not awarded a late, decisive penalty — quotes from the BBC:

“I think it was a good solution, when there is a doubt during the game the referee can check and see the situation again and make the best decision. It is right, in this way for sure the mistakes are less.”

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

While Wenger flat out said he “felt it took too much time” to resolve the Welbeck-Fabregas penalty shout (perhaps that had something to do with watching the game from the stands, at a distance), he admitted the system “worked well” overall — quotes from the BBC:

“It was interesting, a cause of anxiety as it took a bit of time to make the second decision with Welbeck and Fabregas, but overall it worked well.

“But between the penalty action or penalty not action, with the time taken it would have been strange to come back to the penalty.”

On the very grand macro level, it does seem absurd that the only person in the world who can’t immediately use replays to determine whether or not a call was made correctly or incorrectly, is the one person whose job is to make the calls and, in key instances, determine the outcome of the game.

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.

LIVE, League Cup semifinal: Chelsea vs. Arsenal

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Alexis Sanchez is on the bench for Arsenal, a day after multiple reports claimed he would start against Chelsea in the League Cup semifinal.

The Chilean is subject to a transfer bid from Manchester City but after being rested for Arsenal’s 4-2 FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest, he’s still not part of the first XI, which is perhaps a sign that his days with Arsenal are numbered.

[LIVE: Follow Chelsea vs. Arsenal]

On the other side, Antonio Conte has selected a strong side including Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Thibaut Courtois, as Chelsea looks to win a title in a year in which the Premier League is slipping away from it and the rest of the pack.

Another storyline to keep an eye on is that video assistant review will be in effect during this game and the second leg of the tie. After not being used in Brighton and Hove Albion’s win over Crystal Palace, tonight could be the first time it is used in England.

Arsene Wenger will spend the match up in the stands while Conte patrols the sideline. Click the link above to follow along with all the action from Stamford Bridge.

Guardiola credits Bristol City: “They came here to play”

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Pep Guardiola appreciates when teams, whether at home or away, try to play against his team — on the micro, because it benefits his side when the opposition doesn’t bunker in defensively; on the macro, it’s how he believes the game is supposed to be played — and he’s quick to praise the opposing manager in such an instance.

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

In his mind, the game and the fans are massive beneficiaries when a side like Bristol City, who on Tuesday suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the runaway Premier League leaders but made every effort to take the game to Man City, are ambitious in their plan of attack and confident in their abilities to execute it.

While some might view City’s growing propensity for the kind of late, dramatic victory we saw on Tuesday, as a chink in the armor — a susceptibility, perhaps — Guardiola believes that never-stop-fighting attitude is an important part of his side’s newfound identity, and a big reason they currently sit 15 points clear in the PL title race — quotes from the BBC:

“My players were fantastic because in football you can win, you can lose, but we try until the end. We win many games in the last minutes because we don’t give up. A semifinal is always complicated.

“I said congratulations to Lee Johnson on full-time, they are a fantastic team for many reasons. They can play, they are fast, they know exactly what to do. It will be tough in Bristol.”

Bristol manager Lee Johnson saw it similarly to the above quotes from Guradiola. The Robins, which currently sit fourth in the Championship, just two points out of the second automatic promotion place, looked like they belonged on the same field as City on Tuesday — quotes from the BBC:

“Very proud of my team. Disappointed with their goal late on but the boys were magnificent. We came here and tried to play our game and caused a few problems. You concede possession now and again because of the quality of the opposition. It is only half time and we are well in this tie.

“I said to them ‘you’ve been fantastic. We rode our luck but we broke and got men in the box. The pressing was amazing for the first goal. They can’t be disappointed as we are still in the tie. They have shown the world we are good footballers.”